What is the Swing Shift?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In facilities which operate 24 hours a day, requiring several shifts of workers to ensure that all the hours are covered, the swing shift is a shift which starts in the afternoon and runs into the evening. It may be known as the second shift or evening shift, depending on when it occurs and regional preferences. Working on the swing shift can be grueling, especially for parents, as it requires a somewhat unusual sleep schedule.

Factories often utilize swing shift workers to keep operations going after the first shift of the day leaves.
Factories often utilize swing shift workers to keep operations going after the first shift of the day leaves.

Classically, the swing shift runs from 4:00 in the afternoon until midnight. Variations may run from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM, 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM, and so forth. Swing shift workers often come in as the second shift in the day, replacing workers who started in the morning, and they will be replaced by a third shift which covers the late night and early morning. This third shift is known as the night shift or graveyard shift.

Swing shift work might be ideal for college students, who can take classes in the morning and go to work in the afternoon.
Swing shift work might be ideal for college students, who can take classes in the morning and go to work in the afternoon.

People who work on the swing shift usually need to sleep later than other people in the community, because their work ends late in the evening. They may have difficulty coordinating things like social events, medical appointments, and so forth, because the rest of society usually operates on a nine to five schedule, assuming that people are at work between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. Swing shift workers can experience especially large problems with things like childcare.

However, being on the second shift can also be advantageous. College students, for example, may appreciate this schedule because it allows them to take courses in the morning and early afternoon, and go to work in the evenings. Other people feel more alert and active in the late afternoon, preferring to be at work during these hours since they function more effectively.

Shift work can be used for things like keeping a factory in 24 hour production, which tends to be more efficient, and providing customer service at all hours. For international companies, the ability to have people on the phones every hour of the day is critical, as customers may need assistance or services at any time, day or night.

There are a number of variations on the swing shift, with various companies having different shift schedules for their workers. Generally, the more senior a worker is, the more he or she will be able to dictate the terms of a work schedule, while less senior workers usually find themselves on graveyard and swing shifts, rather than the usually coveted first shift.

Starting a swing shift can cause sleep problems while a person adapts to the new schedule.
Starting a swing shift can cause sleep problems while a person adapts to the new schedule.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I work swing and enjoy it well. I don't have to fight traffic on the freeway at 2 p.m., and it is almost clear at midnight. My wife and I have gotten into a routine, where she can watch the kids during the day, and I can at night. It works out quite well for us!


Swing shift has a number of advantages, as well as disadvantages. For example on a swing shift schedule say from 3pm to 11pm a person can still get a good night sleep, have mornings free to do all the chores and errands, and usually there is extra compensation for working odd hours.

The only disadvantage is social life. It is really difficult to go to a movie or dinner with friends. Those activities have to be left for the days off. Swing shift is also not a good shift for families with children, since there is very little time left for family time.


I recently started a job with swing shift hours (11 a.m.-11:30 pm). I've worked it six months and have found these hours to be very difficult to work.

I am normally an "early riser", so I feel these work hours are battling my natural body systems. The days I don't work, all I do is sleep and try and rest, but I continually feel exhausted. I also recently had my cholesterol/blood lipids checked and they are both elevated, although my diet hasn't changed. Can the swing shift alter the cholesterol/lipids due to stress?


A lot of times working the swing shift in retail can be really easy, since you get a lot of overlap at the beginning and end of your shift with the morning and evening shift employees.

That means there's more people working, so it's a little bit easier for everyone involved.

Of course, it can be a little boring if there's too many people and nothing to do, but I think it beats being run off your feet.


I always liked working the swing shift, personally, because it left me so much more time to do other things.

I'm more of a night person anyway, and not having to be up at the crack of dawn to go to work was a definite perk for me.


I used to work the swing shift for extra money when I was in college, and let me tell you, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I know some people like it because they can sleep in, or do other things in the morning, but for me, I felt like I just killed my whole day.

I was so glad when I got out of school and could have a job that worked "normal" hours -- I'm just not cut out to work at night, I guess.


I just wanted to add that the swing shift is probably most lucrative shift for servers in restaurants and bars. Here they are able to serve the dinner clientele which usually results in more expensive meals yielding higher gratuity.

This is especially true for Friday, Saturday and even Sunday schedules. Although a swing shift is typically an eight hour shift, in some professions it encompasses a full 12 hour shift work schedule.

For example, nurses and police officers often work twelve hour shifts from afternoon to evening. This would be their swing shift. Sometimes the swing shift in these professions are 7PM to 7AM.

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