What Is Shift Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 25 February 2021 | Published 25 August 2020

Updated 25 February 2021

Published 25 August 2020

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.

Shift work enables employers and employees to make use of every hour in the day to increase productivity and output. It's not as common as standard business hours, which often start at 9am and end at 5pm Instead, this schedule is most common in areas of employment that require someone on duty at all times or during times of high demand. In this article, we explain shift work, highlight some industries that make use of shifts and go over some things to consider when working this type of schedule.

What is shift work?

Shift work is any type of job in which the work occurs outside of normal business hours and has been stipulated in an award, employment contract or registered agreement. Because shift work often occurs outside of typically social hours, many who work this type of schedule receive a higher pay rate.

This is especially common for those who work overnight. Most shift work is performed in three eight-hour shifts or two 12-hour shifts to ensure that employees can perform their duties while staying well-rested. Shifts are defined per the following:

  • Morning shift

  • Night shift

  • Weekend shift

The Fair Work Commission defines the shift hours for multiple industries and uses the 38-hour workweek as a base for calculating shift work. The agency also outlines which roles are eligible for penalty rates as part of the award for engaging in shift work.

What industries use shift work?

Many industries engage in shift work to ensure services are supplied and production goals are met. Shift work is also necessary for a variety of healthcare roles. Having a labor force engaged around the clock enables employers to respond to periods of demand or maintain services on an ongoing basis. Here are four industries and some of the roles within them that feature shift work:

  • Retail

  • Manufacturing

  • Safety and security

  • Hospitality


Retailers need employees to work across multiple shifts. Some retail establishments are open from early in the morning until late at night, while others are open for set hours and require people to restock the shelves while the business is closed to the public. Some jobs include:

1. Retail sales assistant

National Average Salary: $55,731 per year

Primary Duties: Retail sales assistants work in the general retail industry and perform duties that include stocking shelves, assisting customers, ringing up purchases and various other responsibilities as defined by the job. The definition of the retail role differs from employer to employer.

2. Retail customer service manager

National Average Salary: $71,540 per year

Primary Duties: A retail customer service manager leads a team of employees and ensures that shoppers have the best possible experience while in the store. This requires the ability to communicate information clearly, manage budgets, order stock and supplies as needed, identify and encourage the talents of other employees and resolve customer issues as they arise.


Manufacturing facilities require staff to perform a wide variety of duties, such as assisting in or planning the manufacturing process or moving products around the facility through warehouse work. Many industries operate around the clock in order to meet the demand for products from customers, which creates the need for shift work. Example positions include:

1. Production worker

National Average Salary: $26.37 per hour

Primary Duties: A production worker is employed in the food preparation industry, specifically in commercial facilities and kitchens. Their job is to prepare foods for finishing and packaging so they can be shipped to outlets such as grocery stores, bakeries and other food suppliers. Sometimes the work is performed at the retail outlet level.

2. Production assembler

National Average Salary: $27.27 per hour

Primary Duties: Production assembly ranges from putting together electronics to finishing cabinets. The production assembler puts together a product prior to boxing and shipping. They may assemble part or all of the unit depending factors such as their experience level or their position in the assembly line.

Safety and security

Safety and security officers act as a private security force for their employers. They're found at large events to act as crowd control, or they're often seen patrolling parking lots for property owners and walking around private premises to spot unusual activity. Safety and security jobs include the following:

1. Security supervisor

National Average Salary: $25.88 per hour

Primary Duties: A security supervisor takes ownership of the security details at a property and oversees all security operations. They hire security personnel, teach them how to perform their duties and assume responsibility for the actions of the team. A supervisor is required to know the legislation and regulations as they pertain to the security industry and the organisation they are working for.

2. Security guard

National Average Salary: $27.41 per hour

Primary Duties: Security guards engage in services that include crowd control, patrolling a property, checking in visitors and searching vehicles. A security guard is responsible for closely monitoring of a situation or property in order to keep everyone safe and to prevent criminal activity from taking place. They also take down reports from private citizens and write out incident reports.


The hospitality industry centers on taking care of guests while they stay at a hotel property. Roles include handling basic financial accounting, room and property maintenance and check-in services. A few hospitality positions include:

1. Night guest service agent

National Average Salary: $50,330 per year

Primary Duties: A night guest service agent assists guests as they arrive and depart the hotel property, providing them with helpful information about the facilities and local places of interest around the hotel. They also answer inquiries about and schedule reservations. Other duties include coordinating overnight deliveries, completing daily reports, checking guest accounts for accuracy and inspecting the security and condition of the property.

2. Housekeeping manager

National Average Salary: $54,633 per year

Primary Duties: A housekeeping manager oversees the team of housekeepers for the hotel property and is responsible for making sure guests have the best possible experience during their stay. The manager sets the standards for all housekeeping duties, maintains accurate records for financials, inventory and maintenance needs, oversees training of new employees and ensures that the entire property is cleaned on a regular schedule.

3. Night auditor

National Average Salary: $27.07 per hour

Primary Duties: A night auditor handles multiple duties that include reconciling end-of-day takings to logged reports from front desk clerks, editing reports for accuracy and completion, investigating any discrepancies and delivering newspapers to guest rooms. They also handle overnight room service orders and assist the night manager when needed.

Tips for managing shift work schedules

While shift work has its benefits, it can sometimes lead to a condition known as shift work sleep disorder. However, you can follow many practices to reduce the effects of the condition or prevent it completely. The Fair Work Commission defines the types of shifts that someone can work within a given industry, which means you have to adapt your sleeping habits to your defined schedule. Here are some ways to manage shift work scheduling:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Focus on keeping to the same sleep schedule every day of the week, even when you're not working. It's easier to wake up for the days you're scheduled to work when you're sleeping and waking at the same time.

  • Avoid bright light when driving home from work. Wear dark sunglasses or add tint to the windows of your car if possible. Minimising the amount of bright light on your way home helps you fall asleep more easily.

  • Only stop at shops when absolutely necessary. It's especially helpful to minimise the amount of stimulating activities in order to have an easier time falling asleep when you get home. Stopping at any kind of store can increase your state of awareness as much as additional exposure to bright light. Only make a stop if you have no other alternative.

  • Keep your workplace brightly lit. It's possible to trick your circadian rhythm into thinking that it's daytime. Making use of bright lights at work tells your internal body clock that it's daytime and the body should be at full alertness. If you work overnight, doing this over time trains your body for alertness at night and sleep during the day.

The pros of working a shift schedule

Engaging in a shift work schedule has benefits that aren't typically found in a standard daytime work schedule. Working on an alternative schedule allows you to get more work done during the daytime, engage in activities that are difficult to attend on a day shift schedule and make appointments for daytime hours. Swapping shifts with other coworkers on the same schedule is also easier due to everyone enjoying the same benefits of shift work and experiencing less pressure on their daytime necessities.

The cons of working a shift schedule

Shift work can demand a lot from your body due to the need to shift your circadian rhythm. Follow these guidelines to counteract any possible challenges that come from shift work:

  • Maintain sleep hygiene: In order to prevent health issues such as insomnia, follow any guidelines available that promote healthy sleep habits.

  • Keep stress down: Make sure to manage stress levels and practice relaxing activities to help reduce any anxiety from work.

  • Maintain relationships: Remember to continue building friendships and familial bonds while working shifts that require irregular hours.

  • Find a hobby or source of entertainment: To prevent boredom, find an entertaining hobby that your employer allows on the job.

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