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Swing shift hours: Meaning, scheduling & management tips

6 min read

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 15 million Americans work evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts, or other employer-arranged irregular schedules. One of the most commonly used irregular schedules is swing shift hours. This is especially true in the case of organizations working in healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation. Why? Because swing shift hours facilitate around-the-clock coverage, increased production, and reduced labor costs.

But what is “swing shift hours”, exactly? How do you manage rotating and changing shifts? And what are some of the challenges that you might encounter with this form of employee scheduling?

Let’s find out.

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What is “swing shift hours”? 

Let’s start with the basics: What is “swing shift hours”? 

The term “swing shift hours” typically refers to shift work that takes place outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workday. Swing shift hours can vary depending on the employer and industry. However, they typically cover the hours between the daytime and overnight shifts. These types of schedules are most commonly used in industries such as manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and hospitality, where around-the-clock staffing is necessary.

Employees who work swing shift hours often receive a shift differential or other forms of additional compensation for working outside of regular business hours. This might include additional pay per hour or a percentage of the employee’s base pay. Or you might offer a flat rate bonus for each shift worked outside of regular business hours. You might even offer additional benefits such as increased vacation time or flexible work schedules to employees who work swing shift hours.

Swing shift hours offer several benefits, especially for businesses operating in healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation industries. By providing around-the-clock coverage, businesses can increase productivity, reduce labor costs, and meet customer demand for 24/7 services. Swing shift hours also provide employees with more flexibility in their work schedules, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates.

What is a swing shift schedule? 

The terms “swing shift schedule” and “swing shift hours” are related but they have slightly different meanings.

A swing shift schedule refers to the specific schedule that an employee works, which may involve working during the late afternoon or evening hours and ending late at night or in the early hours of the morning. A swing shift schedule is typically set by the employer and may be consistent or vary from week to week.

Here’s an example of a swing shift schedule:

Monday: Off

Tuesday: 3 pm – 1 am

Wednesday: 3 pm – 1 am

Thursday: 3 pm – 1 am

Friday: 3 pm – 1 am

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

In this example, the employee is scheduled to work swing shift hours from 3 pm to 11 am on four consecutive days, Tuesday through Friday. They then have three days off, Saturday through Monday, before returning to work. The exact hours and days of the week may vary depending on the employer and the industry.

What are typical swing shift hours? 

The swing shift hours you offer will usually depend on the nature of your business. Generally speaking, though, most organizations offer one of the following swing shift schedules:

  • Eight-hour shifts that can be fixed or rotating. Shifts take place in the morning, evening, or overnight.
  • Four consecutive 10-hour shifts followed by three days off.
  • A 12-hour swing shift schedule with multiple days off after each shift.

There are also different types of swing shifts

This includes:

  • Morning shift: Similar to more traditional business hours (9 am to 5 pm).
  • Evening shift: Shifts usually start between 2 pm and 4 pm and end between 10 pm and 12 am.
  • Night shift: Typically starts between 10 pm and 12 am and ends between 6 am and 8 am. Workers on the night shift may work in industries such as transportation, manufacturing, and security.
  • Fixed shift: A specific work schedule that remains constant and does not rotate or change. For example, an employee always works the night shift.
  • Flex shift: Workers can choose their start and end times within a certain window. For example, start work between 6 am and 10 am and finish 8 hours later.
  • Rotating shift: Workers alternate between different shifts, such as day shift, evening shift, and night shift.
  • Split shift: Where an employee’s work hours are divided into two or more shifts during the day with a break in between. Most commonly used in hospitality.

Regardless of which format you opt for, make sure you communicate schedules to employees in advance. That way, they can properly plan their days to accommodate their swing shift hours.

How to put a swing shift schedule in place 

If you are considering implementing swing shift hours, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. 

Firstly, you need to determine whether a swing shift schedule is necessary for your business. Consider factors such as customer demand, production requirements, and staffing levels. You also need to make sure that your employees are happy to change to a new shift schedule. This is important because, if they’re not, then it can negatively impact employee satisfaction, morale, and, ultimately, retention.

Secondly, you need to define a swing shift schedule that allows for a degree of flexibility. This includes informing your employees of their schedules in advance and giving them the option to swap shifts when needed. It’s also a good idea to analyze data on employee availability, peak hours of operation, and customer demand to help you determine your optimal shift schedule.

Thirdly, you need to make sure that you use the right tools and software to manage and communicate your employee schedules. Consider using shift scheduling software or other automation tools to streamline the scheduling process and ensure that staffing levels are optimized. More on this below.

Finally, it’s important to consider the challenges of using swing shifts before officially launching your new schedules. That way, you can implement measures to address any identified challenges and get the most from your new system of swing shift hours. You also need to offer support to your employees as they adjust to their swing shift hours. This will provide them with a platform to raise any potential scheduling issues. That way, it will be easier to avoid any frustration, fatigue, or burnout.

Swing shift challenges 

Swing shift hours can provide flexibility for both employers and employees, allowing for around-the-clock coverage and increased productivity. However, managing and scheduling employees for swing shift hours can be challenging, and you will probably need additional resources and planning to ensure proper staffing levels are maintained.

Here are a few examples of common challenges that you might encounter.

Disruptive to work-life balance

Swing shift hours can be disruptive to an employee’s work-life balance, as they may have to work during non-traditional hours. This can make it difficult for them to schedule personal commitments, social activities, or even take care of their family responsibilities

Fatigue and burnout

Working swing shift hours can lead to fatigue and burnout, as employees may have to adjust to working during non-traditional hours, which can disrupt their sleep patterns and lead to decreased productivity. Additionally, shift work can be physically demanding, which can also contribute to fatigue and burnout. This can result in decreased employee engagement, increased absenteeism, and even workplace accidents. That’s why it’s so important to provide additional support and resources, such as offering regular breaks, training on fatigue management, and flexible scheduling options.

Communication and coordination

Swing shift hours can create communication and coordination challenges. This is because employees working different shifts may have limited opportunities to interact with each other. As a result, you might encounter decreased collaboration as employees may not be able to share information or feedback as easily. 

Moreover, swing shift hours can make it difficult for managers to coordinate tasks and delegate responsibilities effectively. The best way to address this challenge is by holding regular team meetings and using virtual communication channels to ensure that all employees are up to date on the latest developments.

Staffing challenges

You might encounter staffing challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining employees as many people these days prefer to work during traditional daytime hours. To overcome this challenge, you will probably need to offer additional incentives, such as shift differentials or flexible scheduling options, to attract and retain employees who will be working swing shift hours.

Scheduling conflicts

Finally, swing shifts can lead to scheduling conflicts if you don’t have the right tools and systems in place to effectively manage and communicate your schedules. These conflicts often arise because employees working swing shifts might find it difficult to balance their work schedules with personal commitments, as we saw above. However, they can also arise as a result of unexpected events, such as illness or family emergencies. These scheduling conflicts can make it difficult for managers to ensure adequate coverage and maintain productivity levels. 

To address this challenge, employers need to provide flexible scheduling options and open communication channels to accommodate employee needs and preferences. And, most importantly, they need to use the right tools to effectively manage rotating and changing shifts.

Shift Schedule template

Effectively managing rotating and changing shifts 

Ultimately, despite potential challenges, swing shifts provide advantages for both employers and employees, making them a popular option for businesses that require 24/7 staffing. The key is putting the right system and tools in place to effectively manage rotating and changing shifts. That way, you can avoid the challenges that we have just discussed and implement a policy that keeps everyone happy and productive.

For example, Factorial’s shift management software can support your swing shift hours policy in a number of ways. For one thing, the employee calendars feature can simplify the scheduling process by enabling your managers to create and manage schedules for employees working different shifts. That way, you can be sure that each shift is covered, and employees are scheduled fairly and equitably.

Factorial’s shift management tools can also help with communication and coordination by providing a central platform where employees can share information, feedback, and updates, regardless of their shift schedules. This can improve collaboration and reduce the risk of miscommunication or missed deadlines.

Finally, Factorial’s HRIS also includes a range of features that can provide you with valuable insights into employee performance, such as attendance records and productivity metrics. This can help your managers identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions about staffing and scheduling. As a result, you can continuously improve the way you manage your swing shift hours and build a productive, efficient, and engaged workforce.

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website ( or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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