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What Is the Swing Shift?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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In facilities which operate 24 hours a day, requiring several shifts of workers to ensure that all the hours are covered, the swing shift is a shift which starts in the afternoon and runs into the evening. It may be known as the second shift or evening shift, depending on when it occurs and regional preferences. Working on the swing shift can be grueling, especially for parents, as it requires a somewhat unusual sleep schedule.

Classically, the swing shift runs from 4:00 in the afternoon until midnight. Variations may run from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM, 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM, and so forth. Swing shift workers often come in as the second shift in the day, replacing workers who started in the morning, and they will be replaced by a third shift which covers the late night and early morning. This third shift is known as the night shift or graveyard shift.

People who work on the swing shift usually need to sleep later than other people in the community, because their work ends late in the evening. They may have difficulty coordinating things like social events, medical appointments, and so forth, because the rest of society usually operates on a nine to five schedule, assuming that people are at work between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. Swing shift workers can experience especially large problems with things like childcare.

However, being on the second shift can also be advantageous. College students, for example, may appreciate this schedule because it allows them to take courses in the morning and early afternoon, and go to work in the evenings. Other people feel more alert and active in the late afternoon, preferring to be at work during these hours since they function more effectively.

Shift work can be used for things like keeping a factory in 24 hour production, which tends to be more efficient, and providing customer service at all hours. For international companies, the ability to have people on the phones every hour of the day is critical, as customers may need assistance or services at any time, day or night.

There are a number of variations on the swing shift, with various companies having different shift schedules for their workers. Generally, the more senior a worker is, the more he or she will be able to dictate the terms of a work schedule, while less senior workers usually find themselves on graveyard and swing shifts, rather than the usually coveted first shift.

Swing Shift Hours

Traditional jobs require full-time employees to work a minimum of 40 hours each week. This is usually attained by working Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, schedules may differ for those who are employed by companies with extended hours of operation. For example, service centers require that their customer representative department be open 24/7, while manufacturing plants depend on uninterrupted workflow. Companies account for this by scheduling different shifts throughout the day.

Swing shifts are designed to maintain workflow as daytime employees leave and nighttime workers arrive. These jobs are typically referred to as the second shift and run from 4 p.m. to midnight. It is not uncommon for these set hours to differ from one business to the next. The nature of the company, productivity levels and deadlines determine the hours of a swing shift.

Swing Shift Jobs

Setting a standard opening and closing time is not always feasible for some businesses. Certain industries not only rely on the continuous production of goods and services but also benefit from the ability to cycle through employees on overlapping shifts. Some sectors are more likely than others to use swing shift jobs.

Food Manufacturing

Fresh food has a limited shelf life and requires quick packaging upon its arrival at a facility. Employees are needed to unload incoming deliveries, wash and prepare food for consumption and reseal goods to meet proper storage requirements. Swing shift jobs include working on the conveyor belts, maintaining machinery and overseeing logistics.

Hospitality

Hotels must always have enough staff on hand to adequately meet the needs of guests. Housekeeping, maintenance and concierge services are commonly requested and frequently require the work of many employees. Food and beverage establishments within the hospitality industry prevent disruptions in service by having an alternating cycle of chefs, hosts, bartenders and servers. Peak hours of operation, which are often in the evening, may call for additional staff.

Customer Service

Large companies use call centers to provide customers with unlimited support at all times of the day. Customer representatives handle purchases and returns, provide tech support or troubleshooting services and schedule product deliveries. Businesses find it beneficial to have a continuous pool of workers to ensure that customers across different time zones are attended to.

Transportation

People depend on reliable transportation to run errands, travel to work and attend medical appointments. Having a personal car is a luxury that not all individuals are afforded. Public transportation is often an inexpensive and easy way to get around. Subways, trains and buses transport thousands of passengers each day and provide a great opportunity for employment at all hours.

Cashiers provide passengers with tickets, security personnel work to enforce safety protocols and sanitation teams uphold health codes. Companies need numerous licensed professionals to operate vehicles and equipment on an ongoing basis. The use of swing shifts prevents any interruption of service.

Healthcare

Hospitals, doctors’ offices and urgent care centers are consistently inundated with patients. Physicians and nurses attend to as many people as possible, while receptionists work to make sure emergency cases are promptly addressed. Healthcare workers with shifts starting in the middle of the day can provide resources when they are most needed. More patients can be seen, concerns can be addressed and professional burnout can be reduced. Swing shifts apply to doctors, assistants, operators, patient care coordinators and custodial workers.

Working Swing Shift

Working the swing shift is not ideal for everyone. Families with young children may struggle to find child care in the afternoon once school activities, community programs or sporting events have ended. Hiring a babysitter or nanny can be too expensive for some people to afford. Worrying about the welfare of one’s kids can create distractions for workers that lead to decreased productivity.

Individuals who live in large cities may find it more difficult to adjust their biological sleep patterns. Outdoor commotion, noisy neighbors and bright lights can make it impossible for light sleepers to get substantial rest during the day. This style of work is not conducive for people whose bodies require additional sleep or for those who suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to concentrate and negatively impacts performance.

Students can benefit from unconventional scheduling. They can attend school during the day and work in the afternoon or evening, and don't need to forfeit receiving an education to earn an income. Swing shift employees with long commutes have the advantage of avoiding rush hour traffic. Less congestion decreases the amount of travel time and helps save money on gas. Hours not spent in the car can be used to complete household chores, run errands and take care of personal matters.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon992446 — On Sep 09, 2015

I work swing and enjoy it well. I don't have to fight traffic on the freeway at 2 p.m., and it is almost clear at midnight. My wife and I have gotten into a routine, where she can watch the kids during the day, and I can at night. It works out quite well for us!

By mendocino — On Oct 21, 2011

Swing shift has a number of advantages, as well as disadvantages. For example on a swing shift schedule say from 3pm to 11pm a person can still get a good night sleep, have mornings free to do all the chores and errands, and usually there is extra compensation for working odd hours.

The only disadvantage is social life. It is really difficult to go to a movie or dinner with friends. Those activities have to be left for the days off. Swing shift is also not a good shift for families with children, since there is very little time left for family time.

By anon131689 — On Dec 03, 2010

I recently started a job with swing shift hours (11 a.m.-11:30 pm). I've worked it six months and have found these hours to be very difficult to work.

I am normally an "early riser", so I feel these work hours are battling my natural body systems. The days I don't work, all I do is sleep and try and rest, but I continually feel exhausted. I also recently had my cholesterol/blood lipids checked and they are both elevated, although my diet hasn't changed. Can the swing shift alter the cholesterol/lipids due to stress?

By EarlyForest — On Aug 19, 2010

A lot of times working the swing shift in retail can be really easy, since you get a lot of overlap at the beginning and end of your shift with the morning and evening shift employees.

That means there's more people working, so it's a little bit easier for everyone involved.

Of course, it can be a little boring if there's too many people and nothing to do, but I think it beats being run off your feet.

By StreamFinder — On Aug 19, 2010

I always liked working the swing shift, personally, because it left me so much more time to do other things.

I'm more of a night person anyway, and not having to be up at the crack of dawn to go to work was a definite perk for me.

By closerfan12 — On Aug 19, 2010

I used to work the swing shift for extra money when I was in college, and let me tell you, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I know some people like it because they can sleep in, or do other things in the morning, but for me, I felt like I just killed my whole day.

I was so glad when I got out of school and could have a job that worked "normal" hours -- I'm just not cut out to work at night, I guess.

By Crispety — On Jul 30, 2010

I just wanted to add that the swing shift is probably most lucrative shift for servers in restaurants and bars. Here they are able to serve the dinner clientele which usually results in more expensive meals yielding higher gratuity.

This is especially true for Friday, Saturday and even Sunday schedules. Although a swing shift is typically an eight hour shift, in some professions it encompasses a full 12 hour shift work schedule.

For example, nurses and police officers often work twelve hour shifts from afternoon to evening. This would be their swing shift. Sometimes the swing shift in these professions are 7PM to 7AM.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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