Even though Americans have grown accustomed to the 40-hour working week, it was not unusual to have longer hours of responsibility in the past. Employees were working 70+ hours in the late 19th century as a way to make ends meet for a rate of pay value that is lower than what people receive right now. Even when you exclude agricultural work to focus on manufacturing, the time commitments didn’t drop below 60 hours per week until the 1900s.
One of the historical leftovers from this working schedule is the 12-hour work shift. Employees would put in a 12-hour day, five days per week, to get their 60 hours of productivity. When times were good, you might add another day of work to that schedule to reach 72 hours. Then you’d go home to do it all over again.
The modern version of the 12-hour work shift is a little different. Your working days can be just as challenging, but you’ll be getting a lot more time off compared to your grandparents or great-grandparents. It might require a more significant commitment to your schedule compared to the 8-hour worker, but there are some specific pros and cons of working these shifts that are worth considering.
List of the Pros of 12-Hour Work Shifts
1. The 12-hour work shift provides more continuity in the service industry.
From a management perspective, one of the primary advantages of the 12-hour work shift is that it offers an increased level of continuity with your staffing. You know that there will be staffing available to assist people for a longer time. In a field like nursing, that means each patient can have confidence in knowing who will be helping them if there is a need for assistance in some way. It also means that you can have personnel on-site the entire day without the need to have a third shift of workers reporting for duty.
2. It can be a schedule that reduces absenteeism.
For most workers who get to use the 12-hour shift for their career, it is possible to have more days off during the week because you’re working four additional hours compared to those who have a standard eight-hour gig. If you put in three days of work, then you’ve already put in 36 hours for the week.
There are a couple of ways that providers who offer the 12-hour shift create a schedule for their workers. You might be asked to work three days in one week and four days the next or given a full-time benefit while being four hours short of a full 40. That means you have more days to manage appointments, after-school activities, and even weekend trips.
3. There is an increase in worker morale with a 12-hour schedule.
Although working a 12-hour shift isn’t the best solution for everyone, the people who embrace this idea often like their schedule. It can be challenging to manage the three days that you’re working since you might be on-duty from 6am to 6pm each day, so child care options are necessary for some families. There isn’t much time for personal needs during your working days either, but you can make up that time with the extra days off that you receive in return for the longer shifts.
Depending on where you live in the United States, you might even qualify for compensation differentials for the time you spend at work beyond the eight-hour limit. If you work the overnight shift with the 12-hour schedule, then you might quality for even more money.
4. Using 12-hour work shifts can reduce staffing needs.
From the perspective of the employer, a 12-hour shift makes it possible to create coverage without overlap at your place of business. That means there are no wasted hours when your employees report as scheduled for their shift each day. This advantage means that an organization can offer the same level of service as one that provides a 10-hour work shift while reducing their staffing needs by up to 25%. Because labor expenses are usually the largest cost that a company faces each year, the savings with this opportunity could be substantial.
5. There are fewer commuting expenses for employees.
When you are working a longer shift each day, then that means you have more days off that you can take throughout the year. When you only need to report to work three days per week instead of five, then you’re cutting the cost of your commuting expenses by 40%. When fuel prices are at $3 per gallon in the United States and higher around the world, the savings for workers can be just as extensive as they are for workers when implementing the 12-hour work shift.
There are other expense advantages to consider as well. You’ll have fewer days of child care to manage, time to pursue a hobby, and additional moments for self-care since you could be getting a four-day weekend instead of the traditional two-day option booked into many work schedules.
6. Workers have more flexibility with their overall schedule.
Nurses may get the option to choose when they work specific days, which means they can clump their shifts together to create long chunks of time off without impacting their overall income. It is an ideal situation for those who like to volunteer in their community or attend college classes. It can even be a way to spend more time with family if you can have everyone else coordinate their schedule around yours.
This advantage may only be possible when you reach a certain level of seniority in your career, but it can be an advantage worth working toward. That is why the 12-hour work shift can seem like an appealing option.
List of the Cons of 12-Hour Work Shifts
1. The 12-hour work shift can impact the alertness level of employees.
People who are working extended shifts, especially if they are back-to-back, tend to see a decrease in their overall alertness level at the end of the day. Fatigue sets in for the employee during their work week as well, so the end of the second and third shift can see an adverse impact on their alertness. This disadvantage can cause problems with productivity, work quality, and mood stability.
Not only can this issue impact patient care in the healthcare industry, but it can also put the people who are working these longer shifts at-risk of an accident while they are driving home.
2. Workers may not get enough rest when using a 12-hour shift schedule.
People need a little time away from work after they get off of their shift to wind down and get ready for their bedtime routine. When you’re putting in 12 hours at your job, then that leaves you with 2-3 hours before you need to be getting to bed for your next shift. If your body is unable to adapt to this routine, then there can be some severe physical ramifications that occur over time.
It is not unusual for employees to experience sleep issues, musculoskeletal disorders, central nervous system issues, and additional health problems when they work a 12-hour work shift instead of something shorter.
3. Some employers do not allow you to work consecutive days with long shifts.
Many of the advantages that you’ll find with the 12-hour work shift involve the chance to work them on consecutive days. Because there is an element of fatigue to consider with this scheduling option, some businesses have decided to not allow their people to work back-to-back shifts (much less 3 in a row) with the extended schedule.
That means you may find yourself working every other day instead of getting a four-day weekend. You might be asked to come in on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which means you’d get Tuesday, Thursday, and the traditional weekend off. Some workers find that kind of “skipping” schedule to be more tiring than if they worked their shifts back-to-back.
4. Managing sick days can be challenging with a 12-hour shift.
If you have an employee who calls in sick or doesn’t show up for work unexpectedly, then trying to fill the empty slot can be challenging when working a 12-hour shift. You can’t ask someone who was already working to stay, especially if they need to work the next day as well. Calling someone in on their weekend might not be possible. That means you may need to hire a set of workers who are on-call for these emergency shifts.
This disadvantage can eat into the savings that a business can experience when using the 12-hour work shift. You may be required to pay some workers for their time on-call even if they don’t report for work.
5. It can create an unfamiliarity with changes in business operations.
When you’re working a 12-hour shift, there’s a good chance that you’re either putting in 36 or 48 hours during the week – or alternating between the two. That means you’re getting 3-4 days off each week. That means you could be getting a long break from working, especially if your schedule rotates some so that you work at the beginning of one week and the end of the next one.
If workers have too many consecutive days off, then it can decrease their familiarity with internal operations. Changes that happen during their absence will require a briefing. Businesses might lose productive hours with this disadvantage because they’re consistently trying to bring people up to speed.
6. The 12-hour work shift can increase the number of workers who moonlight.
Moonlighting is the term people use when someone who is working full-time hours takes a second job. It is arguably easier now than ever before to create a side hustle for yourself as well with the extra days off that you get with a 12-hour work shift. Although that can mean some extra money for the workers, it also means there can be productivity issues occurring because there is more strain placed on the body.
Employers may have a policy against moonlighting when they use a 12-hour work shift for physically demanding jobs, such as nursing, farming, or construction. That is the only way to work on reducing the undermining actions that come when the recovery days are removed from a worker’s schedule.
7. There is an increased ergonomic risk with 12-hour work shifts.
When employees are working longer hours each day, then there is an increased risk of injury that can occur in the workplace – especially if the position is one that’s physically demanding. There can also be an increase in physical discomfort complaints, such as neck pain, back discomfort, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Some businesses may need to think about changing their job processes or employment rotation to reduce the physical strain that they might encounter while working.
8. Workers on a 12-hour shift experience more job-related stress.
Many service-related jobs encounter high levels of stress due to the number of interactions or tasks that are asked of the worker. When you are trying to coordinate contractors, work with customers, or perform high-risk maintenance activities, then your constant exposure to these stressful situations can create physical symptoms over time. Some workers might attempt to compensate by consuming caffeine during the day or alcohol at night, which could further hinder their performance.
Because there is less communication and personal interaction that occurs during the extended shift with friends and loved ones, there can be fewer ways to cope with this issue as well. When you add in the problems with reduced access to training staff, management updates, or human resources personnel, it can feel like the negatives outweigh the positives for some workers.
9. Many employees say that the 12-hour work shift makes them feel exhausted all of the time.
If you are working a 12-hour shift with your employer, then you’re realistically putting in 13-14 hours each day with your commuting responsibilities, startup routine, and winding down at night. Some people are lucky to get some dinner before they collapse into bed – or breakfast if they’re working the overnight shift. Many people spend one of their extra days off just sleeping and resting to recover from their back-to-back days of responsibility, so the extra time to hold a second job or do something fun might not be available.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of 12-Hour Work Shifts
The idea of a 12-hour work shift is one that remains popular because it is seen as an option to provide more work-life balance to the average employee. There are some challenges that employers will face, including the need for overtime in some situations, but the advantages typically outweigh the potential negatives.
The only way that this schedule succeeds is if the workers take care of themselves when they are away from their job. If someone doesn’t get enough sleep at night consistently, then their productivity and focus will plummet.
The pros and cons of 12-hours work shifts are essential to consider if you want more days off during the week or your business needs better coverage without a significant labor expense. Review each key point above to see if this option makes sense for your needs.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.