Pros and Cons of 12 Hour Shifts - What's Best for Your Business

Due to the nature of the work in a given industry, or to maximize productivity, there are a lot of organizations that require 24-hour coverage. In many cases, this has given rise to the 12-hour work shift. Extended shifts of 12 hours or more have been long-established in settings such as hospitals, but they are becoming increasingly popular in other industries.

Additionally, in a very short span of time, the pandemic has dramatically altered the way people live and work. As tens of millions self-quarantine or heed orders to stay at home during this crisis, business owners and managers in many industries are re-evaluating all manner of operationsand coverage is definitely among these.

For those business owners and managers who may be considering implementing 12-hour shifts into their employees' schedules, it would be helpful to first consider the pros and cons to determine if such a schedule is right for their organization.

Advantages to Look Forward To

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Although the reception between traditional shifts versus their lengthier counterparts vary, 12-hour shift schedules are continuing to grow in popularity. Here are a few reasons why, from the perspective of both businesses and employees.

How Businesses Benefit

There are a variety of complex factors that influence which schedules are best for a given organization, but here are a few ways that businesses benefit from employing 12-hour shifts.

  • Increased productivity and fewer errors - In a 12-hour shift schedule, there are only two shift turnovers per day, resulting in fewer opportunities for miscommunications and disruptions that sometimes occur during shift changeover periods.
  • More continuity and accountability - With fewer actual shifts and shift changes, it is more difficult for one crew or worker to pass the buck to a third crew, as can occur with 8-hour shifts.
  • Reduced absenteeism - Workers on 12-hour shifts tend to think twice before taking a shift off, because in so doing, they stand to lose 12 hours of leave time or the equivalent in pay.
  • Lower attrition and turnover - Very often, the increased number of days and weekends off is too compelling an incentive to encourage workers to return to 8-hour workdays.

How Employees Benefit

By working 12-hour shifts, workers across a number of industries have enjoyed a range of perks and advantages, while avoiding some of the pitfalls associated with working in their chosen occupation.

  • Getting more done - From the worker's perspective, one of the biggest advantages to a 12-hour shift schedule is that the worker can much more done in a single day. For full-time employees, that means more days and weekends off; often, employees working 12-hour shifts can work fewer consecutive days and get twice as many days off per year.
  • Less personal expense - For many employees, fewer workdays per week means fewer hours commuting and lower expenses related to getting to and from work.
  • Work-life balance - The extra days off can also translate to a better work-life balance. With more days off, workers can more easily balance child care, benefit from more time for medical appointments, or even take advantage of time for pursuing hobbies and self-care.
  • Increased pay - After shifting from an 8 or 10-hour shift schedule to a 12-hour shift schedule, workers often find that their take-home pay increases. That's because instead of working 40 hours at a standard rate every week, they're working 40 hours at a standard rate plus 8 hours at a higher time-and-a-half rate.

Disadvantages to Keep in Mind

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Business owners, managers, and employees alike should also bear in mind some of the disadvantages inherent in the 12-hour shift schedule.

How it Affects Businesses

In evaluating the 12-hour shift schedule, it's important for business owners and managers to consider workers' physiology and social dynamic, as well as the potential for increased liability and loss of productivity.

  • Worker fatigue - Working 4 straight shifts in a row can cause fatigue, particularly in night shifts. While many schedules feature a 48-hour break between two 3-day work stretches, there are some versions that offer only a 24-hour break, leaving little time to recuperate. This can increase the potential for errors, accidents, and increased employer liability and exposure.
  • Increased labor costs - Most business owners and managers will be well aware that not all schedules go as planned. Emergencies and unexpected occurrences can lead to inordinate amounts of overtime, which is especially troubling if shift workers are already being paid time-and-a-half.
  • Absences - In a lean, 12-hour crew, one absence can have a dire impact on the shift much more than an 8-hour shift. To account for occasional staff absences, business owners and managers are encouraged to consider keeping a staff member on call for each shift to avoid expensive overtime or having to incentivize unassigned workers to take shifts at the last minute.
  • Communication breakdown - Workers on 12-hour shifts tend to get very set in their ways and expect less change than those working part-time or full time, 8-hour shifts. Experts are increasingly encouraging managers to adopt scheduling tools that aid teams in communication and cut down on costs. Even workers who don't check their email very often can use an app to check their schedules and communicate with their managers and team members should they need someone to cover their shift in an emergency.

How it Affects Employees

Every job, and consequently every 12-hour shift has its disadvantages, but in some industries, they can range from inconvenient to potentially dangerous if not managed well. Workers should consider these points and take an honest inventory of their ability to navigate them.

  • Fatigue - Fatigue can be a major liability for both the business and the worker. While night shifts may carry the potential for increased fatigue when working a 12-hour shift, fatigue is fatigue. Workers on 12-hour shifts may also have trouble adjusting their sleep schedules, the cumulative effects can be rough.
  • Long-term health risks - When working for 12 hours, there is often little time before, during, and after shifts to eat healthy meals or exercise properly. This, combined with fatigue and other adverse factors, can result in some serious health risks, including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
  • Social life - Even for workers who truly enjoy the 12-hour schedule, having days off in the middle of the week while most people are working traditional schedules can mean limited windows of time to spend with others. Additionally, working 12-hour shifts in some industries means that workers will be scheduled for holidays and other times of the year where they traditionally get to see family and friends.
  • Overtime burnout - While many workers relish every minute of overtime they can get, working overtime can get very old very quickly when working a 12-hour shift schedule. In some industries, a 12-hour shift can frequently involve significantly more time than 12 hours. This not only decreases the time workers get to rest and recover for the next shift, but increases the potential for errors related to fatigue.

Alternatives to Consider

Business owners and managers should be mindful that schedules that force employees to switch from nights to days rapidly can be physically hard on employees, while schedules that require them to work most weekends or nights can be tough on their families and social lives.

There are many types of 12-hour schedules, and for each general type, there are dozens of variations. Out of the hundreds of possibilities, many companies face difficult challenges in finding a schedule that best meets the needs of both management and employees.
The upside, however, is that with that many variations, there is an increased probability that at least one will meet those needs.

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