We live in a fast-paced world — an “always-on” society where people seem to be moving non-stop.
With this, many companies cope with the demand and aim to stay on top of their game by employing staff for specific job positions on a rotational basis. It means work is handled by different sets of the crew working in shifts to allow for longer operating hours or even provide 24/7 coverage.
While the traditional nine-to-five (9-to-5) work schedule is still highly typical worldwide, there is an increasing number of people working in night shifts or irregular hours.
Because shift work typically involves working graveyard shifts, this arrangement has been much maligned for disrupting sleep patterns, negative impacts on a person’s general health, and adverse effects on family life. For people who are not cut out for working 12-hour shifts or working during unsociable hours, such schedules mean constant sleeplessness.
They may even dread going to work and somehow feel that they just have no choice but to accept this work arrangement due to their need to pay their bills and survive. This negative side and the associated risks are the ones that are frequently emphasized.
However, working in shifts is not all bad — there are also upsides. While the benefits from the employer’s point of view may be obvious, shift work can have some advantages for employees.
Before we look into the positive side of working in shifts, we will first discuss what shift work means and who does shift work.
Understanding Shift Work
Shift work is designed to cater to customers around the clock. Depending on the nature of the business, it even allows a company to operate continuously for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The simplest way to understand how this works is to think of it as a relay race. In a relay race, the athlete must run with a baton, pass it on to the next athlete, and so on.
Meanwhile, in shift work, the transition happens between a set of employees working at different schedules.
For example, those working in night shifts will pass on the work to those working in the morning when their shift ends. The length of the shifts may vary, and the schedules may rotate every couple of weeks.
However, shift work generally involves working 12-hour shifts or eight-hour shifts. In other words, a workday may be divided into two to three shifts.
For eight-hour shift schedules, the arrangement involves a set of employees working graveyard shifts, another group for early morning shifts, and a different set of workers for the mid-shift.
Who Does Shift Work?
In the past, this work arrangement was only common in the manufacturing industry.
However, it has become increasingly common in other sectors, such as:
- Public safety
- Food and beverages
- Customer service
Such unconventional work schedules are also seen in facilities that accommodate people 24 hours a day, including nursing homes, college dormitories, and prisons.
In other words, shift work is commonly implemented in businesses with products or services required by customers outside of the typical eight-hour operations.
So if you prefer the stability of the 9-to-5, you must avoid getting a job in the industries known for shift work.
In healthcare, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physician assistants must tend to patients around-the-clock.
Because crime never sleeps and accidents can happen in the most unexpected hours, public safety workers such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, security guards, and correctional officers must be available at all hours.
As online shopping increasingly gains popularity, brick-and-mortar retail stores should adapt to the rising demand of consumers.
Convenience stores or grocery stores need cashiers, stock clerks, sales associates, and store managers working in shifts to extend their operating hours.
Hospitality businesses such as hotels, motels, casinos, and resorts thrive by providing exceptional guest service day and night. To do this, there should be receptionists, housekeeping staff, and hotel managers ready to attend to the guests’ needs.
Similarly, 24-hour restaurants and bars will not function without cooks, servers, dishwashers, and bartenders working in shifts.
Also, because the quality of customer support affects a business’ reputation, companies hire customer service representatives or outsource call center agents to address customer concerns and queries that come in after business hours.
9 Advantages of Shift Work for Employees
From the employer’s perspective, shift work means continued productivity, enhanced capability to meet demand, and the ability to offer diverse offerings.
But what about the employees?
While shift work gets a bad reputation, it has lesser-known advantages. Below are some of the benefits of working in shifts.
1. Greater Flexibility and Convenience
Although shift work is not the same as flex-working, where employees get to choose the shift schedule they prefer, this work arrangement offers a different kind of flexibility. For instance, employees working graveyard shifts can attend to their daytime commitments.
When it comes to taking a vacation leave to go to an appointment with a physician or attend to other personal matters, it is often possible to book ahead so that the work scheduler can accommodate the employees’ individual needs.
This kind of flexibility can enhance your job satisfaction and give you a sense of freedom to schedule errands and essential meetings during the typically busy times of the day.
Whether you want to have lunch with your family to spend more time with them, go to the bank during regular office hours, or get your kids ready for school, shift work can make that possible. Through technology and useful apps such as a shift planner, schedules can be easier and far less stressful to manipulate.
There’s more to life than work, so it is crucial to organize your schedule and strike the right balance between meeting your responsibilities or preparing for your future and having fun. Working in night shifts is usually seen as a killer of work-life balance.
However, the reality is that working in this schedule can give you a rare chance to pursue your hobbies or passion outside of work during the day.
Are you planning to go back to university or take an online class to learn a new skill?
Do you want to try out a physical activity such as hiking?
Working in shifts other than the regular one might be your chance to finally find the time to learn new things and spice up your life.
2. Less Congestion and More Time to Spend
Shift work offers you a unique opportunity to avoid everyone’s most dreaded rush hour. This means spending less time commuting because there is less traffic.
When your work schedule is outside the typical one, daily travel to and from work becomes a more pleasant experience. The roads are less congested, and public transports are mostly vacant.
Plus, you will be able to park your vehicle more quickly and get a seat on the bus or train, which rarely happens during rush hours. By working in shifts, you will be able to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
As a shift worker, you can structure your week to suit your needs and lifestyle. When you work in the regular schedule of nine-to-five, fitting in chores and errands that can only be done during daytime can be difficult.
The tendency is all these responsibilities will have to wait until the weekend, and you’ll end up having a hectic schedule. This is why you sometimes feel like the weekend has just gone by without getting the chance to relax or do something you genuinely enjoy.
Meanwhile, shift workers can do their grocery shopping or visit the dry cleaners at night, where there are many fewer people. Imagine not having to wait in line and being able to drive to these places without being stuck in traffic.
Or perhaps, going shopping on a quiet Monday morning after your shift, instead of a busy Saturday afternoon just like everyone else.
It feels like a dream, right? Well, this can be your reality when you work in shifts.
Because you will have the chance to do some of your errands within the week, your weekend To-Do list will be cut in half or even more. It means you’ll have more time in your hands to engage in other activities and spend time with your loved ones.
You can also enjoy gyms, cinemas, and restaurants when there’s not much rush, congestion, and long queues. As a cherry on top, some businesses even offer special promotions or discounts to customers who visit them during quieter times.
Whatever activity you choose, shift workers can do it when people are busy with their regular nine to five jobs.
3. Set Hours, Defined Expectations
The beauty of shift work is that the number of hours you’re required to work is fixed, and you know exactly when you start and finish work. Because someone else will be taking over your tasks at the end of your shift, there is no expectation to stay behind to ‘finish the job.’
As soon as your shift ends, you can call it a day and then pick it straight back up again tomorrow as you take over where your colleague from the earlier shift has left off.
With most regular full-time jobs, you will be designated responsibilities and tasks that you need to accomplish. Sometimes, you will have to work more than the set number of hours to meet deadlines.
Meanwhile, in shift work, there is a lower chance of being required to work overtime. Employers also limit the amount of time that their employees work in night shifts due to safety reasons.
4. Working in a More Relaxed Pace
It is impossible to avoid stress in the workplace. However, working in shifts, particularly the graveyard shift, involves a more relaxed and less stressful pace.
Even in hospitals where it is frequently chaotic, the staff works at a much slower pace at night. Also, graveyard shift workers enjoy not being interrupted for meetings that may take up a lot of time.
For nurses and doctors working in night shifts, they appreciate the one-on-one moments they spend with their patients. During ungodly hours, they won’t have to rush from one patient to another unless it’s an emergency.
This means they can take the time to sit down with their patients to understand their medical situation and even personal circumstances. Aside from getting into a conversation with patients to listen to their concerns and stories, it is during the night shift when they can get more focused on therapeutic attention such as back rubs or soothing baths.
That is genuine patient care right there!
Generally, the less hectic atmosphere in any type of workplace gives shift workers the chance to slow down and do their jobs with greater focus up to the tiniest details. This exceptional quality of work will allow them to build a stronger relationship and trust with the people they serve.
5. Laser Focus and Higher Productivity
As mentioned earlier, working at unusual hours with fewer people around, makes for a calmer work environment. This relaxed workplace will allow employees to be more focused, which is good for productivity and will reflect your annual performance review.
With fewer distractions such as meetings, disruptions from micromanaging supervisors, and difficult colleagues, shift workers can pay more attention to the tasks at hand and do a better job. In some cases, in an out-of-hours work environment where there are fewer colleagues to compete with, you will have a greater opportunity to prove yourself to your superiors.
When working in the regular nine to five schedule, it is far too common to be distracted by your colleagues and even workplace gossip. Unknowingly, these unnecessary activities can kill your productivity.
On the other hand, working in quieter hours can help you concentrate and get your work done faster.
For instance, shift workers in production operations that involve hazardous or corrosive materials will find it easier to give their undivided attention during the night shift because they will not be distracted by the comings and goings of their colleagues.
6. Enjoy Greater Autonomy
Because there is usually fewer staff working during unconventional work schedules, being assigned to these shifts demands a higher degree of self-reliance, in case something goes wrong, you must be independent enough to work it out because there are fewer people around to seek guidance from.
So for people who enjoy autonomy, shift work may allow you to make several independent decisions.
In manufacturing companies, teams in production are typically just focused on continuous enhancements in the existing process to improve efficiencies and increase cost savings.
Working in night shifts where you have greater autonomy will allow you to boost your knowledge of the job, test out new ways to accomplish the work, make more decisions, and showcase your leadership skills.
All these can lead you to excel and give you a higher chance to climb up the corporate ladder.
7. Exposure to More Learning Opportunities
On-the-job experience is underrated.
However, the reality is that it is the best way to learn the ins and outs of a particular role. With less staff on duty during the so-called antisocial hours, you may have to learn and practice new skills or take on responsibilities outside your comfort zone.
This can be overwhelming at first, but this is a good thing for your professional and personal growth. You should never pass up on opportunities for self-improvement such as this, as they may well stand you in good stead further down the line.
If you are eager to learn more about your industry or expand your marketable skills but are struggling to find time with your regular nine to five schedule, working in night shifts might be the solution. By taking this schedule, you will have enough time to allocate training activities during the day without taking vacation leaves.
Provided there is proper time management. You will be able to strike the perfect balance between work and training to enhance your skills.
8. Enticing Financial Incentive
Earlier in this article, we have talked about how shift work gets a bad reputation for its “anti-social hours.” With this, many people tend to avoid working graveyard shifts or other unconventional schedules.
To make the roles with shift work arrangement more enticing, employers offer a couple of extra dollars per hour or a higher pay with an overnight differential rate when you work at night.
Furthermore, working during the weekends or public holidays will further increase the amount that will be added to your basic salary.
All these extra financial incentives serve as some sort of a bonus for agreeing to work in such irregular hours.
Whether you admit it or not, money is a significant motivator for many people. This fact makes offering a higher salary an effective and highly common practice among companies to attract people to work in shifts.
Anyway, who wouldn’t consider accepting shift work and disregard the fact that it requires a bit of an adjustment if it offers your desired compensation? Besides providing you with extra money, night shifts can also make it easier for you to save.
During rush hours, when the demand for ride-hailing services is high, the fare can be too expensive. Fortunately, when you’re working outside the regular office hours, especially the graveyard shift, you won’t have to rely on these to avoid getting late.
The roads are free from traffic, and local public transportation is more accessible. Additionally, a lot of restaurants are closed during your shift. With this, there will be less temptation to spend money.
9. Lower Childcare Cost
You may not realize it, but childcare costs nowadays can take a sizable chunk of the household budget. With shift work, external childcare hours may be reduced, and so is the cost.
If a couple has different schedules, say Mom is working a regular nine to five office job, while Dad is working in the night shift, they can establish a tag-team effort in attending to their family’s needs. Plus, both parents can have full-time jobs, and no one has to sacrifice their career by becoming a full-time housewife or househusband.
For parents, the graveyard shift can turn out to be a blessing. When everyone in the family is rushing in and out in the morning, it can be challenging to keep up and interact. Instead of returning home from work when the time to connect and spend time with the family has passed over to bedtime, you get to work while your spouse and kids sleep.
Because you get to rest and do some household chores peacefully while your wife is in the office and your children are at school, the whole family will benefit from home-cooked healthy meals and clean home. Additionally, you can still help your kids with homework, attend their school productions and extracurricular activities, take them to soccer practice, or accompany them for their appointment with the dentist.
Meanwhile, the parent who is absent during the day can tuck their kids into bed at night and spend extra time for bedtime stories.
5 Disadvantages of Working in Shifts
As enticing as the advantages are, there are downsides that you should be aware of when weighing if shift work is worth trying.
1. Health Issues
While you’re young, fluctuations in eating and sleeping habits can be handled by the body well. However, as you grow older, you will find that it will take more effort to do the same functions as you were younger.
Night shift workers over the age of 25 are associated with more risk factors than younger ones. Some of the common health problems among shift workers include cardiovascular diseases, gastritis, indigestion, acidity, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.
Many companies address this by assigning younger employees to shift work, while the older ones are appointed to fixed shifts.
2. Abnormal Routine
The normal daily routine of waking up in the morning, having lunch by noon, and leaving the workplace late in the afternoon is not the same for those working in night shifts.
So if you’ve worked nine-to-five shifts all your life and transitioned to shift work, you will feel disoriented when there are alterations to the routine you’re accustomed to. Sometimes, you will not get enough sleep during the day because of distractions. Consequently, the lack of sleep will make you feel tired or lazy and affect your daily life.
As mentioned earlier, there will be fewer people in the workplace during unconventional work hours. While this will help you focus more on your work, it can also become dull over time.
When working in graveyard shifts, you should be prepared to face the silence in and out of the workplace. So if you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city during the day, adjusting to the emptiness of the streets and the business premises may be a significant adjustment.
4. Safety Risks
Besides health risks, there are also safety concerns, particularly for those working in graveyard shifts and mid-shifts.
Not all cities and routes to your workplace are safe at night. You can get caught up between gang fights or fall victim to robbery or rape. Plus, there is a higher risk of intrusion in the workplace at night, so companies should maintain stricter security measures during odd hours.
5. Difficult to Find Coworkers to Cover Your Shift
When you’re working in night shifts or mid-shifts, it can be challenging to find coworkers who are willing to cover for you because many still prefer their regular schedule.
So if you have prior obligations such as essential appointments or a death in the family, it is important to speak with your manager as soon as possible so they can assign someone to work an extra shift. Some companies also have a call list and can get a temporary replacement for the days you’ll be away.
Adjusting to Shift Work
No matter what kind of job you do at night, you chose to do something that only a fraction of workers will even consider— that in itself is admirable. You are willing to sacrifice and keep the economy going while the rest of the world sleeps.
Like what people always tell you while growing up, it is by willing to do what everyone else is afraid of doing if you can stand out. However, it is also essential to note that the unconventional hours may require you to mentally and physically undergo some adjustments.
Especially if you are working 12-hour shifts at night, you need to be accustomed to the daily routine of working through the night and sleeping during the daytime. Despite the many benefits of shift work financially, career-wise. In your personal life, some people may still find adapting to the disruptions in their normal living patterns more challenging than others.
Your body is not a machine that can instantly adjust with a flick of a switch. So if ever your shift runs during odd hours, make sure that you diligently take measures to adjust your body while maintaining a healthy lifestyle and pleasant work experience.
Ensure that you get enough sleep when you go home after your shift, no matter what time that might be. Although it may be tempting because you are pulling an all-nighter every day, you should try to cut back on caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda.
Eat nutritious and energy-boosting foods instead, and do some light exercises during your breaks to stay awake while improving your cardiovascular health. You can also take mental breaks by interacting with your co-workers in the same shift who can relate to your state of mind very well.
Trying out new things always involves a certain level of adjustment. Sure, switching to a nocturnal lifestyle is a particularly tricky one, but it can still be a rewarding experience at the end of the day. So as you look for that perfect job for you, don’t rule out shift work just yet!