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The advantages to working the graveyard shift

You might think rolling out of bed at 5 p.m. to go to work — when most people are heading home for the night — is as desirable as walking on hot coals.
Image: Night shift
Working as a night nurse is more lucrative, but as all graveyard shift employees know, you have to stick to a rigid sleep schedule. Comstock
/ Source: Forbes

You might think rolling out of bed at 5 p.m. to go to work — when most people are heading home for the night — is as desirable as walking on hot coals.

But before you shoot down the idea, consider the perks. Namely, money. Most industries offer a financial premium for employees who work into the wee hours of the morning. Pharmacists, police officers and post office mail sorters make up to 10 percent more overnight, according to Some TV and radio news writers earn 15 percent more and nannies earn a 20 percent premium.

Money isn't the only benefit. There are other intangibles, like greater autonomy, fewer meetings (all the higher-ups are sleeping!) and the likelihood of getting promoted sooner since there are less people to compete against.

Take David Muir. He directly attributes his current job as co-anchor of ABC's news magazine Primetime and anchor of "World News Saturday" to the eight months he spent anchoring "World News Now," which is broadcast from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Leaving his plum job as the evening anchor of a Boston news station to work overnight at the network wasn't an easy choice. "I rolled the dice," says Muir.

The gamble paid off. At the end of his first week, the Northeast suffered a massive blackout and Muir found himself anchoring the entire night without a teleprompter, script or much light in the studio. When he signed off at 7 a.m., tossing the reigns to Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson of Good Morning America, the staff gave him a standing ovation.

"This is why you roll the dice and do overnights," he says. "It gives you an incredible opportunity."

Of course, not every night shift worker has a major blackout to contend with. But there are unique opportunities to shine that don't exist for daytime employees. At FedEx, a major part of operations takes place between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Night staffers unload, sort and reload the 1.3 million packages that come in on airplanes at the company's hub in Memphis, Tenn. One of the most integral positions is the person who oversees those operations.

John Dunavant started in his job, vice president of national hub operations in Memphis, about six months ago. In a sense, he says, it was like coming home since he started his career overnights there, moving up the ladder in various positions over 17 years.

It's a massive operation with virtually unequaled responsibility. The first plane arrives at 10:30 p.m. and the last one leaves at 2:10 a.m. The night staff is about 8,000 employees — 12,000 if you count the air crew. Ultimately, they all report to Dunavant.

"It's a great job professionally because it's running our highest profile operation," says Dunavant, who maintains a strict six-to-eight hour sleep regiment during the day. "From an officer standpoint, it's a job you can have an immediate impact on. If you do it well, there's an opportunity to get noticed."

He stresses the other benefits too. There aren't hours of meetings at night, and when there is one it's very focused since it's not over a two-hour lunch. Also, when he worked during the day it took him an hour to get to work, fighting traffic the whole way. At night, it's a swift 30-minute drive.

Rand Wilson, a longtime union activist and spokesman for the Communication Workers of America, points to more benefits. Aside from making about 15 percent more money, third-shift workers he knows are able to gain added skill sets at night because there isn't as much competition for those overnight positions. That can enable third shift workers — employees who start work at around 9 p.m. — to get promoted quicker than their daytime counterparts. He adds: "It's a much looser, friendlier and less formal environment at night. It's more objective-oriented than process-oriented."

Granted, it sometimes disrupts family life — especially when the kids need to be shushed after school because Mom or Dad is sleeping. But it can also work well for employees who need to care for their children during the day instead of shelling out big bucks for a babysitter.

Weekends are tough, though. When Dunavant gets home on Friday mornings, he sleeps for just a few hours and then fights to stay awake until his family goes to bed so he can be on the same schedule as his wife and kids. As a result, Mondays are painful. He never schedules an extra meeting on Mondays since his staff has to get reacquainted to overnights.

Says Dunavant: "Once you get used to it, it creates a lot of free time."

It's just a matter of getting used to it.