The workday doesn’t always fit neatly into the hours of 9 to 5. Sometimes, you need employees to work in the afternoon or evening, in the gap between day and night shifts. Or, you might need some extra coverage during peak business hours.
Adding an extra shift can help you ensure your business is fully staffed at any given time—especially if you’re commonly open outside of regular working hours.
These types of shifts are called swing shifts. But what is a swing shift and what would one look like for your small business? And how, exactly, does a swing shift work?
What Is a Swing Shift?
A swing shift is a work shift that takes place outside the regular 9-to-5 working hours of a business. Swing shifts generally begin during or near the end of the first shift—around 2 to 5 p.m.—and last until the start of the third shift—around 10 p.m. to midnight—to fill the gap between the day and night shifts.
The reason? Swings help employers maintain productivity and supplement peak periods of demand outside of more typically scheduled shifts (like a 9-to-5), ensuring you have enough staff available to meet your business’s needs.
They also ensure there is enough coverage for a smooth transition between the day and night shifts. A swing shift is also called a second shift or afternoon shift.
Why Do They Call it a Swing Shift?
The swing shift gets its name from “facing both ways” or “swinging” between the day and night shifts.
The term was likely first used during the Second World War to indicate the time of work between the morning and graveyard shifts, with employees scheduled for this shift swinging by to help out.
Bonus tip: Track all employees who are just “swinging by” with Hourly. The platform lets your employees clock in and out from their phones, shows your labor costs in real-time—and the icing on the cake? This all syncs with your workers’ comp, so your premiums are always spot on.
Who Uses Swing Shift Hours?
Swing shifts are generally used by businesses and industries that are open outside of regular business hours, including:
- Customer service providers, like 24/7 call centers, help desk technicians, and tech support helplines.
- Factories and manufacturers, like car manufacturers, computer chip producers, and other in-demand product manufacturers.
- Healthcare, like hospitals, paramedics, and nursing agencies.
- Hospitality, like restaurant staff, casino employees, and hotel workers.
- Janitorial, like commercial cleaners, custodians, and specialized cleaning services.
- Retailers, like convenience stores, grocery stores, and stores that are open 24 hours.
- Law enforcement and public safety, like firefighters, police officers, and other emergency services.
- Transportation, like delivery drivers, flight attendants, pilots, and truck drivers.
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Types of Swing Shifts
You might use different types of swings based on your regular hours of business. For example, a bakery that’s open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. might add a 1 to 8 p.m. shift, whereas a retailer that opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. might schedule swing employees for 2 to 10 p.m.
What types of swings might you schedule for your business? These can include:
- 2 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- 3 to 11 p.m.
- 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
- 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
But swing shifts don’t need to be fixed shifts, either. Because these shifts are commonly used to supplement your workforce and cover peak hours, you might want to combine a swing with another type of shift, like a split shift. This could mean assigning an employee to a split swing shift like:
- 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Are Swing Shifts the Same as Rotating Shifts?
While the terms are often used interchangeably, swing shifts aren’t the same as rotating shifts.
With a rotating schedule, an employee works different hours/shifts throughout the workweek; they might work two day shifts, an overnight shift, and another day shift.
In contrast, a swing shift is a specific type of shift that takes place between the day and night shifts.
Pros and Cons of Swing Shifts
Adding a swing shift to your employee schedules can benefit both your business and your employees, though it can also have some disadvantages.
- Maintains (or increases) productivity and revenue: Staffing your business with additional employees during the evening or early morning can help you manufacture or sell more products, increasing your output and revenue.
- Less overtime and labor costs: Adding an additional shift to your work schedule can cut unexpected overtime hours to reduce your labor costs (since you wouldn’t need to pay time and a half) while making labor costs more consistent—even if you pay extra for working a swing. That way, you can better predict cash flow.
- Better customer service: Adding a swing—or simply staying open longer—can improve your availability for serving customers and helping clients, increasing customer retention and satisfaction.
- Complexity: Certain types of shift schedules—like a rotating swing shift schedule—can be hard to understand and adapt to, potentially making it easy for employees to accidentally miss a shift or arrive late.
- Staffing issues: Swing employees who call out sick or take time off can be difficult to replace if employees aren’t available to work the odd or shortened hours, contributing to burnout, fatigue, and stress.
- Lower job satisfaction: Working swing shifts means sacrificing a portion of an employee’s afternoon or early evening hours, which can lower job satisfaction (for example, by making employees unavailable for family dinners or unable to run after-work errands). That being said, some employees might like this type of shift—especially if they usually work night shifts—so it’s important to gauge what team members prefer before making anything permanent.
What Are Examples of Swing Shifts?
1. Filling in Peak Hours
A grocery store is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with its peak hours of business between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The store primarily employs part-time employees, with the day shift lasting between 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the evening shift lasting between 3 to 10 p.m.
To ensure there are enough staff members to serve customers and provide customer service, management can schedule a swing between 2 and 6 p.m., which would provide extra coverage during the store’s busiest hours.
2. Responding to a Weekend Surge
A restaurant is open from 2 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends. On the weekends, the restaurant typically experiences a surge of customers in the early evening. To make sure enough staff is available to accommodate this rush, it adds a weekend swing between the hours of 5 and 10 p.m.
This enables the restaurant to have an extra set (or sets) of hands available to serve customers, prepare food, and maintain cleanliness throughout the rush—without needing to fully staff a regular shift.
3. Providing Overnight Support
A 24/7 IT help desk schedules a morning shift between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a second shift between the hours of 3 p.m. to 12 a.m., and an overnight shift between the hours of 12 a.m. to 9 p.m.
By using a swing, this company can provide extra support staff between the hours of 3 to 5 p.m.—the time they receive the most help requests—in addition to relying on the swing workers to cover the gap before the overnight shift begins.
How Do Swing Shifts Work?
A swing shift works similarly to other types of work scheduling—just during different hours and periods of peak business for extra coverage.
Employees assigned to the swing shift arrive when they’re expected to and clock out at the end of their shift. Additionally, they might be expected to only work the second block or rotate through to day or overnight shifts as needed (if you use a rotating schedule).
Additionally, swing shifts can:
- Be flexible: You can allow swing shift workers to start their work within a certain window as long as they work for the entire shift. For example, a delivery driver might be allowed to start work between 2 and 4 p.m. but would be required to stay on the clock for eight hours after the start of the shift.
- Be added to a rotating shift schedule: A rotating work schedule helps balance day and overnight shifts across your workforce, making sure everyone has a break from working constant overnight shifts. You can add a swing shift into your rotating work schedule to ensure you have proper coverage throughout the workday while still balancing your employees’ schedules.
- Supplement an existing schedule: Adding a swing shift—even if it overlaps with the morning shift or graveyard shift—can help you meet increased demand during peak hours. These shifts can vary in length so that you have the right amount of coverage without increasing your labor costs beyond what’s necessary or risk needing to pay for overtime or ask employees to be on-call.
- Result in higher wages for swing shift employees: Swing shifts aren’t always preferred—employees scheduled to one often interrupt their regular day to go to work, then punch out in the early morning. This can negatively impact their work-life balance and sleep schedule. As an incentive, you might pay higher wages to employees assigned to this type of schedule.
How Many Hours Is a Swing Shift?
A swing shift is usually eight hours, however, you can schedule shorter shifts when you need less coverage—and longer shifts when it makes sense.
What Is a 12-Hour Swing Shift?
Employees who are scheduled for a 12-hour swing shift work for 12 consecutive hours, like from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Typically, these shifts follow a rotating shift pattern to help prevent burnout and allow employees to have free time after they clock out. Employees who are assigned these lengthy shifts usually:
- Work three or four 12-hour shifts in a row.
- Have three days off.
- Work another three or four 12-hour shifts in a row.
In some cases, employees who work these shifts will switch to a day or night shift after one or more cycles, though that depends on availability and the needs of your business.
Increase Productivity and Control Costs
If your business is open outside of traditional business hours, adding a second, midday, or afternoon shift to your schedule can help meet your customers’ needs while spreading the workload amongst your employees.
This, in turn, can help you increase your revenue, provide better customer service, and control overtime costs.
Now that you know all there is to know about swing shifts, all that’s left to do? Ask your team who’s interested in working with ‘em!