Common Types of Work Shifts
Common Types of Work Shifts

Common Types of Work Shifts

The song might say working 9 to 5, but business owners know that the reality can be very different—in many industries, coverage is required around the clock. The solution is shift work: employees working at different times throughout the day (and night).

Seem obvious, 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 common types of work shift and some key tips on how to improve shift work scheduling.

Common Types of Work Shift

  • 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. It could be the standard 9 to 5, but first shifts can also start earlier or end a little 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 11am or as late as 5pm. 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 even the graveyard shift. It generally begins around 11pm or midnight and lasts through morning. Working this shift often comes with a shift differential, offering employees a higher rate of pay. Night shifts, while often considered undesirable, are necessities in essential roles like 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 spell for business. In cases like these companies might choose to create split shifts, where employees also take a long break in the middle of their shifts.

How Shift Work is Scheduled

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 certain employees always work days (or afternoons) and others always work nights. However, you might not have enough qualified staff who are keen to always work nights—in this case, like many companies, you can use rotating shifts.

It can be hard to adjust to working nights, and 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 Better Scheduling Helps

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 early schedules are released, the better. This can also be a compliance issue: some jurisdictions have predictive work schedule laws that punish companies for changing schedules at the last minute.

The solution is staff scheduling software. Not only does this allow you to create and publish schedules quicker than ever, you can assign roles yourself (to ensure you have the right spread of skills and seniority) and then create open shifts which remaining employees can pick.

Scheduling software can also allow staff 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 advance warning, shift workers can more easily achieve work life balance, offering a great boost to employee engagement.

Paycor Can Help

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


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