As the U.S. job market struggles to recover from the recession, there's a world of jobs out there that some may have never considered. They're to be had on the night shift, or third shift-- employment for people who are willing to work when the rest of the world is sleeping. Think about the team on the hit CBS TV show 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation': Those intrepid Las Vegas investigators are working the night shift.
It may not be easy to get your circadian rhythms into sync with staying up all night and sleeping during the day, but it certainly can be done. And for those who are night owls anyway, the nighttime can be the right time for gainful employment.
We asked overnight workers to tell us their stories, and we think you may be surprised at some of the reasons people end up working on the night shift. Tell us your tales in the comments section; we'd love to hear more.
Night shift party in the bread factory
Located in a clearing in the trees in a remote area of Vermont lies a gem of a bread factory: The Vermont Bread Company. The company started as a small, family-run business, and the quality of the bread produced was so wonderful that the company quickly grew.
Due to the nature of Vermont winters, many of the long-term and loyal employees at Vermont Bread are unable to make it to work after major storms. So the company hires a slew of "on call" workers for all three shifts. As a local resident, I was able to reach the factory on foot when the snow was deep.
Filling in for third shift, also known as the night shift, was my absolute favorite. Our efficiency and attention to detail, hygiene and safety never wavered. But once the managers went home for dinner, the atmosphere often changed from a work environment to a carnival.
First, the music was piped into the factory at a loud volume. As we tossed loaves of dough into pans, we would sway with the music; the whole factory moved and swayed in tune to whatever upbeat song was playing. People didn't walk back and forth across the factory floor, they danced. Laughter was heard bouncing off the walls along with the music, and I believe we worked even faster than the day shifts, due to the rhythm and joy that detracted from the monotony that the day shift endured in quiet.
Trays of bread constantly rolled down long rollers from one end of the factory to the other. Agile employees saw no reason to walk; I remember laughing as I watched a man hop up on a large cooking sheet and ride down the rollers. Looked like fun!
Nestled in the quiet woods, often sleeping under blankets of snow in the dead of night, there is a single-story factory with a working party going on. And I remember that party every time I take a bite of that luscious bread.
– Beth Taylor
Night shift in the big city
I used to work the night shift. My hours were 10:30PM to 6:30AM, with my days off being Tuesday and Wednesday.
What did I do for a living back then? I was a police dispatcher in a rather large metropolitan area. No doubt, it was a very exciting job and quite prestigious at the time I took the position. I was one of the first "civilians" to take it on. Up until that point, only police officers or retired police officers were allowed to be dispatchers. However, the prestige came with a price: anxiety. To work off that tenseness of always "being in the moment" with the cops, I would run on the treadmill housed in our break room -- at every break. I lost 15 pounds in the first month!
Working the night shift as a police dispatcher proved the old adage that not much good happens after 2AM. That is the magic time when most bars close for the night. While robberies, rapes and other types of violence would occasionally occur in the wee hours, the most prevalent crimes and incidents in those early morning night-shift hours were related to drunk driving and public intoxication. Sad, but true. Even scarier, after my shift was over, I was often faced with intoxicated drivers as I made my way home from work. Every morning I would be on the lookout for headlights coming directly toward me, as these impaired drivers usually drove up exit ramps and disobeyed all forms of traffic signals.
Once I had made it home safely, around 6:45AM, I learned to hit the sack right away if I had any intention of sleeping. The longer I stayed up after work, the harder it was to sleep. There is something about going to bed when the sun is rising: It simply isn't natural. So I would force myself to close my eyes before the sun made it over the horizon. It took discipline, and I was successful most of the time.
Overall, working the night shift proved to be a valuable experience. I might have remained on the night shift for many more years, but I eventually married and became an instant stepparent to a 3-year-old. Thus, night shift work was no longer conducive to my lifestyle and I had to seek out a 9-to-5 job. But the lessons learned on the night shift remain ingrained in me. Remember, not much good happens after 2AM!
– Cindy Pierce
The news never sleeps
I live my career dream, and it always happens at night, since that's when viewers expect it. It's the life of a New York City night-shift television news producer.
I've had shifts that start at 2PM and end at 1AM, but I never know what my schedule will really be. My body never adjusts, no matter how long I've been working the shift. Thankfully, my already sleeping husband and crazy cat are always at home waiting, for both have become accustomed to my coming and going at all hours of the night.
And even when it's time to relax and party on a Friday or Saturday night (yes, I work weekends too), I am always behind. Greeted with the question of, "Why are you so late?" I proudly explain, "I produce the news for a local TV station."
Working in television news is something I wanted to do since high school, but back then I didn't realize just how many possible shifts I could be working. In this business, working crazy hours is like wearing a badge of honor (no matter how dark the circles are under your eyes). But no matter how much we complain (and there's a lot of complaining in a dark and dingy newsroom), most of us really love what we do. How many people can say they decide what news New Yorkers get?
Eating dinner also takes on a whole new meaning when you're working the night shift in a newsroom. If you want to get a decent meal, it's always a "Take your Tupperware to Work" day. I often spend the afternoon cooking away for that evening, making several portions that my husband can also enjoy, eating at home without me.
For all you nine-to-fivers out there, please don't despair for me, because I have something you don't: full mornings! (That is, of course, if I wake up early enough.) No need to squeeze the gym into a one-hour window at 7AM or 6PM when all the treadmills are taken. I have an all-access pass to any machine or lap lane in the pool I want! And those doctor's appointments that are impossible for all you "normal" shift people to get to? No problemo. I'm in and out in an hour and I don't have to worry about being late for work.
Something else I have that you don't is a less-stressful commute. Some would go so far as to call it leisurely by New York standards. Instead of being packed like a sardine on the subway with the rest of the city at 8:30AM, my commute consists of a leisurely stroll to the bus, then on to the train, with no pushing and shoving to get through the doors. If you're saying, "I'm still not sold on working the night shift," what if I told you I almost always get a seat on both the bus AND subway? To all of you non-New Yorkers reading this, that is a pretty big deal for a mass-transit commute.
Oh, who am I trying to fool? Working the night shift and weekends are, on a whole, pretty stinky. But looking on the bright side, I am working in the industry I went to college for and I've met a whole lot of cool people along the way, including my husband! Maybe one day I'll become a nine-to-fiver, or if I win the lotto I'll buy my own station. As the great television newsman Edward R. Murrow would say: "Good night and good luck."
– Miriam Sholder
See Also: Top Jobs for Night Owls
On the fast track to family bliss
I work the night shift for Amtrak. We call it "Third Shift." I am an electrical technician, and I keep the Acela high-speed trains running. They are the fastest trains in the United States, though they don't hold a candle to the bullet trains in Europe and Asia.
I know it sounds crazy, but I actually like working nights. I have been at Amtrak for 11 years now, and have been on third shift that whole time. We're union, so the more senior you are, the better your pick of jobs. What that means is that if I wanted a daylight job, I could have one. But I've been on third shift for so long, I couldn't fathom working days.
Now, all that said, there definitely are some adjustments to be made. For one, you have to be able to sleep when it's light outside. This means not only do you have to block out the light, you also have to block out the temptation to not miss what's going on.
When I first started on nights, I was single. Now, while it's tough to work nights when you are single, it's 10 times as hard to do with a family. Believe me, it's a constant struggle. Now that I have kids, I watch them during the day while my wife is working. Since she has a floating schedule, my sleep times are far from consistent. Sometimes I lay down around 4PM and sleep until 9PM, and sometimes I lay down at 9AM, then sleep until 2PM. Sounds bad, doesn't it? Well, there are also days when I lay down at 9AM, sleep until 11AM, watch the kids until 7PM, lay back down at about 7:30PM, then wake up at 9PM and go to work. Now THAT'S tough.
And my wife simply does not grasp my schedule. Even after nearly 10 years together, she still has a hard time understanding it. It's funny, I think my kids understand my schedule better than anyone.
"Daddy goes to sleep when it's dark, and gets home when it's morning." Come weekend time, they get thrown off kilter when I don't go to work before they go to bed. "Daddy, aren't you going to work?" I still get a kick out of that.
So you've heard some of the problems I've had working the night shift, and I'll bet you're wondering why I still do it.
In the beginning, it wasn't my intention to stay on nights for 11 years. I always figured I'd go to days at some point. But once I had kids, it all changed.
Now I get to hang out with my kids all day long. I couldn't imagine having to say goodbye to them as soon as they wake up, then not seeing them again until it's almost bedtime. I also couldn't envision someone else raising my kids. Don't get me wrong, I know that daycare is essential for some people. But it was never an option for me. As long as I'm home during the day, I can watch the kids and get my sleep when I can. Next year my oldest starts kindergarten, which means it'll just be me and my little one. Then the next year, they'll both be in school. The question is, will I then be ready to work day shift? Who knows?
What I do know is that right now, I'm a third-shifter, and I'm fine with it. Daylight? Traffic? Being stuck at work when it's 80 degrees and bright outside? Nah. That's too hard for me.
– Christian Hutchinson
Only at night: Being a paranormal investigator
In my part-time profession, only the night shift exists!
I am a paranormal investigator with South Jersey Ghost Research. We are an organization dedicated to assisting those who are haunted, whether the paranormal visitors be in a private home, historical location, cemetery, etc.
Each "night shift" I go through consists of a three-hour investigation of the premises. During these investigations, we take measurements of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), temperature, static charge and solar flares, as well as recording electronic voice phenomena (EVP) and obtaining photos of possible paranormal sightings.
Every investigation I have been on has had some sort of crazy, scary, exciting or thrilling experience attached to it. In November 2009 I took a trip out to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
My, oh my, was this an exciting venue for paranormal investigator.
Only two minutes into being at the location, I experienced a paranormal event. While walking through the courtyard of the penitentiary, I witnessed a full-body apparition running through the courtyard, appearing as a gray, smudged mist outlining a silhouette of (possibly) a former inmate. Shortly after that, I made a visit to the cell of Al Capone, of of the most famous inmates in the history of Eastern State. During an EVP session while standing next to his cell, I simply asked, "Is Al Capone here with us?" Upon review of my evidence days later, I discovered on the audio file a mysterious voice saying "What of it?" followed shortly after with "Go Away!" Was this the voice of Al Capone, himself? Unfortunately, it is hard to prove and as much as I didn't want to, I had to mark the evidence as inconclusive.
In my experiences with paranormal investigating, I have come across EVPs addressing me personally, taken photographs of orbs, mist, apparitions or familiar figures linking to the background of the location, and even had personal impressions providing me with names, locations or small details relating to a haunting.
To sum it up: There is never a dull moment in my night-shift profession. It is always fascinating, and worth losing sleep over.
– Amanda Staszak
Working when the sun goes down may seem like a bad idea for some. To me, however, it is just about heaven. Just think about it for a second. I go grocery shopping when just about everyone is at work, and never have to worry about rush-hour traffic.
What do I do? Well, sometimes I am the keeper of a really abnormal zoo. Other times, I am a glorified babysitter. In reality, I am what is called in theatrical circles a house manager. In other words, I run the show where the show is performed. So in whatever venue I happen to be managing, it is my responsibility to ensure that you, the theatergoer, have a good time.
As the night begins, at what we call "Half Hour" (before curtain, that is), I will have (hopefully) been told by the stage manager that it is time to let the masses in. I then become, as my colleagues have labeled it, "the host of a party welcoming guests to his lavish estate." It's great to be the guy who helps get the party started.
However, it does not always run like it should. Here's one experience I will never forget:
I arrived for the first day of a new assignment, and sat in on a dress rehearsal for a show set to open 24 hours later. As I was checking the view from different seats, I realized that the first three rows of the main floor were entirely obstructed, because of the way the set had been installed. I immediately gathered the box office manager and stage manager in my office to discuss our options.
That's when I knew I would have my night-shift work cut out for me. What I discovered was that since the upcoming show was the hottest ticket in town, those tickets were already sold out for the next six months, and I would have to deal with guests assigned to those horrible seats individually, every single night of the run.
If they came to me and complained or did so in writing, I was usually able to invite them back, with much better seats, at some other point. The trick was getting people who had paid more than $100 a seat to calm down long enough for me to explain it. Most people were thankful for that. However, I did get the occasional drink thrown in my face. It got really dangerous at one point, because we had one ticket holder who threatened me, claimed to be "mob connected" and obviously did not like our offer of free tickets. That was when my bosses hired a car service to take me home!
But no matter what the risks, I love my nights working in the theater and would not trade them for a set of unobstructed view seats to the hottest ticket in town.
– Jeremy A. Bennington
Next: Top Jobs for Night Owls