Shift Work: What It Is And The Industries That Use It

Example of shift work

If your business is open for more than 10 hours a day, chances are you’re going to need to schedule some type of shift work.

But what exactly is shift work? What industries use it? And how can you set up shift scheduling for your business? The management experts at Sling answer those questions and more in this article.

What Is Shift Work?

Shift work takes place during times that exceed the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Shift work may involve morning work (e.g., 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.), night work (e.g., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.), or a rotating shift schedule that incorporates both.

The Different Types Of Shifts

At its most complicated, shift work is 24-hour coverage (three eight-hour blocks) that keeps your business up and running all the time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own type of shift work to better fit your business’s needs.

Maybe you need two 10-hour shifts, three four-hour shifts, or four six-hour shifts. It all depends on what works best for your employees and your business.

Here are the most common types of shifts for covering a full day’s work:

  • 1st Shift — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • 2nd Shift — 4 p.m. to 12 p.m.
  • 3rd Shift — 12 p.m. to 8 a.m.

It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines. If you want your shift to start at 7:30 a.m. and go until 3:30 p.m., for example, that’s fine too.

Part-Time Vs. Full-Time

Part-Time vs. Full-Time shift work

Most businesses build their traditional shifts (i.e., first, second, and third) around full-time work. But what exactly is “full-time”?

Full-Time

Ask anyone to define full-time work and you’ll get the simple answer, “40 hours per week.” That number, though, is arbitrary.

A 40-hour workweek didn’t appear in the common lexicon until 1940, when Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to limit the typical schedule to 40 hours.

Nowhere does it state that 40 hours equals full-time work. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines “full-time” as 35 hours or more per week. The Affordable Care Act defines it as averaging 30 hours each week.

So, as you can see, there’s no legal requirement that your employees have to work 40 hours each week for you to consider them full-time. The only law on the books is the 1940 FLSA amendment that limits the hours of regular work to 40. Anything over that number is considered overtime and must be compensated as such.

How does that affect you as a business owner or manager? It means that you have significant freedom to tailor what full-time means for your unique business.

Some businesses choose the standard 40 hours per week, while others operate more efficiently on 35, 32, or even 30 hours per week. It all depends on what you, your employees, and your business need.

That said, you don’t have to promote everyone to full-time in order to create efficient shifts. You can also build shifts around part-time hours and employees.

Part-Time

As we explained above, full-time work is arbitrary, with most businesses setting the bar somewhere between 30 and 40 hours per week. Part-time work, then, is a repeating schedule in which an employee works fewer hours than are required for full-time.

If your business defines full-time as 40 hours per week, part-time is any number of hours less than that. If your business defines full-time as 30 hours per week, part-time is any number of hours less than that.

Which schedule — part-time, full-time, a combination of both — is right for your business? It all depends on your organizational strategy and the unique needs of your business.

Many companies operate successfully with only part-time employees. Others find it valuable to employ a combination of both part-time and full-time employees. Yet other companies only hire employees who can work full-time.

For an in-depth look at the benefits and drawbacks of part- and full-time work, take a few minutes to read our article Part-Time Vs. Full-Time Work Schedules | What’s The Difference?

Novel Approaches To Shift Work

novel uses of shift work

When you realize that you can set your own definition of a typical workweek — be it 40 hours per week, 30 hours per week, part-time, full-time, or a combination of the two — you open the door to a whole host of novel approaches to shift work.

Here are some of the unique ways businesses choose to structure their work schedules.

9/80

A 9/80 work schedule consists of:

  • Eight nine-hour shifts
  • One eight-hour shift
  • One day off

These shifts are spread out over a two-week period so that employees work 80 hours over the course of nine business days. This assumes, of course, that you define full-time as 40 hours per week.

One of the unique parts of the 9/80 shift schedule is that employees work four nine-hour days Monday through Thursday (36 hours) followed by one eight-hour day on Friday. For payroll purposes, you apply the first four hours on Friday to the current workweek. You then apply the second four hours on Friday to the next workweek.

After a regular weekend (Saturday and Sunday), employees come back and work four nine-hour days Monday through Thursday (for a total of 40 hours over four-and-a-half workdays). They then get Friday off.

Flextime

Flextime is a special arrangement in which employees can vary the start and finish of their shift as long as they work a set number of hours each day and are present during specific core hours.

For example, you may set your flextime shift guidelines at:

  • Employees may start work no earlier than 5 a.m.
  • Employees may finish work no later than 9 p.m.
  • Employees must be present during the core hours of 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

That would allow an employee to work 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and still be present during the core hours of 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Flextime shift scheduling allows employees to factor in variables such as personal obligations, work habits, and commutes to tailor their workday for the best results.

Split Shift

A split shift is a type of work schedule in which you divide an employee’s workday into two or more distinct parts separated by two or more hours.

One example of a split shift is:

  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Four-hour break
  • 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

During the four-hour break, employees can, and should, leave the premises. They can go home, run errands, or attend to personal matters such as picking up kids from school or taking care of a sick family member.

For employees, split shifts allow for better work/life balance and give part-time employees the opportunity to increase their work hours without impacting the hours of other employees.

For the business itself, split shifts help you control labor costs and improve the productivity of your employees.

For help answering the question of whether or not a split shift is right for your business, read our article Split Shifts: What Are They And Should You Be Using Them?

Other Variations

One of the many useful things about shift work is that you can tailor it to fit the needs of your business and your employees.

If you like the idea of a 9/80 shift schedule but don’t want the full day off every two weeks, you could have your employees work 9-hour days Monday through Thursday and one 4-hour day on Friday.

Or you could alter it even more and have your team members work three 10-hour days Monday through Wednesday and two 5-hour days Thursday through Friday.

The possibilities are endless, so get creative and find what works best for all parties involved.

What Industries Use Shift Work?

Customers enjoying the perks of shift work

Most shift work occurs in the service and manufacturing industries, but shift work can take place in any job. Here are the most common careers that use shift work:

Really, every business could incorporate shift work into their schedule, but sometimes it’s just not economically beneficial to do so.

For instance, if your business is located in a small town, keeping your convenience store open 24-hours every day isn’t logical because you’re losing money on that overnight shift when no one’s buying anything.

Key Aspects Of Shift Work

The advantages and disadvantages of shift work vary from industry to industry. We’ll examine those pros and cons through the simple example of a coffee shop.

Advantages Of Shift Work

For our hypothetical coffee shop, shift work gives all your employees the opportunity to work a busy shift (e.g., the morning rush) and a slow shift (e.g., after lunch). Your employees don’t get discouraged because they’re always missing the action and excitement of the busy shift.

This keeps your employees engaged and helps them learn how to work during peak hours.

Another benefit of shift work in our hypothetical coffee shop is that it opens up time to train all employees without distracting them during busy customer hours. After that morning rush, there will be some downtime during which you can talk with your employees or train them on a new procedure.

Disadvantages Of Shift Work

Restaurant that uses shift work

The main disadvantage of shift work at our hypothetical coffee shop is that employees may want a more consistent schedule. When workdays change from week to week, it can be difficult for your employees to plan their lives.

You can overcome this disadvantage by producing your schedule well in advance and by always taking into account time-off requests.

A second disadvantage of shift work is that it can have an impact on the physical health of your employees. Some people do not react well to working late at night or early in the morning. They’ll do it if you ask them, but it could lead to sleep deprivation, stomach issues, and even cardiovascular disorders.

These issues can have a dramatic effect on their lives and, as a result, your business.

How To Set Up Shifts

If your business runs on two or three shifts and the same employees work those shifts consistently, scheduling is fairly straightforward. But if your business operates on two shifts that cover 16-20 hours (like a restaurant) and different employees work different shifts depending on the day, your scheduling can get pretty complicated.

In this section, we’ll show you how to create a schedule that covers this unique type of shift work. More specifically, we’ll examine the 2-2 / 3-2 / 2-3 (2 on, 2 off; 3 on, 2 off; etc.) shift schedule for a coffee shop. You can then tailor the example to better suit your business.

Shift Schedule Example

For this example, we’ll use four employees: Jim, Jack, Kate, and Penny. The symbols in our schedule stand for:

  • M = Morning
  • N = Night
  • O = Off
  • Hyphen = New week

Here’s how you would put it all together.

  1. Jim:         MMOOMMM – OOMMOOO – NNOONNN – OONNOOO
  2. Jack:        NNOONNN – OONNOOO – MMOOMMM – OOMMOOO
  3. Kate:        OONNOOO – MMOOMMM – OOMMOOO – NNOONNN
  4. Penny:     OOMMOOO – NNOONNN – OONNOOO – MMOOMMM

Basically, everyone rotates through the same pattern of days, nights, and time off. As you can see, though, they all start at different times so that all hours are covered.

If you need to schedule your team on different shifts, you can scale up this method to work for groups of any size. For example, you might schedule Leah, Rebekah, and Dave to work with Jim in that first set of shifts. Then you might schedule Ryan, Elyse, and Kim to work with Jack in the second set of shifts, and so on.

This type of shift work is a great way to ensure that none of your employees have to stay late or arrive early all the time.

Use The Right Tool To Help Schedule Shift Work

Sling Shift feature

If this type of shift work looks difficult to schedule, don’t worry, it’s not — as long as you use the right tools. Scheduling software like Sling simplifies even the most complicated shifts so that you can sit down, make your schedule, and move on to more pressing matters.

All of Sling’s cloud-based features — from schedule creation to time clock to payroll calculations — make it easy for you to make the best schedule possible, distribute it with ease, make changes, and juggle time-off requests.

Sling even provides suggestions and warnings when you’ve double-booked a team member or created a conflict in another part of your schedule. All of this makes Sling the best choice for simplifying your shift work schedule.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.

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