Ritz Diner neon sign at night, in the Upper East Side, Manhattan

What Is a Swing Shift: Definition, Benefits, Best Practices

What is a swing shift? The answer might not be as clear-cut as it once was.

Even though the definition has changed over the years, it’s still a useful way for your business to cover transitions between shifts and to reinforce the number of team members on duty when things get busy.

In this article, we discuss the swing shift — both then and now — as well as the benefits your business can enjoy and the best practices that can help make it successful.

Table of contents

What is a swing shift?

Man checking his watch


The swing shift started as a way for businesses to bridge the gap between the day shift and the night shift.

For example, if a business ran a day shift from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a night shift from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m., it might have implemented a swing shift from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. so it didn’t have to stop work completely for those eight hours.


While that kind of swing shift still exists, many industries also use this type of flexible schedule to boost employee numbers during peak hours.

For example, a restaurant that is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. may divide work into two shifts: the day shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and the evening shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

If the manager knows the dinner service will be particularly busy, they may include a swing shift from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. to increase staffing for those eight hours.

Or, if the manager knows that the lunch service will be particularly busy, they may include a swing shift from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to boost the number of employees on hand.

It’s important to note here that swing shifts do not have to occur at night, nor do they have to be a full eight hours long.

Benefits of a swing shift

swing shift at a bar

1) Extended operations

When implemented correctly in a two-shift schedule, a swing shift can help extend operations and enable a business to run 24 hours if necessary.

This may make it possible for that business to:

This type of expanded schedule can be especially useful for call centers, 24-hour restaurants, bakeries, cleaning businesses, coffee shops, and many others.

2) Peak demand coverage

Many businesses experience surges in customer activity during specific times of the day (or night). As we mentioned, a restaurant may go through a lunch or dinner rush during which they may need more employees on the clock to handle customer demands.

Swing shifts can help managers adjust the number of employees on hand more efficiently and provide the flexibility necessary to handle peak demand followed by a lull in activity.

3) Reduced congestion

In some businesses, congestion is a very real issue that managers (and employees) have to deal with.

With too many team members on hand, it may be hard for employees to find space to work, gain access to the tools and supplies they need to complete their tasks, and generally function effectively on the job.

Establishing a swing shift between two main shifts can help reduce congestion and make it easier for team members to do their work successfully.

4) More focused work environment

In some cases, the swing shift may occupy a time with very little customer activity. As a result, reduced outside demands may allow employees working those hours to focus more effectively on their work.

If managers know this to be the case, they can assign more important, time-sensitive, and detail-oriented work to swing-shift team members so that it gets done on time and to the standards set by the business.

In this case, the swing shift may become a tool that businesses can use to leverage human capital for maximum results.

5) Reduced overtime costs

Swing shifts can help reduce overtime costs throughout your business.

While you may have to pay a differential for swing shift work, it’s often less than what you would have to pay in overtime for the same time frame.

For example, you may need a day-shift employee to work a bit more than their scheduled eight hours in order to complete a project. In that case, you would have to pay them time and a half for that extra work.

If that employee makes $10 an hour, you would have to pay them $15 for any overtime hours. That can quickly add up and affect your bottom line.

But, if you have a swing shift in place, you may pay those employees $12 an hour — a significant savings in labor costs when compared to the overtime pay.

So, instead of asking your day shift to work overtime to complete a task, you can have them pass it on to the swing shift to complete for less.

Swing shift best practices

swing shift in a shop

1) Keep it fair

As you implement and schedule swing shifts, do your best to ensure that the system is fair for all.

Give everyone a chance to work the different shifts on the schedule, and make sure that certain employees don’t get “pigeonholed” into always working the less-desirable swing shifts (if there are any).

The fair distribution of shifts — be they swing, first, second, third, or some other type entirely — can help prevent conflict and hard feelings and the overwork that leads to burnout.

2) Train employees

If your business is adding a swing shift to the schedule that has employees working non-standard hours, take the time to train your team about variables like:

  • How the schedule works
  • How it fits into the larger ongoing schedule
  • The importance of adequate rest
  • How to adapt when changing from morning hours to nighttime hours
  • Managing sleep patterns when schedules change
  • Nutrition for shift workers

Training your employees to handle these (and other) variables in their lives can help them be more effective when asked to work a swing shift that is outside their “normal” work schedule.

3) Offer competitive compensation

If your swing shift runs during non-standard hours — or, if you schedule a split shift to cover two busy periods during the day — make it a point to offer competitive compensation for these time periods.

If an employee feels that they are being paid well for the “inconvenience” of working 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. or working a four-hour shift during the lunch rush and then returning for another four-hour shift during the dinner rush, they’ll be less likely to look elsewhere for a better schedule.

4) Prioritize good lighting

Good lighting can impact employees’ energy level, productivity, and overall mood — especially for those working after the sun goes down.

Lighting that’s too dim may make your employees feel tired and cranky, while lighting that’s too bright may disrupt their body’s natural circadian rhythms and even trigger headaches.

Lighting that is just right for the shift and the space can help your team members stay alert and energized even when they’re on the tail end of a swing shift outside standard work hours.

5) Encourage social interaction

Depending on how you set them up, swing shifts may contain fewer employees than the shifts around them.

While that may be just fine with some personality types, for others it may lead to isolation and depression.

To combat this issue, plan team-building activities and ice-breakers to engage those who might not have a chance to interact with their co-workers because of the hours they work.

Manage every shift with Sling

sling shift for swing shift

Regardless of how many swing shifts you use or how complicated your shift scheduling is, Sling can help you keep everything organized and running smoothly with a wide range of employee-management tools, including:

Try the app for free to see why Sling is the scheduling and workforce-management solution for businesses of all types and sizes.

And, for more free resources to help you manage your swing shifts, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.

This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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