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What Is Third Shift: Hours, Benefits and Drawbacks

Third ShiftThird Shift
min read
August 21, 2023

You work hard to keep your business running smoothly, but sometimes you think things would be better if you stayed open around the clock or for an extra night shift. So, you've been tossing around the idea of adding a third shift. 

And while it gives you the potential to earn more money, these non-traditional hours can be tough on employees and increase your operating costs. 

To help you decide if a third shift is what your business needs, we've put together this comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know about this work schedule. 

What Is the Third Shift?

Third shift is the overnight work period, which typically runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., though these hours may vary from one company to another. You may also hear it called the graveyard or night shift.


This shift is one of three common shifts, or periods of time when certain groups of employees work. If your workday is divided into three eight-hour shifts, you’d have the first shift, second shift, and third shift.

What Are 1st and 2nd Shifts?

The first shift (or day shift) is likely what you and most employees are used to; it’s the good ol’ 9 to 5—though we know in real life, workdays typically start anywhere from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and end anywhere between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. It’s the same with the first shift.

As you might imagine, the second shift (a.k.a. swing shift) follows the first. It starts in the afternoon and runs into the evening, usually from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Common Third Shift Jobs

Running a graveyard shift is the only option for some businesses. Customers or patients need 24/7 service in specific industries, so staff must always be available. You’ll find overnight workers in: 

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Some companies in other industries also have employees working overnight. 

If you’re trying to decide if you should stay open all night, you can look and see what your competitors do. But don’t feel obligated to run a third shift just because other companies are doing so. 

Make sure it’s the right decision for you by weighing the pros and cons of adding additional hours to your business’s workday (we’ll go into that soon). You’ll also need to analyze the costs and make sure you can generate enough revenue to offset the additional expenses.

How Much Should I Pay a Third Shift Employee? 

A common way to pay night shift workers is to add $1 per hour worked to their base pay. This is called a night shift differential and is simply a small increase in hourly wages for employees working during these hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t mandate a different hourly pay rate for employees working the third shift, but many employers choose to do so.

You can also add a percentage of a worker’s base pay to their hourly wage. The federal government uses 10% as their standard for a federal worker. 

In addition, some employers may offer incentives like free meals, lots of coffee, or longer breaks to make the third shift more appealing. 

If you offer a higher hourly wage for third shift employees, make sure all employees are aware of the policy. And if you have employees who regularly switch back and forth between shifts, you’ll want to check they’re being paid the appropriate hourly rate for their work hours. 

Or Hourly can do that for you! The platform tracks all your employees’ hours—including shift workers—and logs them in an easy-to-use app. You can also pay your team with a single click.

5 Advantages of Running a Third Shift 

If you’re on the fence about adding a night shift, here’s what’s good about adding graveyard shifts to your business: 

1. Increased Productivity

An obvious benefit to adding this shift is increased productivity. There’s simply more time to get things done when you stretch the workday. 

2. Reduced Burnout on First and Second Shift Employees

Sure, employees likely don’t mind working overtime every once in a while to get the job done. But when it becomes the norm, those long hours can lead to burnout for your first- and second-shift employees.

Adding a third shift can help alleviate some of that pressure by distributing the workload more evenly. Your daytime employees get some much-needed rest and relaxation, so they can show up ready to slay the day’s dragons.

3. More Customer Service

By staying open another eight hours, you can provide your customers with the support they need when they need it.

For example, if you own a tow truck company, you’ll likely get a lot of phone calls in the middle of the night from people who’ve been in accidents or are having car trouble. By having night shift workers, you can offer them the help they need right away rather than making them wait until morning.

Customers are more likely to turn into repeat customers and recommend you to their friends if they know they can rely on your company night or day. It’s a great way to build loyalty and grow your business.

4. Attracts Different Types of Workers  

You may be surprised to learn that adding another schedule option can attract different talent to your company, and you might get employees that normally wouldn’t be able to work for you. 

Working non-traditional hours appeals to some workers. They deal with less traffic on their way to work, are able to care for young children during the day, and can more easily work while they’re going to school or working on other pursuits. 

While these employees can’t come in for a standard 9-5, they can work night shifts without too much interference in their lives. 

5. Less Crime

Empty businesses and streets can lead to more crime. After all, burglars don't usually want to rob a well-lit, busy place. So, having employees work 24/7 can help deter crime and keep your business safe.

5 Disadvantages of Running a Third Shift

While the advantages are great, some disadvantages of keeping your business open all night long exist. Let's take a look at a few of the biggest ones:

1. Greater Costs

One of this shift’s most significant disadvantages is that it can increase your business costs because you’re adding workers to fill the new jobs you’re creating. As a result, you’ll need to add these costs to your payroll

You’ll also have to calculate any additional overhead you’ll be facing. For example, you might need to keep the lights on longer or the heat adjusted to keep your workplace comfortable. Adding up these little and big expenses will give you a better idea of how a night shift can impact your bottom line

2. More Accidents

When employees are working overnight, they might be tired. It’s one of the hardest things about the third shift. And tired employees are more prone to making mistakes. This can lead to more accidents and drive up your workers' compensation costs.

3. Increased Employee Turnover

Let’s face it. The world is designed chiefly for daytime employees. From schools to doctors’ offices, most things happen during the day. This can make it difficult for overnight employees to maintain a better work-life balance.

As a result, they may be more likely to leave their job in search of something that better fits their lifestyle. This can lead to increased employee turnover, which can be costly and time-consuming for your business. 

4. Difficulty Filling Positions Quickly

As mentioned above, these non-traditional hours aren’t for everyone. Since you’re asking employees to work overnight, you may have a smaller pool of applicants to choose from for your staffing needs. 

You'll have to put some serious thought into how you're going to attract and retain employees for these positions. A shift differential may be necessary to sweeten the pot. 

5. Communication Issues

With employees working at all hours of the day (and night), it's hard for them to stay in sync and communicate effectively. This can lead to errors, miscommunications, and a general feeling of being disconnected from the rest of the team.

You'll need to put extra effort into ensuring that your third shift employees have the information and support they need to do their job effectively. Find ways to keep them in the loop, so they know what's happening. We’ll go into more tips on how to do that below.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adding Overnight Hours

Knowing the pros and cons can help in deciding whether your company needs a third shift. But you’ll also want to ask yourself these important questions for more clarity:

  1. What are my goals for staying open longer? And can I actually accomplish them?
  2. Do customers expect 24/7 support?
  3. How much will my costs increase? 
  4. Do I have enough employees who are willing to work overnight? Or do I need to invest in recruiting?
  5. What are the safety risks of adding another shift? 
  6. Will I rotate my employees through different shift schedules or hire workers for each shift independently? 

Only you can answer these questions for your business. So sit down and give them some thought before adding additional shifts.

How to Make Third Shift Work for Your Team and Business

If you've decided that adding a night shift is right for your business, here are a few tips for making it work. 

1. Communicate with Your Employees

One of the most important things you can do when adding an additional shift is to communicate with your employees. Tell them why you're adding the extra hours, what you expect from the team members that work overnight, and how everyone can stay in sync.

By keeping everyone in the loop, you won't have to listen to day shift employees complain about the night shift making more money because everyone will already know about the differential. This can help encourage unity on your team, no matter when employees are clocking in. 

As a part of your discussions, be sure to answer any questions team members have and address any concerns that arise, especially if you use a shift schedule that isn’t constant.

2. Train Your Employees

Third-shift employees are going to face unique challenges, and you must train them to handle those. For example, if you're running a small customer service team at night, managers might not be available to handle escalated calls.

You’ll need to teach your employees the protocol for these calls. What information do they need to collect? Who do they send this data to? How are they supposed to respond to big customer complaints that come in overnight?

As you're training, think through your business operations and make sure your team is prepared for anything that may come up.

3. Set Clear and Realistic Expectations

What do you expect from your employees working all night? Do you want them to be available to answer customer questions or complaints? Do you need them to do tasks that can only be done when the store is closed?

Whatever it is, be sure these are realistic (i.e., doable) and communicate them to your team members. Once they meet these expectations, they’ll feel like they’ve accomplished something—and that will keep them excited about their jobs.

4. Set Up a Support System

When adding a new shift, setting up a support system for your employees is important. It can help them feel valued and part of the team, even if they’re working odd hours.

Have a member of the management team onsite during all working hours, if possible. They can answer questions and help with any issues that may come up. If you’re unable to find managers for your third shift, make sure you have a clear plan of action in case something comes up.

As additional support, consider providing your employees with other resources such as books or articles about working overnight. Eventually, you could set up a buddy system where you pair each new employee with a veteran. 

5. Provide Incentives

As mentioned earlier, finding employees willing to work overnight can be tricky on people’s physical and mental health

To help attract employees, you may need to provide incentives, such as increased pay or benefits. This can help you land the most qualified employees for your position. 

6. Encourage Your Employees to Have Healthy Sleep Habits

Employees working the third shift may have trouble sleeping during the day. To help them, encourage healthy sleep habits such as:

7. Evaluate and Adjust as Needed

After you've added the new shift, take some time to evaluate how it's going. Are your employees happy? Do they feel supported? Are they meeting your expectations?

To figure this out, check in with your night shift employees regularly. If you’re not in the office when they’re working, find other ways to connect. Perhaps do a video conference with the night shift team once a week, or have an open inbox to welcome their suggestions.

If you discover the third shift isn’t going as you planned, make adjustments as needed. For example, maybe you need to fine-tune the training program or add some managers to the roster. Or perhaps you need to adjust the hours of the shift. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to make changes until you find what works best for your business.

Is the Third Shift Right for My Business?

That's a tough question to answer. Every business is different, and what works for one company doesn’t always work for another. That's why it's so important to think through the decision about adding another shift instead of trying it on a whim.

The good news is that you can always change your work schedule again. So if you're unsure if a graveyard shift is right for your business, you can always try it and see how it goes. If you overcome the challenges, you can enjoy the many benefits this type of work schedule offers.

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