Your guide to work schedules: Which type of work schedule is best?

Last updated: June 17, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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Your guide to work schedules: Which type of work schedule is best?
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Part of landing the perfect job is finding a work schedule that fits your needs.

But there are so many types of schedules. It can be hard to know which one is right for you.

You might find yourself wondering: what are the pros and cons of a seasonal job? How many hours do you need to work to be full-time? What’s the difference between first and second shift?

And what’s a 5/4/9 schedule, anyway?

We’re here to help. This article explains each type of work schedule along with their benefits and downsides.

What is a work schedule?

A work schedule refers to the hours that an employee is expected to work.

Your work schedule will usually be determined by your employer, although some types of work schedules allow you more flexibility to choose your own hours.

Be sure to ask your potential employer about the work schedule before you accept a position.

Why is your work schedule important?

There are pros and cons to every type of work schedule. It’s all about finding the one that works for you.

Everyone’s ideal work schedule is different. For example, one person might need to work the night shift so that they can care for a sick family member during the day, while another is focused on getting three-day weekends so that they can take longer vacations.

For a lot of people, flexibility in the workplace is very important. Choosing your shift, working from home, or starting your workday a couple of hours late on some days can help you fit your job into your lifestyle.

In fact, flexible workplace arrangements are as significant as salary and benefits for 70% of employees. 77% consider a flexible workplace to be a major consideration for their next job hunt.

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For other job seekers, flexibility isn’t the most important factor. For example, someone might commit to a non-standard shift to get a higher pay rate. Another might look for stability, avoiding jobs with an unpredictable work schedule.

Types of work schedules

To find a job with the ideal work schedule, you first need to understand the common types of work schedules along with their pros and cons.

Full-time work schedule

You’ve probably heard these jobs referred to as “nine-to-five,” although they don’t always follow that schedule.

Whether your job counts as full-time depends on how many hours you work. But confusingly, that number varies. There’s no single legal definition of what full-time means.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines full-time as working 35 hours per week or more. But a lot of employers consider 30 hours and up to be full-time, while some require at least 40 hours.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a U.S. law that governs overtime pay and child labor, doesn’t define full-time.

On average, full-time workers put in 8.5 hours per day.

Why does it matter whether you’re a full-time employee?

If you’re an hourly worker, you should find out how many hours you’re guaranteed each week. You may be thinking that “full-time” means you’ll always get paid for a 40 hour work week, while your employer only intends to give you 30 hours.

Full-time jobs are also often sought after because they’re more likely to have benefits like health insurance, paid time off, and retirement savings. But this isn’t always the case, either.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires U.S. employers with 50 or more employees to pay a penalty if they don’t provide health insurance benefits to 95% of their full-time workers. In this case, full-time means 30 hours per week.

But if you work for a smaller employer or fall into the other 5%, you might not get healthcare. And some part-time jobs do provide health insurance and other benefits.

Full-time work is the most popular type — 83% of the American workforce is employed full-time.

Part-time work schedule

As with full-time work, “part-time” doesn’t have a legal definition.

In general, part-time workers put in fewer hours than full-time workers, but there can be overlap. One 30 hours per week worker might be part-time, while another is full-time.

The average part-time employee works 5.58 hours per day.

So why would people choose to work part-time?

Some people work part-time because they can’t find a full-time job, but that’s not the most common reason.

The majority of people who work part-time do so for non-economic reasons. That means it’s their choice. For example, a part-time worker could be a student or have family obligations.

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People like part-time work for the work-life balance it provides. One downside is that your work schedule might be unpredictable.

Full-time workers are more likely than part-time employees to have a set schedule, whether that’s a typical nine-to-five or working third shift each day.

Can a part-time worker become full-time?

Sometimes people accept a part-time position at their dream company, hoping to someday become full-time.

Whether that’s possible depends on the organization.

If you’re interested in getting a full-time position in the future, you can ask in the job interview if that’s a possibility.

Seasonal work schedule

Seasonal work is temporary employment at a certain time of year.

For example, a major retailer might need extra employees around the holidays, or a tourist destination might be looking for summer-only staff.

Seasonal jobs can be full-time or part-time. Some seasonal workers take a job for just one season, while others come back each year.

There are a few reasons someone might decide to take a seasonal job. In some cases, that’s the only time they have available to work. A student or working parent, for example, might only work in the summer before back-to-school "season" in the fall.

Other employees take seasonal jobs hoping to get a long-term position in the future. Jobs are often easier to find in the busy season, and if you prove yourself in a seasonal position, you may be able to move into a year-round role.

As with part-time work, your opportunities for advancement will depend on the employer.

Finally, some people take seasonal jobs as resume builders. If you’re planning to work in the hospitality industry, your summer resort job could look good to future employers.

Contract work schedule

What if you’re a contractor rather than an employee?

A contractor is a self-employed person who provides a service on a contractual basis. That means you might have a contract with a company to work for a set number of hours, a certain time frame, or on a specific project.

Contractors exist in various fields, from construction to graphic design.

Unlike an employee, contractors don’t have a fixed schedule. The employer may require them to meet project deadlines, but they do the work on their own time.


Shift work is a very common type of scheduling. A shift schedule is used when the business needs to have staff on the job for more than standard business hours.

For example, a store that’s open 24 hours will employ people to cover the morning, afternoon, and overnight shifts.

At some jobs, you’ll always work the same shift. At others, the schedule changes from time to time.

First, second, and third shift

You might hear people refer to working first shift, second shift, and third shift.

The exact hours for these shifts vary from one organization to the next, but the first shift is generally the day shift. A first shift employee tends to start work in the morning and leave in the late afternoon or early evening, like a traditional nine-to-five worker.

Second shift starts in the late afternoon and ends around midnight or a little later. Third shift is the night shift, which starts in the middle of the night and ends in the morning.

Night shift is not popular, as many people prefer to work during the day. Jobs that have night shifts may offer a shift differential, or increased pay, to compensate for the less desirable shift.

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The upside is that night shift workers can get extra pay, although that’s not a requirement.

Each shift typically works the same number of hours.

Split shift

A split shift means that your shift is interrupted by non-working hours. For example, if you work at a restaurant, you might open in the morning at 10:00 AM, work a few hours, and then leave until the dinner hours.

Split shift doesn’t work for everybody, but employees with other obligations during the day sometimes prefer it.

Swing shifts

A swing shift is a shift that occurs outside a normal schedule, and often bridges established shifts. For example, you might work the second half of the morning shift and the first half of the afternoon shift.

Rotating shifts

Rotating shifts are an employee scheduling system where employees move through a cycle of working first shift, second shift, third shift, and swing shifts as needed.

The advantage to the employer is clear: they can schedule employees for whenever the business is busiest. But is there any advantage for employees?

If one shift offers better pay than others, a rotating shift schedule lets you occasionally make better money without committing to overnights every night. And if the job skills required are different on each shift, getting a chance to do all of them can be good career development.

But rotating shifts have major drawbacks. If you have classes or family obligations on a different or fixed schedule, or you work a second job, it can be hard to juggle those activities with a rotating schedule.

Flex work schedule

A flex work schedule, or flextime, is a scheduling policy that lets employees choose their own working hours within certain boundaries. Flex employees still work a set number of hours, but when they work those hours is flexible.

In most cases, there are still rules. For example, a company might say that employees working full-time hours have to be "in the office" between 9 AM to 4 PM. But the employees can choose whether they want to start at 7 AM and leave at 4 PM or start at 9 AM and leave at 6 PM.

Another business might require employees to be at work for five days of the week, but they can choose their hours on those days, or days of the week.

Some employers allow totally flexible work schedules.

On-call work schedule

Some jobs have on-call schedules.

During your on-call hours, if work calls, you have to go in. This could apply to doctors and nurses who have to rush to the hospital for an emergency or electricians and plumbers who’re called when something goes wrong.

Other types of work schedules

The work schedules listed above are some of the most common, but there are all sorts of alternative work schedules out there.

For example, some jobs offer a compressed work schedule. That means you put in more than eight work hours on some days in order to get more time off on others. You work fewer days total but have more hours of work on your working days.

A common type of compressed schedule is called 5/4/9. On a 5/4/9 schedule, every two weeks, you work eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day. Typically you’ll work five days one week and four days the next week, hence the name 5/4/9.

Some other examples of compressed schedules are shown in the image below.

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Find a job with the right work schedule for you

Choosing a job with the right work schedule can be just as important as getting a high salary or good benefits.

Make sure you understand the details of your schedule before you accept a position. Consider how that schedule will fit into your life and responsibilities. If you can't make what's being offered work, try to negotiate!

Ready to find a job that suits your work schedule? Search jobs on Jobcase today!



Cheri Prince
Bullet point
Inside Sales Manager at The General Insurance Co

Part Time weekends and evenings

Ford Simpson
Bullet point
Jack of all trades,.master of none

Working full-time from 8-4:30 is best for me. Part-time is in my future plans.Maybe that's the answer to where do you see yourself in 5 years. Ford