What Are Swing Shifts? (How They Work and Tips for Success)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 4 January 2023

Published 15 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Swing shifts refer to working outside the traditional 9 am to 5 pm working hours. The amount of flexibility you have is up to your employer, with some industries being more flexible than others. Understanding how swing shifts work can help you determine if they would be a good fit for you. In this article, we answer the question 'What are swing shifts?', explore how they work, look at specific industries where you may work swing shifts and provide some tips for working swing shifts.

What are swing shifts?

Swing shifts, also commonly known as shift work, usually occur in businesses that operate outside standard business hours. These businesses may have swing shifts to maintain productivity or service customers after 6 pm.

Shift work can mean different things to different people or employers, depending on the industry. For example, a factory employee may work a standard eight-hour overnight shift on the same schedule each week. In contrast, a flight attendant's shift depends on how long the flight takes and can therefore start at any time throughout the day.

Related: What Is Shift Work?

How do swing shifts work?

The way each business structures its shifts is different depending on its specific needs, but swing shifts usually work in a couple of different ways. First, employees can follow a fixed schedule, where they work the same hours each shift (starting at the same time and ending at the same time) on set days of the week. Conversely, a rotating schedule can change frequently, with an employee working different times and days that vary from week to week or month to month. Generally, employees receive their rotating schedules in advance so they can plan their lives accordingly.

Another option is a split shift, which divides up an employee's shift across the day. These can be common in industries such as hospitality, where employees work over a lunch period, take some time off in the afternoon and return for the evening dinner service.

Related: 13 Types of Work Schedules (With Benefits and Challenges)

What industries use swing shifts?

Shift work is typical in industries where there is a need for the business to continue operating, sometimes 24 hours a day. Some companies, such as restaurants or retail businesses, are open in the evening. For other companies like hospitals or manufacturing plants, having staff work during night hours is essential. Some companies require employees to work earlier in the morning. For example, construction or agricultural businesses. Here is a list of the more common industries that require swing shifts:

Retail

Working in retail requires swing shift employees to match the demand of competitors who sell products online. Supermarkets, for example, hire swing shift team members to stock shelves with products customers can buy when they come in the next day. Many stores are also open late.

Related: 25 Helpful Tips for Working in Retail Jobs (With Examples)

Hospitality

The hospitality industry regularly hires employees to work swing shifts. The hospitality industry generally requires employees to serve customers at different hours throughout the day and night. Hotels and restaurants, for example, may have shifts for employees to prepare and serve food and drinks and clean dishes.

Related: What Is the Hospitality Industry? (Job Types and Salaries)

Healthcare

Employees in the healthcare industry work swing shift hours for patients who require immediate care or stay overnight in hospitals. They can work at night or early in the morning. Usually, a set number of medical professionals need to be working depending on the number of patients. Administrative employees may also be required at the hospital to check on patients outside normal hours. In addition, cleaning staff may work during these hours to maintain a sterile environment.

Related: 19 Jobs in the Hospital for You To Explore

Public health and safety

Public safety employees work swing shift hours to help the public when an emergency arises. An emergency might require a police officer, paramedic or firefighter to assist people in danger. It can also mean technical specialists, for example, an electrician who repairs a fallen electricity pole during a storm.

Customer service

Many businesses service customers outside traditional working hours. Some call centres, for example, are open in the evening so that customers can speak to someone about an issue or rectify a problem at a time that suits them. These businesses may have swing shifts to accommodate customers who work more traditional schedules.

What are the advantages of swing shifts?

Here's a list of some of the more common advantages of working swing shifts:

  • Shorter commute: Working outside the busier peak times means there's less traffic, so getting to and from work can take less time.

  • Extra money: Depending on where you work, some businesses offer additional money for night shifts, which can help to increase your savings.

  • Suited to people who enjoy working at night and morning people: People who feel more motivated and productive in the evenings may be more productive during a night shift. People who operate better in the early mornings can benefit from working an early morning shift.

Tips for succeeding on swing shifts

Here are some tips for success on a swing shift:

Rethink your sleep patterns

Working swing shifts may require you to adjust your sleep schedule around work. You can consider trying segmented sleep, which allows you to get in a total of eight hours of sleep but not all at once. For example, if you finish your shift at 2 am, try to get some sleep. Using this method, you can sleep for five hours and gain another three hours later in the day before work. As a result, your body is getting sufficient sleep, but in a way that works around your schedule.

Related: How to Deal with Night Shifts for Health and Productivity

Create a routine where possible

Having a routine is good for your mental health. A routine lets your brain understand what is coming next and establishes security. Shift work can disrupt typical habits, so establishing a routine tailored around your shifts can help. For example, a pre-shift pattern where you have set tasks to complete before you head to work or a bedtime routine where you pack your lunch and prepare clothes for the next day can help you feel organised and improve your sleep quality.

Maintain a close relationship with friends and family

Make time to see family and friends that live in your area. Consider occasionally booking time off during the week or weekend to see your friends or relatives that work regular business hours. Video calls can be helpful if your friends live in another city or state. You can also swap shifts with contacts who also work swing shifts to schedule a time when you are both available.

Keep to a 24-hour clock

A 24-hour clock rather than a 12-hour clock can help you keep track of the night and day, particularly when you don't have access to natural light. It can also help you create a distinctive schedule at work and in your personal life. You may decide to adapt the setting on a digital clock or use an analogue watch.

Related: Complete Guide on How to Work 12-Hour Shifts (With Tips)

Set time for exercise

Exercise is important for a healthy lifestyle and can help to support your energy levels. Think about how you can fit in exercise around your routine and make it a priority. Many gyms are now open 24/7 to cater to people who work different hours. Alternatively, take advantage of the many online exercise videos freely available. If you conduct a heavy-duty job, you can consider taking a light walk around your local area.

Look after your body

If you want to keep your energy high to last through your shift work, eat a healthy and varied diet full of fruit, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates before your shift. Pack plenty of healthy snacks from home, so you're not tempted to unhealthy food during your shift. You could also consider only bringing a small amount of cash with you and leaving debit or credit cards to limit the number of snacks you buy at work.

Related: What Is Employee Well-Being? (Plus 20 Ways to Boost It)

Stay hydrated

Bring a big bottle of water, flavoured water or juice to work to prevent dehydration and optimise your productivity. Staying hydrated can help you remain alert throughout your shift. Eating fruit and ice lollies are also excellent ways to stay hydrated.

Understand your rights

Many industries have set laws and regulations to help protect employees. Employees are entitled to work a minimum and a maximum number of hours per shift, varying between states. Your employer may offer paid overtime by taking additional or extending existing shifts. Consider speaking with your HR team to determine a reasonable amount of extra hours.

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