Swing Shifts Explained — What Are They and When Should You Use Them?

Despite Dolly Parton’s noted objections, working 9 to 5 is still a way to make a living. But, depending on the needs of your company, it’s not necessarily a fit for every scenario (or every employee).

If you’re running a business that operates across extended hours, like an all-night diner or in the healthcare sector, you’re going to need employees covering shifts throughout the day. This means you need to carefully plan your resources and allocate staff to make sure you can effectively address your customers’ needs for as long as you’re open.

Swing shifts enable business leaders to maintain continuous operations without resorting to elongated work shifts, enabling you to maintain your standards during high-activity periods. By optimizing staffing levels and eliminating the need for excessive work hours, swing shifts also contribute to lowering employee stress and burnout.

In this article, we’ll explore what swing shifts are, when you should consider using them, and what advantages (and disadvantages) they have for your business — and for your employees.

What exactly is a swing shift?

Put simply, a swing shift is a work shift between a day shift and a night shift.

If a day shift is Dolly’s 9am to 5pm and the night shift is somewhere from late at night to the early morning, then a swing shift is typically that area in between. It links the day and night shifts, taking place between the end of the day shift (4 or 5pm) up til the start of the night shift (12 to 1am).

But this doesn’t mean swing shifts can only take place between the day and night shifts: often they overlap as part of good shift planning. For instance, a busy restaurant or movie theater might want an increased staff during peak hours in the evening, overlapping with the day and night shifts.

The origin of swing shifts

The concept of swing shifts originated during World War II in factories that were working around the clock to meet production needs. Organizing labor this way allowed factories to remain operational at all hours without overburdening a single set of workers. It essentially enabled 24-hour production cycles, which proved invaluable for meeting urgent demands.

They are said to “swing” between the usual day and night shifts.

Industries that commonly use swing shifts (and why)

Today, swing shifts are prevalent in various industries, notably manufacturing, healthcare, and customer service.

In manufacturing, swing shifts enable companies to maximize machine use and production. Healthcare facilities use swing shifts to ensure around-the-clock patient care. In customer service, particularly for businesses that operate internationally, swing shifts ensure that customer queries from different time zones are promptly addressed.

Advantages of adopting swing shifts in your business

To understand why certain industries have widely adopted swing shifts, we need to understand the advantages. Here are a few of the biggest for your business and your team:

Enhanced productivity

Implementing swing shifts can contribute to higher productivity. With the machinery and resources in use for extended periods, idle time is reduced. This can be particularly beneficial for industries where machine setup and takedown consume significant time and resources.

Increased employee satisfaction

Flexible work hours can make life more convenient for your employees. Some workers prefer the swing shift because it allows them to avoid rush hour traffic, attend daytime appointments, or manage childcare more easily.

Swing shift workers can keep to more normal sleep patterns than night shift workers, while being able to wake up later than morning workers. Depending on the employee’s lifestyle, swing shifts can be beneficial.

Improved business continuity

Swing shifts facilitate 24/7 operations without requiring the same staff to work grueling hours. This ensures that your business can meet the demands of global clients or time-sensitive tasks effectively.

Disadvantages of adopting swing shifts in your business

However, like with everything in life, adopting swing shifts doesn’t come without certain drawbacks. Here are a few of the biggest disadvantages for your business (and employees):

Potential for employee burnout

Improperly managed swing shifts can lead to employee fatigue or burnout. Long working hours and the lack of a consistent schedule can cause stress and negatively impact employee health. It can also place strain on people if they’re regularly working during hours when friends and family are socializing, like evenings and weekends.

Complexity in scheduling

Managing a swing shift can introduce complications in scheduling, as balancing workloads and ensuring adequate staff coverage become more complex tasks. Though smart employee scheduling tools, like Homebase, can help reduce this complexity by giving you (and your staff) a clearer view of hours.

Operational costs

Running a swing shift may lead to increased energy costs and may require additional overhead for supervising the extended hours. Also, offering shift differentials or overtime payments can increase labor costs, if you decide to compensate staff for working unusual or antisocial hours.

Best practices for implementing swing shifts

If you’ve decided the advantages outweigh the potential disadvantages — perhaps with the aid of the right tools! — then here are some tips for how to implement swing shifts within your business:

The role of scheduling software

The use of scheduling software, like Homebase, can simplify the complex task of managing swing shifts. Scheduling tools can automatically allocate resources, manage time-offs, and ensure compliance with labor laws.

With Homebase’s time clock, employees can clock in and out of their shifts on almost any device. Employers can even set up geofencing to make sure employees are clocking in once they’ve actually arrived at their workplace. 

You can also use Homebase to easily build optimized schedules, either starting from scratch (with the help of auto-scheduling) or working from pre-built templates. Ditching pen and paper methods or overcrowded spreadsheets not only helps management save on manual scheduling tasks, it will make scheduling swing shifts much less of a headache. Especially when combined with features that help you keep track of employee availability and help you build schedules based on sales forecasts and labor targets.

Importance of communication and training

Prioritize employee training to make the transition to swing shifts seamless. Keep lines of communication open and gather feedback regularly to fine-tune the process.

Tools can also help with this. For instance, Homebase users can chat with each other, set up group messages, introduce new hires, share important information like company events, announcements, and daily updates, keep track of performance, and set up reminders and alerts.

Before implementing swing shifts, consult with legal experts to ensure that you are compliant with local labor laws concerning work hours, overtime, and employee welfare.

Some scheduling tools, like (you guessed it) Homebase, can even give you a leg up here by sending you notifications when labor laws change, automating some administrative tasks, and helping you easily track breaks and overtime.

Swing shifts are a cinch — if you use the right tools!

Depending on your business — the hours you need to be available for your customers and the industry you’re operating in — you may find introducing swing shifts boosts your productivity, employee satisfaction, and customer experience.

Though it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition: there are potential pitfalls too, if you don’t use smart scheduling and time clock tools. Chaotic adoption of swing shifts can lead to scheduling headaches, employee burnout, and increased operational costs.

Making use of a tool like Homebase can help ensure you reap the benefits of implementing swing shifts while minimizing the downsides. By giving you — and your team — a clear view of scheduling, facilitating clear communication, and making admin and time clocking as easy as possible, Homebase empowers you and your team whether they’re working swing shifts or that traditional 9 to 5.

Frequently asked questions about swing shifts

What hours do swing shifts typically cover?

Swing shifts commonly run from 4 PM to midnight, but the specific hours can vary depending on the organization. A swing shift will take place between the end of the day shift to the beginning of the night shift, possibly overlapping with each as necessary to cover your staffing needs.

What are the health considerations for swing shift workers?

Potential health concerns include sleep disruption and increased stress levels. It’s essential to manage schedules carefully to minimize health risks for employees. You can make this easy by using purpose-built scheduling software like Homebase, to give you a clear view of scheduling and ensure clear communication with your team.

How does overtime work during swing shifts?

Overtime regulations can differ by jurisdiction, but generally, any work beyond the standard 8-hour shift could be considered overtime and may require additional compensation. Check local laws to determine whether you need to award special compensation to employees working swing shift hours.

Related posts

Streamlining your small business with job evaluations

As a small business owner, you want to keep your employees happy so they can perform at their peak and…

Read article

Ohio Minimum Wage Laws explained For Small Businesses

Every year, Ohio’s minimum wage rises based on inflation. With every minimum wage increase, small business owners need to make sure…

Read article

Payroll Taxes by State (2024/25)

Working out if you’re paying the right taxes for your employees can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety….

Read article

How To Improve Employee Productivity: A Primer For Small Businesses

Companies of all sizes need productive teams. But when you’re running a small business with tight margins, it can mean…

Read article

What Is a KSA and Why Do Small Businesses Need Them?

As your business grows, it can be a challenge to stay on top of employee performance and training, as well…

Read article

Job Rotation Best Practices for Small Business Owners

Are you struggling to keep your talented employees engaged and motivated? Do your seasoned staff members seem to be itching…

Read article
Effortlessly schedule and track your team's time with Homebase.
Try our basic plan free, forever.
Try Homebase for free