What Does 'Variable Shift' Mean on a Job Application?


Not everyone has the luxury of working set hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Many jobs -- particularly those in lower wage sectors -- offer less predictable hours. If your job application states that the position has a "variable shift," you can expect your schedule to change.

Defining Variable Shift

  • In the academic journal "Developmental Psychology," researchers JoAnn Hsueh of MDRC, a nonprofit research organization, and Hirokazu Yoshikawa of Harvard University, define a variable shift as "work hours that are irregular, shift periodically from day to night or evening, occur on varying days, or vary from week to week." According to Hsueh and Yoshikawa some studies have found variable shifts to have negative effects on families however their study did not find any detrimental effects. The researchers noted that these kinds of shifts are typical of jobs in the service industry, sales positions, domestic positions and child-care jobs. These industries operate outside of typical business hours and may have variable staffing needs. Some people can benefit from working nonstandard hours, however. For instance some federal employees are paid differential for working between the hours of 3 p.m. and 8 a.m.

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