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The Debate is On: Eight Hour Shifts vs. Twelve Hour Shifts; Who Really Wins and Who Loses?

Updated on May 11, 2015

Off shift work

There are certain jobs that require 24 hour surveillance, such as service driven community careers-police, fire and EMT’s, as well as medical personnel-doctors, nurses, radiologist, respiratory technicians, and phlebotomists. Then, there are food service people who stay open around the clock. What all of these examples have in common is that someone has to take the night shift.

I happen to fall into that category and I have to be honest-I prefer an eight hour day shift. For the majority of my nursing career I have worked in hospitals. I have been on every shift there was: eight and 12 hour shifts; days, afternoons and midnights. I liked afternoon shift when my kids were young. I was there to get them off to school in the morning and to peak in on them when I returned. I had my mornings for appointments and exercise. But, that was in the days of eight hour shifts.

In today’s economy most hospital floor work comes in two shifts: day or night. In my opinion, management sells the 12 hour shifts as a real boon to increase the employee’s free time. However, I feel this is not accurate or honest. To me it is all about saving the corporation money-do more with less staff by eliminating one whole shift.

Quality of Life

Spending time with loved ones instead of working improves the quality of life.
Spending time with loved ones instead of working improves the quality of life. | Source

Time off

Let me do the math here. On a typical week of work, in which I am scheduled three 12 hour shifts, I may get up at 6 a.m. to get my body into the second shift mode. I will exercise, houseclean, do laundry, grocery shop and take care of appointments during the hours of 7 and 2 pm. I sleep for an hour or two before I start my first shift, (now 4 pm). I then, prepare for my shift, which includes showering, eating my supper, and driving the hour to the hospital.

When I arrive to the rental house I use while I have my three or four day stretches, I take another 30 minutes to unpack my car and grab my nursing bag and evening snack. My shift starts at 6:45 pm and goes until 7:15 a.m. which takes another 12.5 hours of the day.

Okay-I counted six hours from 6 a.m. to 2 pm that I have ‘my time’. When I work multiple days in a row I get home by 7:30 a.m. and eat breakfast, shower and go to sleep. I’m in bed by 8:30 am and sleep until 4:30 pm at which time I repeat the work process.

When or how do I fit in the necessary or important ‘other’ things in life such as exercise, doctor and dentist appointments, or getting a haircut? Well, that will have to wait until my official day off. And, for those experiencing an off shift, the first ‘day off’ isn’t really that because you have to go to sleep for at least three hours before getting up to enjoy the rest of ‘your day off’.

Which is better-eight or twelve hour shifts

Getting back to my original premise-how does a 12 hour shift increase quality and contentment of living, or increase productivity? Given a 36 hour work week one only has to experience a midnight shift schedule to know that those alluring four days off are just a fantasy…one of the four is spent recuperating from the exhaustion of staying awake in the marathon, while the last day off is spent moving into the preparation for the marathon mode. That leaves the two middle days as true ‘free days’.

If that is the case, we are right back to square one: an eight hour shift allows for a person to do what has to be done during the part of the day that is available and work during the other hours, while still having two solid days to enjoy.

The other factor in this has to be the safety of what one is doing on the job while experiencing the body’s tendency to follow the natural flow and circadian rhythm for sleep. What manager would want to risk the company’s integrity through the stress of prompting employees to ‘wake up and smell the coffee…or drink the coffee, if you will?

Question #1

Have you ever worked the midnight shift?

See results

Question #2

Have you ever worked a 12 hour shift?

See results

Question #3

Which do you feel is a safer shift?

See results

Question #4

Which shift do you feel is more productive?

See results

Question #5

Which shift better enhances the quality of life for the employee?

See results


With all my configurations and analysis here…all be it whining and complaining, I will emphasize here that I am grateful that I have a job and that my job is a healthy work environment. Please do not measure my information here as a disregard for what I have been given.


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Bobbi, nice to see you. I totally agree that it is management (corporation's) way of saving a buck. It makes me laugh that it is promoted as "giving the workers extra days off" HA! Give me 8 hr shifts any day so I can relax after that and engage in other things that I am interested in without total exhaustion.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • BobbiRant profile image


      8 years ago from New York

      Having worked in the health care industry I saw first hand, 12 hour shifts and more, result in mistakes and people dying. Why do you think so many medical 'mistakes' are made anymore? Long hours and short on staff. Twelve hour shifts are management trying to save a buck at the expense of peoples health risks.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Alya-Congratulations on your this your first? So, I think what I understand from your comment is that 1. you like 12 hr shifts but, 2. you work day shift? Is that correct?

      If that is correct I can understand that. I think there is a great advantage to a 12 hr day shift than there is for a 12 hr midnight or evening shift. On day shift after your (3 ) 12 hr shifts you get 4 full days off. When a person is doing second shift here is how it goes: (3 ) 12 hr shifts end at around 7:30 a.m. A person will then drive home, eat breakfast, maybe do a couple of things like shower, watch tv or read...then CRASH and sleep. If they are like most 12 hr second shifters they don't want to 'waste' their day off on sleeping so they may get up after four hours...which may actually be around 1 pm. Then they get to enjoy the rest of the day in a semi sleepy state and go to bed at 9 or 10 pm...unless, like most second shifters they get the insomnia thing going and cannot fall asleep until maybe 2 a.m.

      The point being-there is a world of difference between being on 12 hr days and 12 hour nights. On nights you are tired all the time and cannot really catch up on energy or sleep. You never quite feel fully rested unless you've been on vacation for a week or more. So...that is why I promote an 8 hr shift...although it takes a person to the work environment more frequently.

      I hope all goes well for you with your delivery. Enjoy your time off with baby. Thanks for your input here...I appreciate it. :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      As of right now, I am working 12 hour shifts in the ER myself although I am about to stop working in order to be able to have my baby. I will say that while I am probably an anomaly, I actually do enjoy 12 hour shifts because I don't normally need as much time to recover and I am still able to do the things that I want to in my days off. Then again, that is changing now that I am pregnant and my energy is being diverted to other things. I have not had much of a problem as far as staying up goes but my big issue is when things slow down and I'm given nothing to do. That is when the hours catch up with me. I will also add that I only have had to work the day shift.

      Great hub and I enjoyed reading!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks LL W-well, it does take its toll. I went on a medical leave at the end of August due to some medical issues that were related to this whole sleep deprivation, etc. It is not healthy and I can actually do 8 midnights quite fine but come 2 a.m. hit a wall!

      Thanks for your comments, vote and share. BTW-day shift makes all the difference. I worked 12 hr days for a long time with ease. It's the night shift that I can't handle anymore!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I had the opportunity to work four 10-hour days/week in one of the jobs I had. I loved it, but then again, I was working day shift hours.

      Having worked midnight shift for many years, 8-hour shifts, I can honestly say that I never felt totally rested at any point in time. Night shift is tough -- just the hours themselves. I can't imagine trying to slog through 12 hours of it.

      Thought-provoking hub; voted up and Shared.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi manthy--yes, I agree: lose sleep, lose our health, lose 'years' off our life, and lose the quality of living. Thanks for your comment.

    • manthy profile image


      8 years ago from Alabama,USA

      we all lose ;0(

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Brilliant analysis here, Dana, about the lunch period. I know many, many doctor offices that close for one hour for lunch. In the hospital where I work we are allowed two 15 minute breaks and one half hour lunch. Now, why, pray tell, can we not combine one of the 15 min breaks with our lunch? So much for a 'healthy' work environment. Thanks for your comments.

      Hi Christy 11 hrs? I have never heard of that one...that is 'different'. How do you like the 8 hr shift? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I used to work an 11 hour shift and it took time to adjust to my next position of 8 hours a day. Good info here!

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      I agree that 12 hour shifts are not healthy for most people. I know someone that does it and he does spend a good day recovering and another day preparing. And in those two "free" days he needs to cram in everything he needs to do and any fun he would like to have. It does not look like fun.

      I would also like to know who is the sadistic person that decided that 30 minutes is enough for lunch. That barely gives me enough time to leave my desk, shove down something to eat, and run back to my desk. Foerget about any time to relax, run an errend, or do anything else. I bet there would be a lot less people taking days off if they could have a restful or useful lunch period.

      Great hub. Enjoyed reading the comments too.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes, I am all for 6 hr shifts-or three, LOL! Can I get paid for the full 12 hrs doing half the time, though? If so double yes! Oh, and don't forget: air traffic controllers on that list of jobs you wouldn't someone falling asleep at.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      I agree with you that eight hours is the best arrangement - in fact I think six hours is even better, since I am not very productive after 3. There is so much of the day that is given to work, and you basically have to ignore your own physical needs when you work 12 hours. It is very scary to me that the most important jobs - doctors, nurses, pilots, etc., do this since they are the most risky.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Jason, for sharing your experience and adding your thoughts on the subject. I feel, with all of the unemployment in the U.S., that if 8 hr shifts was mandated it would open more jobs for those looking for work.

      I totally agree with the 'robbing' of all that you speak of. For my midnight shifts, I sleep and then when I wake up feel like I am tired and WANT to sleep, and don't get anything done. People who don't work this shift do not understand.

    • Jason Lim profile image

      Jason Lim 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      I've worked in a kitchen where it was common to see us working a minimum of 14 hours a day, 5 days a week. Working that long really robs you of any sort of chance to pursue any other interests as you will be so tired at the end of the week that the only thing you want to do is sleep in and laze at home.

      I am thoroughly in support of 8 hour shifts, and I think that should be the maximum hours per shift in all jobs, no matter the industry.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I've been away from the computer for several days and have not had an opportunity to respond before this.

      Hi Robin, thanks for your feedback. I think the reason there are 12 hr shifts is b/c it saves the co. money and creates a larger profit for them...sad to say.

      Wmod-thanks for reading. That's a great saying. I don't want to work so hard that I am too exhausted to enjoy life.

      Hi Tammy-thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good luck in your job search.

      Ruby-that is exactly what I am talking about. In those three days there is really is nothing more to do than eat, sleep and work! Thanks for reading.

      Hi Carol-it appears that those 12 hr shifts worked for you and I would bet that you did a DAY shift not a midnight shift. With midnight shift you work your three and spend the first day of your day off sleeping at least half of the day, if not longer. Thanks for your comment.

    • Credence2 profile image


      8 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      My spouse is a retired nurse, I sure that she has simlar horror stories to share. You are right, the extended hours are for the cost cutting of the administration. They tell you that you benefit, that is how they frame it. People become less efficient over long work hours. I had, when I was working, option to take a flex time arrangement of 4 days of 10 hours each with a Friday off. But that body has a way of reestablishing its equalibrium and that day off is not as attractive as it appears.

      I don't envy you your job, as an error due to fatigue could be catastropic. I am grateful that neither I nor the missus has to content with the grind and pressure associated with it any longer. It is one aspect that I certainly do not miss.

      Denise, thanks for sharing a bit of your world with us.


    • Scribenet profile image

      Maggie Griess 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Having worked three 8 hour shifts, I think those 8 hour shifts are the best. Twelve hour shifts only work for the employer eliminating one employee from the payroll.

      (One less person to have to pay out benefits to).

      I decided to retire when my company began to talk about going on 12 hour shifts. Fortunately, I am able to concentrate on my writing now.

      Seven months later they haven't yet gone on those 12 hour shifts; but they have forced a 10% wage cut on all employees.

      Working conditions are,unfortunately, deteriorating. A twelve hour shift, as you pointed out deprive one of a personal life and the first day off is "not" a day off in reality since it is just a day of resting or catching up.

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      On your poll, you did not have a second shift, which you would have if you worked 8 hour shifts. I have worked 2nd shift and it worked out well because my husband had gotten a 2nd shift job. We got to see each other.

      I do agree and think it could be hard to have a semi-normal life on your days off if you worked night shifts.

      it really is a hard one.

    • carol3san profile image

      Carolyn Sands 

      8 years ago from Hollywood Florida

      Hi Denise. When I was still working in the hospital, I did 12 hour shifts. The good thing about it was that I only had to work 3 days a week for 36 hours but I got paid for forty hours plus I had full benefits. I looked forward to having four days off every .week. I would say for me the 12 hour shifts were certainly worth it.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I worked three twelve hour shifts a week for three years, seven A to seven P. I really didn't like it although i was paid for 40 hrs. It seemed by the time i got home, showered, ate a meal, it was time to go to bed and start all over again. Great hub Denise..

    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Yuck.. wouldn't want your schedule. I am job hunting but I have actually turned down jobs like that because I have a two year old. I hope you can get promoted to another shift that isn't so dangerous. Great hub that many can relate to!

    • Wmod514 profile image

      William Odell 

      8 years ago from Upstate South Carolina

      Reminds me of a classic saying I've always remembered...I want to "work for a living".... I don't want to "live to work"...

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting analysis, Denise. I agree, 8 hour shifts seem to be the most humane and safe. I never understood why doctors and nurses have the culture of such long hours. It seems that they should be the most rested of any profession. Thank you for your hard work as a nurse. I'm sure you are wonderful at your job!


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