shift work

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With shift work (or shift work ; english shift work ) is in the economy , a job design refers, in which different workers for a specific timetable mixed in succession on the same workstation are used, they that their work must be within a certain time period at different times do.


Shift work is carried out if a company has to work longer than the usual daily working hours or if, for other reasons, activities or on- call duty are required outside of the normal daily working hours . Shift work makes more efficient use of the maximum possible operating time .

The term shift work is used more in the private sector , while shift work is more common in the public sector . On larger ships , both the shifts and the associated part of the ship's crew have always been called the watch . In hospitals , the night shift is traditionally referred to as night shift .

In some industries without continuous shift work, the terms early shift and / or late shift are also used . In others, employees only need to be available for emergencies (see on-call service ).


Shift work is as non-continuous , called shift work when the work at the end of the workday is interrupted, usually in a two-shift operation with early and late shifts (also called lunch shift). Of continuous shift work is when will therefore worked around the clock, even in a night shift. If the continuous shift work is interrupted on weekends, then there is partially continuous shift work, otherwise fully continuous shift work, if the weekends are also included. If an employee has to work shifts at different times of the day, it is a rotating shift.

Usual shift systems

The following systems are widely used in industry:

Two-shift operation
which, as a rule of thumb, enables two consecutive 8-hour shifts and thus a capacity utilization of 16 hours per day.
Three-shift operation
which, as described above, enables all-round operation during the week.
Four or five shifts
which enables continuous operation 7 days and 24 hours.

Depending on the agreed working hours of the employees, four or five shift groups are used with “full accounts”. In a four-shift operation, the employee works 42 hours a week. If the working hours are lower - which is the rule - this is offset by additional free shifts. If the collectively agreed working hours are less than 38 hours per week, the working time management of the free shifts (there are also vacation and public holidays and additional free shifts for work on Sundays and public holidays to compensate for illness) is very time-consuming, and ergonomically unfavorable work profiles tend to arise for Employees. Then five-shift operation is ideal. In this case, the working time is 33.6 hours per week. A higher collectively agreed working time then leads to so-called shifts that can be used to compensate for illness or for further training. Five-shift models in particular allow relatively inexpensive models in terms of ergonomics.

Depending on the type of operation, other shift systems or overlapping times can also be planned for the handover. The exact regulations on working hours are generally laid down in the collective bargaining agreements and detailed in company agreements for the respective company or location.

Usually the shift of the individual employee is changed at regular intervals; But there are also models (not very common in Germany) in which only one shift is employed (long night shift, for example). Shift work and “ flexible working hours ” sometimes merge seamlessly.

Design aspects for shift work

There are various aspects to consider when designing shift work schedules. Here it is advisable to differentiate between legal requirements, which are to be implemented in full, and ergonomic design recommendations , which are to be included to the greatest possible extent.

Legal framework in Germany

The German Working Hours Act (ArbZG) regulates various aspects that are particularly relevant for shift planning. Hence:

  • The average working day of 8 hours according to § 3 ArbZG must be adhered to (no more than 10 hours a day).
  • The work breaks during working hours of a total of 30 minutes (from 6 working hours) or 45 minutes (from 9 working hours) according to § 4 ArbZG must be guaranteed.
  • After the end of work, an uninterrupted rest period of at least 11 hours must be granted in accordance with Section 5 (1) ArbZG.
  • At least 15 Sundays per year must remain free from work in accordance with Section 11 (1) ArbZG.


The Austrian Working Hours Act (AZG) and the Rest Period Act (ARG) contain rules that are particularly relevant to shift planning.

  • The normal daily working time may not exceed 9 hours in accordance with Section 4a AZG, with numerous exceptions.
  • If the working time is more than 6 hours, it must be interrupted with a break of 30 minutes, although there are in some cases the possibility of dividing them (Section 11 AZG).
  • After the end of work, an uninterrupted rest period of at least 11 hours must be granted according to § 12 AZG, with exceptions.
  • The weekly rest period is regulated differently for shift work than for other work. According to § 4 ARG it usually comprises at least 36 hours from Saturday 13:00. There are exceptions.
  • Sunday work requires the fulfillment of exception clauses in the ARG or in the corresponding ordinance.


In Switzerland , working hours may not exceed 11 hours per shift, including work breaks. If you work in two shifts, day and evening, the employee must work equally in both shifts. Working hours must be organized in such a way that no employee is on the same shift for more than 6 consecutive weeks. With the consent of the employee concerned, the transition period of 6 weeks can be extended or abolished if employees can only work in the morning or in the evening for special personal reasons; or one of the two shifts is significantly shorter and does not exceed 5 hours.

Ergonomic design recommendations

In order to get closer to the goal of a humane shift work design, it is important to include as many ergonomic design recommendations as possible that have resulted from scientific findings in the shift plan. Each shift system has specific disadvantages, so that there cannot be a shift schedule that meets all occupational psychological and social conditions.

There are various criteria for this, with the help of which shift planning can be represented as an optimization problem with several secondary conditions.

With regard to night shifts, it makes more sense to sprinkle a few night shifts, as many consecutive night shifts accumulate sleep deficits and the risk of accidents increases. Due to the negative consequences of night work, it is recommended to avoid or reduce it as much as possible and, if possible, to work no more than three consecutive night shifts. Stress caused by night work should be balanced by rest breaks with at least two days of rest after the night shift phase. It is also advisable to plan a maximum of three consecutive shifts with regard to early and late shifts. With regard to the direction of rotation in the shift sequence, forward changes from the early, late and then night shifts have proven to be worker-friendly. It was found that employees in forward rotating systems have fewer complaints than employees in backward rotating systems. The night-free-night shift sequence should be avoided as well as individual working days (individual days off) between longer free phases (longer work phases).

A phase of a maximum of five to seven working days has been established as a design recommendation for the maximum number of consecutive working days. Longer working hours cause above-average symptoms of fatigue and mean that more time is needed to recover. In principle, longer work phases enable larger leisure blocks, but at the same time lead to a larger proportion of the leisure block, which is necessary to reduce the accumulated fatigue. In the case of continuous shift work, it must be ensured that the employees have at least two consecutive days off on the weekend, since social contacts are often only possible for shift workers on the weekend. This can be, for example, the combinations Friday / Saturday, Saturday / Sunday or Sunday / Monday.

Breaks in the shift reduce stress and the risk of accidents.

Alternating shift

Rotating shift is a working time model based on shift work. In the case of alternating shifts, the working hours change according to the shift calendar in a regular rhythm in order to burden all employees evenly. After a night shift , the provisions of the Working Hours Act lead to a free shift in order to ensure adequate rest. The same goes for working on weekends. In addition to the free shifts, financial payments are also made, depending on the collective agreement. A minimum number of shift changes in a period can be stipulated in collective bargaining agreements so that benefits from this type of work for the employees concerned are perpetuated over the periods (e.g. to preserve financial assets).

Health risks

Shift work poses a higher health risk than work at regular working hours, especially if night work is included. In many countries, medical checks are therefore mandatory for night workers. Common illnesses associated with (night) shift work are sleep disorders , headaches , depression , stomach ulcers , high blood pressure , and cardiovascular diseases. Continuous shift work is physically stressful and hinders social activities (sport, family, etc.). Often be rest periods affected. For example, sleep after a night shift is usually shorter and worse than regular night sleep.

The importance of psycho-social burdens for health is often underestimated. More recent research shows evidence of a positive correlation between shift work and cancer . Greater importance is attached to the melatonin levels that are changed during night and shift work . The disturbance of the physiological circadian rhythm leads, among other things, to a restricted melatonin production and consequently lowered levels. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has included shift work on the official list of probably carcinogenic agents (“probably carcinogenic to humans”) since December 5, 2007.

An additional workload results from shift work due to the ongoing (partial) adjustments to the circadian rhythm. In order to reduce this, it is particularly recommended to work with interspersed night shifts, i.e. no more than four night shifts in a row.

Longer shifts (e.g. 12-hour shifts) are often popular because they bring more days off or more money. However, they also harbor significantly higher loads due to the exponentially increasing load profile over a period of exposure and thus a significantly increased risk of accidents. According to the Working Hours Act, 12-hour shifts are therefore only permitted under special, low-stress working conditions or only exceptionally.

Very early start times - possibly combined with long journeys to the home - bring a burden similar to night shifts. Long-term night shift systems reduce the stress of otherwise partial adjustments to the circadian rhythm, but often promote significant other problems such as desocialization tendencies , alcohol abuse and drug addiction .

Health risks associated with shift work are often difficult to assess directly for those affected. First, those who no longer want or can no longer drop out and are therefore no longer included in the statistics (“ healthy worker effect ”). Secondly, the damage is usually very slow and difficult to perceive in its structure, which then becomes “surprisingly visible”.

Industry sectors

Shift work occurs in all companies and organizations that have to work every day and every hour or where the operating hours significantly exceed the daily or weekly working hours. They arise from the need to offer long service times ( hospital , police , fire brigade , penal system , traffic , power station ) or from the high costs that would arise if plants were to be shut down (steel industry, chemical plants, food and beverage industry) or generally from the need to amortize high plant investments through corresponding operating times ( air traffic , production lines in the automotive industry). Telephone hotlines that can be reached 24 hours a day are also increasingly being set up in the area of ​​customer service (e.g. for health insurers, IT or communication service providers). Companies often outsource these services to call centers .


On ships and oil rigs shorter working sections are common: four hours guard , eight hours off duty ; see also glass clock , dog guard .


  • Hiltraut Paridon, Sabine Ernst, Volker Harth, Peter Nickel, Annette Nold, Dirk Pallapies: Shift work - legal situation, health risks and prevention options . Ed .: German Statutory Accident Insurance (=  DGUV Report 1/2012 ). Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86423-022-6 ( online (PDF; 4.0 MB) [accessed on March 14, 2012]).

Web links

Wiktionary: Shift work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Shift work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Shift work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Article 2 No. 5 of Directive 2003/88 / EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of November 4, 2003 on certain aspects of the organization of working hours
  2. Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs (Ed.): The Working Hours Act . Bonn April 2018 ( [PDF]).
  3. ^ Republic of Austria: The east. AZG in the current version. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  4. ^ Republic of Austria: The current version of the Austrian Rest Period. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  5. Republic of Austria: Rest of Work Act Ordinance. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  6. a b Knauth, Peter (2002): Flexible working hours from an ergonomic point of view. In: In: Flexible working hours in the service sector. Ed .: G. Zülch. Aachen 2002. pp. 51-74. (Research reports from the Institute for Ergonomics and Business Organization at the University of Karlsruhe. 28.).
  7. Christopher Schlick, Ralph Bruder, Holger Luczak: Ergonomics . Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg 2018, ISBN 978-3-662-56036-5 , pp. 602 ff ., doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-662-56037-2 ( ).
  8. ^ Dorothee Fischer, David A. Lombardi, Simon Folkard, Joanna Willetts, David C. Christiani: Updating the "Risk Index": A systematic review and meta-analysis of occupational injuries and work schedule characteristics . In: Chronobiology International . tape 34 , no. 10 , November 26, 2017, ISSN  0742-0528 , p. 1423–1438 , doi : 10.1080 / 07420528.2017.1367305 ( [accessed April 16, 2020]).
  9. a b Christopher Schlick, Ralph Bruder, Holger Luczak: Arbeitswissenschaft . Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg 2018, ISBN 978-3-662-56036-5 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-662-56037-2 ( [accessed February 27, 2019]).
  10. ^ Dorothee Fischer, David A. Lombardi, Simon Folkard, Joanna Willetts, David C. Christiani: Updating the "Risk Index": A systematic review and meta-analysis of occupational injuries and work schedule characteristics . In: Chronobiology International . tape 34 , no. 10 , November 26, 2017, ISSN  0742-0528 , p. 1423–1438 , doi : 10.1080 / 07420528.2017.1367305 ( [accessed April 16, 2020]).
  11. IARC Press Release 180 (December 5, 2007) ( Memento of the original from July 21, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Ed.): Positive design examples of software-supported working time organization. Dortmund: baua, 2008. ISBN 978-3-88261-604-0 . P. 11. PDF