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.

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.


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 today.

Get started today

Schedule faster, communicate better, get things done.