Haley Baird Riemer
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If you’re considering taking a shift work job or just started working in an industry that operates on shifts rather than a regular 9-to-5 schedule, the lifestyle may take some time to get used to. As long as you know what you’re in for and what your priorities are as an employee when balancing your work and home life, a shift-based work schedule can have numerous perks, offering flexibility in working outside normal hours. One particular shift type that entails a less conventional schedule is the swing shift, the middle shift for a lot of companies. 

Find out everything you need to know about swing shifts before you decide if this particular schedule is right for you.

What is considered a swing shift?

At companies that are open all day and night, or have unusual hours, the swing shift is the shift between the regular daytime shift and the night, or 'graveyard' shift. If you’re working a swing shift, you will start working in the daytime and get off later that night. Swing shifts exist to fill the gaps between the early and late shifts and provide those employees with better transition and coverage. Depending on your personal schedule, these hours may also be more convenient and offer an attractive alternative for people with less conventional lifestyles or routines, who prefer to work outside regular daytime hours. 

Swing shift lifestyle

Due to the general rhythm and schedule that most of our lives are organized by, working hours outside of the established norm can make juggling other parts of your life and physical health harder. The swing shift lifestyle is one that is difficult or less than appealing for some people, as it means working through the part of the day that consists of usual dinner times and bedtimes. For people with kids that go to school or partners that work on a 9-to-5 or day shift schedule, this means missing out on quality time in the evening. It probably means being on a different sleep schedule, and maybe missing out on mornings, too. 

If not prepared for properly, it can also put a strain on your physical health. While swing shifts aren’t necessarily longer hours than any other shift you might work, the particular work hours can make if difficult to be on a regular sleep schedule, which has an effect on your body and mind. If you work on a shift by shift basis, and pick up swing shifts some days and day or night shifts other days, it can be particularly hard to maintain a healthy, regular sleep schedule. 

However, if your life suits well to the swing shift schedule, and you regularly work these hours, your body will adjust to the different rhythm, as long as you keep it consistent. It can take some time to adjust, as our lives have been regulated by normal business hours in many ways since grade school, but it can be done. Some tips from the pros: eat well and exercise, use blackout curtains or shades when sleeping well into the day, and consider trying light therapy to assure you remain alert and awake.

Should I get paid more if I’m on swing shift?

Working a swing shift is definitely considered a personal sacrifice by some people, as it may entail missing out on quality daytime hours. The issue of whether employers should pay more to incentivize working less conventional hours, though, is handled on a case by case basis. The only qualification for shift work pay is that it reaches at least the minimum wage, but there is no official mandate that companies pay more for these kinds of shifts. The arrangement for this is up to you and your employer, and many employers do pay higher rates to swing shift workers as a kind of compensation for the above-mentioned impact working these shifts can have on other areas of your life.

Federal and state wage laws

Regardless of your employer, you should be aware of the laws in place that do regulate how much you’re supposed to be paid. Companies are required to pay shift workers at least minimum wage, according to either the federal or state wage rate – whichever is higher. 

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, an amount not considered a living wage by many standards and statistics. Employees in every state must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, though many states have higher minimum wages in place. 

Depending on the city or region in which you work, your minimum wage can be even higher than your state’s. Wherever you work, your employer is required to pay you the highest rate that governs your location. For example, New York City’s minimum wage was recently raised to $15 an hour, while the state’s minimum wage remains at $13 an hour. These advancements have been made largely thanks to activists and organizers mobilizing around workers’ rights and fighting for a minimum wage that can be considered a living wage. 

Swing shift hours

The swing shift is a middle shift, in between and sometimes overlapping with the daytime and nighttime shifts, depending on the hours of the company. The actual hours of a swing shift can vary, as can the duration, but they generally start in the late afternoon and end late at night and last around eight or nine hours long. This can mean working a swing shift that starts anywhere from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and ends anywhere from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. 

Common shift work jobs and industries

Shift work jobs are common in industries that operate outside or beyond normal business hours, and swing shifts are common in those companies that operate either 24/7 or until very late at night. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that roughly 15% of full-time wage and salary workers operate on shifts outside a traditional daytime schedule. There are certain jobs and industries for which shift work is the standard, and if you’re looking for this work style, it’s helpful to know what kind of jobs to target. 

Food service

The vast majority of all restaurant workers are shift workers. Serving, bartending and hostessing, are some common shift work jobs, to name a few. Many of people who work in the service industry are used to less conventional hours outside a regular daytime schedule because of the hours restaurants and bars are typically open. These can also be part time, and supplementing a more sporadic income with part-time shift work is common, especially among younger generations. 

Protective and medical services

Police departments, fire stations, and hospitals are examples of places of employment that have to be open all the time because of the on-call nature of their work and our reliance on it. People who work in these fields often have to be available at a moment’s notice, and the employees who work swing shifts and night shifts take special care to make sure they are well-adjusted to the lifestyle and sleep schedule that will allow them to be alert and focused at late hours. 

Transportation

Drivers, pilots, airport workers, flight attendants and shipyard employees are some examples of shift workers that work in the transportation industry. Thanks to the convenience and or price incentive of late-night and overnight travel options, we need in these industries around the clock. 

Is a swing shift schedule for you?

Shift work is very common in our world of around-the-clock availability, and depending on the industry you want to work in, it may be the standard. Shift work can mean having flexible schedule that can change as your life does and allowing you to work outside traditional daytime hours. However, it’s important to prioritize consistency in your routine and take care to adjust your life consciously to hours that you’re not used to. If you’re considering taking on a swing shift, take into account how your life fits in with this particular work schedule and the steps you need to take to make it work in a way that sets you up for success. 

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