Shift Work and the Employees Who Work Shifts

Considerations for Employees and Customers in a 24-Hour Work Schedule

Medical professionals consulting
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Companies that require 24-hour coverage or need a 24-hour day to optimize output and productivity often turn to shift work. Shift work occurs in a 24-hour-a-day work schedule and occasionally seven days a week to keep an organization operating without a hitch and optimize work output and productivity.

There are many approaches to shift work. An employee may work one of three eight-hour shifts in a workplace that operates 24 hours. Or, an employee may work 12 hours a day for four straight days and then be off for the next four days.

Employers have experimented with every conceivable form of shift work in an effort to maximize the potential of their operation while also considering how to minimize any ill effects on their workers. Those working the night shift, in particular, are susceptible to debilitating health effects due to lack of sleep and poor eating habits. 


Shift work in which an employee works the same shift consistently is typically better for employee health and allows the employee to create a fulfilling lifestyle and home life. Conversely, constantly changing shifts disrupt one's life patterns.

Who Does Shift Work?

Once the purview of the manufacturing world, shift work now occurs in many industries and fields, including law enforcement, military, security, healthcare, retail, restaurants, hospitality, grocery stores, transportation, fire stations, convenience stores, customer service call centers, newspapers, and media. The list also includes any facility that houses people 24 hours a day, such as prisons, nursing homes, hotels, and college dorms.

Hiring Employees to Work Shifts

It's much easier to attract talent if you have established eight-hour shifts. The employee knows what to expect and can decide to accept or turn down the job based on the impact it will have on her family, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices.

A nurse, for example, should know what work schedule to expect before accepting a hospital job where night work is common. A nurse who can only work during the day should consider working in a doctor's office where extended patient care usually means putting in an extra hour or two after closing.

Introducing shift work into a workplace that has traditionally worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. can be problematic. Not only are you changing the conditions of employment, but you are also disrupting families. Introducing shift work after the fact is always contentious and could result in employee turnover. 

Modified Shift Work

In businesses committed to servicing customers outside of the traditional eight-hour day, modified shift work, extended shifts, or overlapping shifts can make sense. For example, a software development company posts on its website that customer service and technical support are available Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET.

People working at the beginning and the end of the shift will have crossover time with other employees, but their work hours are modified to provide coverage. For example, an employee might work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., while another employee might work from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.


In instances of exempt employees working shifts in a white-collar environment, employers need data about how the extended shifts affect satisfaction. Requiring employees to work well into the evening and give up valuable family or social time will not encourage employee retention, especially among Millennials, who tend to highly value work-life balance and often have the technical skills to move on to another job.

State and Federal Laws

In all shift work, federal and state labor laws govern topics such as meal periods, minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and breaks, especially for non-exempt employees.

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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Night Work and Shift Work." Accessed Feb. 20, 2021.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Breaks and Meal Periods." Accessed Feb. 20, 2021

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