Nursing Shift Differential: What is it & Why Do I Care?

In this article, we’re going to talk about nursing shift differentials.

Specifically what it is, and why you should care about the shift differentials you get at work.

Let’s start with what is shift differentials?

Shift differentials are extra money you get paid for working. They’re typically paid for working undesirable shifts such as nights and weekends or for taking on extra responsibility such as being a charge nurse or precepting a new nurse.

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What is Shift Differential?

In the most fundamental terms, shift differential is extra pay for working a shift that isn’t quite so desirable for the bulk of employees. 

Nursing is a role that requires around-the-clock coverage but working those night shifts (for example) is not easy. 

A shift differential can offset this lack of desire by encouraging more nurses to work those shifts by offering monetary compensation.

The employer can assess how bad the need is and may adjust their shift differential to try to motivate more nurses to pick up night shifts or weekend shifts.

A differential rate may also vary based on the shift worked, such as on a public holiday, on a Saturday or Sunday, or overnight.

Pro Tip:

It’s not always just about the nights and weekends.

Sometimes they’ll give it to workers who work in specialty areas.

For example, a hospital may choose to offer a shift differential to transplant ICU nurses and not to med surg nurses because of how specialized transplant ICU nurses are.

In that particular situation, it’s being used as a form of recruitment and retention benefit.

How do Nursing Shift Differentials Work?

How to Calculate Shift Differentials

Normally, a shift differential is calculated based on a percentage of the normal wage.

In nursing, there may be extra shift differentials calculated for taking on extra responsibilities as well.

All of this depends on the employers and their policies.

For example, some employers might pay a lower base rate per hour but pay a higher percentage of shift differential for shift work so that employees are encouraged to work these hours.

In other roles, the employer may pay a fixed rate that is lower but covers all extra shifts equally.

In the healthcare industry, employers will typically vary the calculation based on what shift it is and when it is worked.

For example, working a second or third shift on a weekend might attract a higher rate than doing the same during the week.

Related Article: What are the Different Types of Nurse Bonuses?

Examples of Nursing Shift Differential Pay

Below I’m going to give you some examples of how you can calculate shift differential.

There are some things you should keep in mind.

Your actual shift differential rate is going to vary a lot based on the facility and what state you’re in.

For example in some facilities:

  • RN shift differential vs LPN shift differential may be the same or different.
  • Your shift differential may be a percentage of your base pay or maybe a fixed number.
    • Ex. Night shift differential maybe an extra 10% of your base pay per hour.
      • Or night shift differential is only $3 extra per hour.

Keep that all in mind as you look at these examples.

Shift Differential Examples

Assumptions based on our fictional facility policy:

  • Jane makes $30 an hour.
  • Jane does not work any overtime.
  • Weekend shift differential is $3 an hour extra.
  • Evening (starts at 1500h) is $1.00 per hour extra.
  • Night shift (starts at 2300h and ends at 0700) is $5.00 per hour extra.
Example 1

Jane works a 7a-7p shift on a Monday.

Jane would make $364 for the shift.

(12hrs x$30) + (4hrs x $1) = $364 for that shift.

Explaination of Example 1
Jane would get her base pay for the 12-hour shift which would be $360.

Her facilities’ evening shift starts at 3pm so she would start getting an additional $1.00 an hour starting from 3pm to 7pm which would be an extra $4 for the shift.

Example 2

Jane works a 7a-7pm shift on a Saturday.

Jane would make $400 for the shift.

(12hrs x$30) + (12hrs x $3) + (4hrs x $1) = $400 for that shift 

Explaination of Example 2
Jane would get her base pay for the 12-hour shift just like before which would be $360.

Because it’s a Saturday Jane is going to get her weekend shift differential which is $3 extra an hour for her whole shift ($36).

Now she also gets her evening shift differential which starts at 1500h till the end of her shift which is the extra $4 for the shift.

Example 3

Jane works a 7p-7a on a Monday night.

Jane would make $404 for the shift.

(12hrs x$30) + (4hrs x $1) + (8hrs x $5) = $404 for that shift. 

Explaination of Example 3
This is Jane working a 7p to 7a night shift.

She’s going to make her usual base pay for the shift which is $360.

Now here’s what’s going to happen, the evening shift differential will come into play from 7pm until 11pm ($4).

Why until 11pm?

Because the night shift premium goes into effect and it’s a whopping $5 an extra an hour from 11pm until 7am ($40).

Example 4

Jane works 7p-7a on a Friday.

Jane would make $425 for this particular shift.

(12hrs x$30) + (4hrs x $1) + (8hrs x $5) + (7 hrs x 3) = $425 for that shift.

Explaination of Example 3
Alright, so there’s a lot of moving parts so I’m going to take it one step at a time.

Jane is going to get her base pay of $360.

Just like the above example the evening and night shift premium is going to be split so it’s going to be $4 and $40 respectively.

Now here’s where you might get a little confused.

The weekend shift differential kicks in at $3 an hour but you might be wondering why it’s only for 7 hours?

Well, it’s because at this facility the weekend shift differential doesn’t start until midnight Saturday.

I’m going to stop with the examples because hopefully you kinda get the point.

If something doesn’t make sense or you want to see another example let me know in the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do nursing shift differentials really make a difference in your paycheck?

This is a really good question and the answer is that yes, shift differentials can make a big difference in your paycheck.

Using the example figures I gave above we’ll take two nurses John and Jane.

John only works weekday nights (11p-7a) and Jane only works weekday mornings (7a-3p).

They both only work 40 hours a week so (160 hours a month).

They both have a base pay of $30 an hour.

Based on just the night shift differential alone John will make $800 (160hrs x$5) more a month than Jane. That’s a really nice truck payment or most if not all your rent (depending of course on where you live).

2. Do hospitals pay shift differentials?

Yes, most hospitals I’m aware of pay some kind of shift differentials. Some do pay better shift differentials than others.

3. What is the average shift differential for nurses?

It’s going to vary based on facility and state but some of the shift differentials I remember seeing look something like:

  • Nursing Evenings Shift Differential: $1-$3
  • Nursing Night Shift Differential: $1-$5
  • Nursing Weekend Shift Differential: $1-$4

On the coast, I’m pretty sure shift differentials are a lot better. Some facilities pay a percentage of your base pay (I believe this is also a common practice with VA nursing shift differentials.

4. What are jobs that normally have shift differentials?

Nursing is not the only job that may offer shift differentials.

On the contrary, there are a wide range of jobs that require employees to work shifts.

Customers these days simply have an expectation that businesses will be able to service them at any time, including weekends and public holidays.

Of course, some jobs have always needed to support shift workers and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Emergency services such as hospitals need to be open all the time. So, nurses and doctors will usually receive some kind of extra compensation usually in the form of shift differentials. 

Here are some other jobs that may have shift differentials:

  • Security services: This includes private security companies working around the clock to keep properties monitored and safe.
  • Customer service and support: In today’s digital world, people expect 24/7 customer support from companies.
  • Food and hospitality: Whether in a fast-food restaurant or in food production and packaging, shift work is very common and extra compensation is typically calculated and paid.

Conclusion

Many jobs besides nursing offer shift work but not all employees are able or willing to work some of those undesirable shifts.

A shift differential compensates employees working such shifts by paying them more.

This helps the facilities cover those shifts and rewards the nurses who are willing to take it.

If there are any questions let us know in the comment section below.

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