What is the Worst Shift to Work? Night Shift? Afternoon Shift?
October 6, 2014
In my last post I talked about shift workers' preferred shift, which is day shift, and the implications of that preference on worker satisfaction levels. An obvious follow-on question to the preferred shift assignment is to understand shiftworkers' least-preferred shift.
Over the last 23 years working with shift work operations, I have observed that there is often one least preferred shift at a site, and it is either the night shift (also known as 3rd, graveyard, or sometimes the hoot-owl or hoot shift) or the afternoon shift (2nd or swing shift). Which shift is least preferred at a particular site is typically driven by the demographics of the work group and the work environment.
Here are the overall results from our database of survey responses to the question "What is your least-preferred 8-hour shift?" :
From a sleep management perspective, most shiftworkers have more trouble getting enough good-quality sleep on the night shift. This makes it less desirable for facilitating high alertness. On the other hand, it allows the people on night shift to meet other obligations in their lives like managing child care, going to school, working a second job, and spending time with their families.
Afternoon shift allows many shift workers to manage their sleep patterns better (second shift workers get more sleep than either day shift or afternoon shift) so they often feel better on this schedule than on a night shift schedule. The main downside to the second shift is that it requires work during the "prime-time" evening hours when family and friends are available. For parents, this can be a deal-breaker since it may mean that they almost never see their families during the workweek.
This difference of opinion on the least desired shift is an opportunity when it comes to staffing your shift schedule. On an 8-hour schedule, it is often possible to give an overwhelming majority of folks either their first or second choice of shift assignments and avoid the least desirable shift. All it takes is some flexibility in the shift-bid system and sufficient cross-training of the workforce to meet the skill requirements on all shifts.
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