test 33 
Types of Work Shifts, Schedules, and Working Hours
Skip to content

Workforce Management

Types of Work Shifts, Schedules, and Working Hours

9-to-5 is shorthand for the workday (Thanks, Dolly Parton!) but it’s not an entirely accurate description of when people are getting the job done. In many industries, shift coverage is required around the clock. The solution is known as shift work: employees working at different times throughout the day (and night).

Seems like an obvious solution, right? It can be, but if you’re new to HR the terms used to describe common shifts can be confusing. And when it comes to scheduling shift work, keeping everyone happy can be challenging even for seasoned experts.

Here’s a refresher on different types of work shifts, schedules and working hours.

Are There Different “Categories” of Workers?

Before you can understand the types of shifts, it helps to know the various categories of employees whose schedules you’ll be setting.

  • Full-Time Employees – These workers average 40 full-time hours per week at either an hourly rate or with a salary. A full-time employee is generally eligible for any benefits offered from the company.
  • Part-Time Employees – These employees work less than 40 hours per week while being paid at an hourly rate.
  • Seasonal Employees – Seasonal employees are hired strictly to help meet the peak time needs of a company. Some examples include retail workers hired over the winter holidays or lifeguards working the summer months.
  • Temporary Employees – Your company may have a special project or a full-time employee may need to be out for an extended period of time due to medical leave. In these cases, a company can bring in an employee on a temporary basis. These employees usually have a set start and stop date.
  • On-Call Employees – Businesses that have a particular ebb-and-flow may choose to have an on-call pool of employees. These are employees who will work only on an as-needed basis.

With this understanding of the types of categories a worker could fill, you can next figure out how to best use them to meet the needs of your company.

What are the Types of Work Shifts?

  • First Shift
    The hours for a first shift, sometimes known as the day shift, are usually pretty close to what you’d expect for the “traditional” working day, starting in the morning and ending in late afternoon. These employees could work the standard 9 to 5, but first shifts can also start earlier or end a later. Most office-based and manufacturing roles will require at least some employees to work first shift.
  • Second Shift
    The second shift, also known as the swing shift, generally runs from afternoon to around midnight. The timing of the shift can vary dramatically, and start times can be as early as 11 a.m. or as late as 5 p.m. In many industries, especially hospitality, this can often be the busiest shift of all.
  • Third Shift
    The third shift goes by many alternative names: the night shift, the midnight shift, or the graveyard shift. It generally begins around 11 p.m. or midnight and lasts through the morning. Working this shift often comes with a shift differential, offering employees a higher rate of pay. Night shifts, while often considered undesirable by some employees, are necessities in essential roles such as healthcare and policing.
  • Split Shift
    Sometimes the reality of jobs doesn’t match up well with conventional shift times. Take hospitality, where busy periods of lunch and dinner are often separated by long quiet spells. In cases like these, companies might choose to create split shifts, where employees also take a long break in the middle of their shifts.

Why do Employers Use Different Shift Schedules?

Employers tend to use different shift schedules to:

  • Meet the needs of their business. For example: a hospital that never closes or a manufacturing company that is trying to meet consumer demands.
  • Provide some parity between employees. Helping get employees a chance to “recuperate” between shifts.
  • To create consistency among work teams.
  • To provide fairness. For example, if you manage a restaurant and only give some employees the “good” shifts in the work schedule you may find other employees leaving for a “fairer” workplace.

What is the Healthiest Work Shift Type?

Unsurprisingly there is no universal “healthiest shift” to work. Each work shift has its own benefits and drawbacks, but those are felt most on an individual worker basis. For example, one study, in the medical journal Ergonomics, found a correlation between age and tolerance for shift work.

Your responsibility as an employer is to gauge the abilities and physical and mental needs of each employee and use that knowledge to place them into an appropriate work shift. For example, it can be hard to adjust to working nights, so it’s best practice for employees to find out their future shifts far in advance, giving them time to taper their sleep schedules accordingly.

How Can Better Scheduling Help?

The big question for employers is whether to create one regular schedule and force employees to stick with it or offer more freedom for employees to choose their own schedules. What we know for sure is that the earlier schedules are released, the better. Note that this can also be a compliance issue: Some jurisdictions have predictive work schedule laws that punish companies for changing schedules at the last minute.

While splitting up schedules into shifts is easy enough, knowing the best strategy for assigning employees is a different matter. The simplest method is to create fixed shifts, where some employees work the same days per week while others always work nights; however, you might not have enough qualified staff who are willing to always work nights. If this is the case, you can use rotating shifts.

What Are Some Quick Tips for Choosing the Right Shift Schedule?

The right scheduling software will make all the difference. Not only does an automated solution allow you to create and publish schedules quicker than ever, but you can also assign roles yourself (to ensure you have the right spread of skills and seniority) and then create open shifts which remaining employees can pick up.

Scheduling software can also give employees somewhat flexible work schedules in that it allows them to swap shifts with other employees, without managers having to act as a go-between, saving valuable time while avoiding no-shows. With more control over their schedules, and plenty of advance warning, shift workers can more easily achieve work/life balance, offering a great boost to employee engagement.

How do You Choose the Right Shift Scheduling Software?

Here are five things to consider when choosing a scheduling software.

  1. How easy is it to use (for you)? Can you easily enter and move employees around in any given shift period? How easy is it to duplicate past schedules?
  2. How easy is it to use (for employees)? It may be super easy to enter schedules, but how easy is it to retrieve them? Is the employee view mobile friendly? Will it show each employee only what they need to see?
  3. What are the integration capabilities? Ideally, your scheduling software will work in tandem with other HR systems to provide you with a holistic view of each employee.
  4. Is it historically accurate? How easy is it to retrieve the “who worked what when” information when you’re trying to view team details, past hours worked and other historical information?
  5. What type of information can be added? If it’s important for you to be able to add work instructions with shift details (e.g. Do XYZ during your shift), make sure that’s an option.

Paycor Can Help

Paycor Scheduling helps businesses optimize their work schedules, manage labor cost and makes life easier for both managers and employees.