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What Are the Three Work Shifts?

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Many different industries use shift work to meet the demands of production. For many manufacturing plants this means a 24-hour workday, which usually comprises a three-shift system. This system includes eight-hour shifts that typically work 40 hours per week from Monday through Friday. Each shift has its advantages and pay schedules, and nearly all workers have a preference as to which shift they work. Some employers also use alternate work schedules for better coverage or extended service hours.

First Shift

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics states that eight of 10 full-time hourly and salary workers start their workday between 7 and 9 o'clock in the morning, with 8 a.m. as the most popular starting time. The day shift is also known as the first shift. If you have children or require the use of public transportation, this is the easiest shift to plan your day around. Working during the day and sleeping at night will allow your body to follow its natural circadian rhythms, which can help you perform at your best, according to the National Sleep foundation.

Second Shift

The second shift, or swing shift, starts when first shift ends, which is usually around 4 p.m., and it ends around midnight. While first-shift workers make the base pay schedule for their jobs, if you work second shift you usually receive a pay incentive that is a cents-per-hour increase over first shift that varies depending on your employer. An advantage of second shift is that you will probably have fewer administrative meetings to attend because most upper-level management will be gone for the day. However, it can be a disadvantage if you are the last shift to work on Friday. You may have to work longer to get everything finished up before the weekend.

Third Shift

Third shift, or night, shift covers the hours from around 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. It is also referred to as the graveyard shift. The pay rate for third shift includes a cents-per-hour increase above second shift rates. Manufacturers use the pay incentive to entice more employees to work the odd hours. If you are raising children, it can be difficult to locate childcare, and if you are single it may be difficult to have a social life because most people are at work or asleep when you are awake. The American Psychological Association also reports when you work against your natural sleep cycle, it can cause fatigue and sleep disorders, which can decrease your cognitive abilities and make you more susceptible to disease.

Alternative Work Schedules

The three-shift system is not the only shift work implemented by employers. A rotating shift requires workers to alternate hours or shifts. There are many different shift work schedules. For example, you may work first shift the first week of the month, second shift the second week and the third shift on the third week and then start the rotation over on the fourth week. The Centers for Disease Control says a rapid rotation can be every two days with two days off in between rotations and a slow rotation is every 21 days. This is similar to an oscillating shift in which you rotate between two shifts. A split shift cuts your workday into two parts. You may work from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. and then come back and work from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. This helps employers keep the majority of their employees on staff during the busiest parts of the day, for example if you work at a restaurant where it is busiest at breakfast and at dinner.


Based in Atlanta, Melody Dawn has been writing business articles and blogs since 2004. Her work has appeared in the "Gainesville Times," "Player's Press" and "USA Today." She is also skilled in writing product descriptions and marketing materials. Dawn holds a Master of Business from Brenau University.

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