What Is Shift Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published October 7, 2019

Updated February 22, 2021

Published October 7, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Although many employees work average business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, some working professionals perform their duties in shifts. While this type of schedule is not practiced in all industries, you might find employment with a company that does. In this article, we explain shift work, industries that commonly use shifts, and the pros and cons of working a shift schedule.

What is shift work?

Shift work refers to a work schedule that is performed in rotations. For example, while some employees might fill a role during the day, others might work night or early morning shifts. This means the company operates for 24 hours each day. Whereas some employees may work various eight-hour shifts throughout the week, others might work all their hours for the week within three days and have the next four days off. There are various ways to schedule shifts, including:

  • Day shift: Day shift employees work during daytime hours, often from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • Night shift: Also known as the graveyard shift, employees on this schedule work during the night, for example, 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

  • Split shift: Split shift workers perform their job duties during two separate shifts on the same day. For example, they might work 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., have a four-hour break and resume work from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Swing swift: Employees who work a swing shift start their day during the afternoon.

A shift schedule is highly dependent on the industry and company you work for.

What industries use shift work?

Several companies require their employees to perform shift work. Here are four common industries and a few roles in each that perform shift work:

  • Law enforcement

  • Transportation

  • Military

  • Healthcare

Law enforcement

Various branches of law enforcement require their employees to work in shifts. This is mainly due to the need for employees to work overnight. Some law enforcement jobs that employ shift work include:

1. Police officer

National average salary: $51,301 per year

Primary duties: Police officers have a wide variety of responsibilities that involve upholding the law and protecting people. Some tasks include making arrests, patrolling areas and responding to emergency calls. Police officers must be assertive, good communicators and have interpersonal skills.

2. Border patrol agent

National average salary: $69,227 per year

Primary duties: Border patrol agents are responsible for watching the border and apprehending anyone illegally crossing a border or attempting to smuggle illegal items past security. They also must gather intelligence and make arrests as necessary.

Transportation

The transportation industry covers everyone from airline workers to passenger bus drivers. Depending on your position, your transportation job may require you to work in shifts. Here are two such roles:

1. Flight attendant

National average salary: $16.92 per hour

Primary duties: Flight attendants are responsible for the care and comfort of airline passengers. They're also tasked with keeping them safe and mandating safety regulations during the flight. Flight attendants must be attentive and good communicators.

2. Truck driver

National average salary: $1,110 per week

Primary duties: Truck drivers' main job duties include transporting goods and merchandise over long distances. They're also required to load and unload goods, refuel the truck and report any issues or incidents on the road. Truck drivers must have good communication skills and be physically able to lift heavy items.

Military

Tactical professions, such as those in the military, are well-known for requiring shift work. Similar to those in law enforcement, this is in part due to the military's need for overnight shifts. Here are two positions where you're likely to encounter shift work:

1. Infantryman

National average salary: $38,125 per year

Primary duties: Infantrymen engage in combat on the battlefield during enemy attacks. As with all military positions, they're responsible for defending the country. Infantrymen must be physically fit and able to manage stress.

2. Cannon crewmember

National average salary: $38,677 per year

Primary duties: Cannon crewmembers are responsible for operating weapons systems and engaging the enemy during combat. They also operate howitzer cannons and set fuses on various munitions. They must have a good battle strategy, work well as part of a team and be physically fit.

Healthcare

Because a large portion of the healthcare industry is concerned with caring for patients staying in a hospital overnight or for extended periods, shift work is deemed necessary. Here are a couple of positions within the healthcare industry where you'll likely find shift work:

1. Registered nurse

National average salary: $33.87 per hour

Primary duties: Registered nurses are tasked with maintaining patient records, monitoring patients and providing them with the necessary medications and treatment. They assist doctors in administering treatment to a wide variety of patients. Registered nurses should be good communicators, be attentive to their patients and display empathy.

2. Physician

National average salary: $201,054 per year

Primary duties: Although there are many types of doctors, a physician is responsible for the medical care of a patient. They perform diagnostic tests, look over patient histories, make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. If required, they might ask patients to come in for a follow-up appointment for further examination. Doctors are required to be good problem solvers, attentive and have good communication skills.

Tips for managing shift work schedules

If you're new to working a shift schedule, there are several things to consider as you start to modify your new routine. Here are some helpful tips when it comes to managing your working schedule:

  • Keep a consistent schedule. Maintaining the same schedule can help not only your sleep cycles but also your physical and mental health.

  • Get on a sleep schedule. Getting your body accustomed to the same bedtime or hours of sleep can help regulate it and make it easier on you and your performance level overall.

  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts. If a rotating shift is necessary, rotate from a day to evening to night shift rather than the other way around.

  • Limit caffeine during the end of your shift. Consuming caffeine at the end of your shift can make it harder for you to fall asleep once you're home.

The pros of working a shift schedule

Working in shifts offers greater flexibility than a normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift does. Shift work allows you the opportunity to attend to your family or make various appointments during the daytime. It's also great for working professionals who are trying to avoid rush hour traffic or other busy commute times. Employees who need to swap shifts with a coworker or makeup work hours later in the week might find this type of working schedule beneficial as well.

The cons of working a shift schedule

Working at various hours of the day and having an inconsistent schedule can lead to sleeping disorders. While this may be the case for some, it does not affect all shift workers. Having a consistent schedule can help your body become accustomed to the shift hours and lessen your chance of insomnia. Shift work can also affect your mental and physical health as well as your overall performance level.

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