rotating shift schedules

A Guide to Rotating Shift Schedules:
Definition, Examples, Benefits & Tips

Do you run a business that operates outside the typical 9–5 work hours? If so, you might consider a rotating shift schedule for your team.

Rotating shifts are the norm for companies that provide 24/7 service. The idea is to protect sleep schedules, reduce burnout, and prioritize work-life balance for everyone on the team.

With rotating shifts, team members are split across two shifts: day and night. Each team will work their shift for a predetermined period. After this period, teams will rotate positions.

You can explore many different types of work schedules and employee scheduling techniques.

What is a rotating shift schedule?

Rotating shift schedules are employee shifts that change over time. The most common rotation schedule occurs when employees rotate between day and night shifts.

That said, some industries with 24/7 availability will go as far as to split their work days into 3 shifts. In addition to day and night shifts, there is a third shift rotation (also known as the swing shift) in the middle of the day.

This way, all your business hours are covered, and your employees still get regular time off.

How does a rotating schedule work?

A rotating shift often changes cyclically. Some teams will work morning to afternoon and others afternoon to night. You may have day, swing, and evening shifts within your rotation.

With a rotating schedule, employees work the same shift for a set period.

The more your schedule repeats, the easier it is for your employees to balance work and personal lives.

There are three standard shift lengths:

  • Eight-hour shift: Each eight-hour segment of the 24-hour workday is equal. Team members alternate shifts daily.

  • 12-hour shifts: There are two 12-hour shifts in a 24-hour workday.

  • 24-hour shift: In the medical profession and other industries, team members may work a 24-hour shift.

Pro Tip

By utilizing automated scheduling tools like Hubstaff, you can easily set up schedules that make any of these rotation cycles possible.

Types of rotating schedules

The frequency of rotation varies based on industry, team size, and various other factors. While some shifts are on a two-week cycle, others change every day, every week, or every three months.

Employers can set up a rotating schedule in four different ways:

  • Frequent rotation schedule: Every week, the team's schedule is different. A person might work day shifts and night shifts within the same week.

  • Slow rotating shift schedules: Business owners change teams shifts so infrequently that an employee may have the same shift for months.

  • Weekend rotation schedule: Employees take turns working weekends to be home with their families, travel, or simply relax on the weekends.

  • Partial rotation schedule: Some of your team members may be on a rotating shift while the others work fixed shifts.

There are many ways to divide shifts into rotating schedules. Each fits a different way of working.

Here are three examples of rotating shift schedules, each with its own schedule template.

DuPont shift schedule

The DuPont schedule is a four-week cycle of 12-hour rotating shifts.

The flexibility to take a vacation every month is something that many employees love about a DuPont schedule. Team members can travel and relax without vacation days when they have seven days off.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this method. Working 12-hour days and having some weeks with only one day off can lead to burnout. Your sleep schedule may also suffer.

DuPont shift example

An employee works:

  • Four-night shifts

  • Three days off.

  • Three-day shifts.

  • One day off

  • Three-night shifts

  • Three days off

  • Four-day shifts

  • Seven days off

  • Pitman shift schedule

The Pitman schedule uses four teams (or "crews") and two 12-hour shifts to ensure someone is always on duty.

Team members have every other weekend off and never work more than three days straight. This way, they have a consistent schedule that allows them to relax and recuperate.

The Pitman schedule usually requires team members to work day and night shifts the same week. As we saw with the Dupont shift schedule, this may affect your team's sleeping patterns.

Pitman shift example

Over four weeks (28 days), each team works:

  • Two-day shifts in a row

  • Two days off

  • Works three-day shifts in a row

  • Two days off

  • Works two-day shifts in a row

  • Three days off

  • Works two night shifts in a row

  • Two days off

  • Works three night shifts in a row

  • Two days off

  • Works two night shifts

24-48 Shift work schedule

The 24-48 system requires three teams that take turns working 24-hour shifts. After each 24-hour shift, each team member will have 48 hours off.

24-48 rotating shifts are popular with firefighters and medical team members. Fortunately, these roles require some downtime. For most professions, 24-hour shifts are too long and lead to burnout.

In the 24-48 schedule, each team works a three-day cycle that includes:

  • 24 hours working

  • 48 hours off

24-48 shift example

  • Team one works on Monday and has the rest of the week off.

  • Team two works on Tuesday and has the rest of the week off.

  • Team 3 works on Wednesday and has the rest of the week off.

Southern Swing schedule

In the Southern Swing schedule, employees work eight-hour shifts for seven straight days. All seven shifts will follow the same day, swing, or night shift hours. After two to three days off, employees work another seven successive days, this time following a shift.

Southern swing schedule example

  • Employee works seven days consecutively

  • Employee has three days off

  • Employee works seven days consecutively

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a rotating shift schedule?

Advantages of a rotating shift schedule

A nice spread of talent

One of the often-overlooked benefits of rotating shifts is spreading out your best employees. You’ll also be able to pair experienced employees with new hires to expedite training.

Also, team members with special skills may be in high demand. Having them rotate into different shifts can ensure the hiring is smooth.

Always-on service

Around-the-clock employment keeps your business operating smoothly. With rotating shifts, your business is covered at all hours. This also helps you give your team a lot of time off.

24-hour coverage also helps eliminate production delays when team members switch shifts.

Fair earning potential

Rotating shifts allows restaurant employees to work high-paying dinner and low-paying day shifts like lunch service.

Giving everyone frequent access to high-paying shifts serves two purposes.

Greater learning opportunities

Rotating shifts gives your team more chances to learn and build chemistry with one another. By cycling through every conceivable combination of talent, new hires will meet all of their teammates faster and develop new skills.

Even working at a different time of day is a learning opportunity. For instance, opening a restaurant differs from closing one for the night.

Variable work hours help employees understand the unique responsibilities of each shift. This way, your teams can more easily empathize with one another.

Disadvantages of a rotating shift schedule

Some people prefer consistency

The biggest problem with the rotating shift is that team members may prefer a set schedule (or fixed shift). When your employees work the same shift daily, it's much easier to plan the rest of their lives and master their roles.

One way to help your employees’ work-life balance is to give them their rotating schedules ahead of time. Even though their work schedules may change, they’ll notice your efforts to foster a healthy work-life balance.

Physical impact on team members

Rotating shifts can be stressful for your employees' bodies. Drastic scheduling changes can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm.

Outside of sleep, there are other health risks linked to rotating shifts:

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Cardiovascular damage

  • Weight gain

  • High blood pressure

  • Low immune system

  • Insomnia

If you’re worried about your team’s mental and physical health, it’s worth exploring ideal shift rotations before building a schedule. Remember, healthy and happy employees are more productive.

Inconsistent income

Shift changes might also affect hourly team members' earnings. Night shifts may pay extra. Employers usually pay extra to get employees to work outside of typical hours.

Because team members on a rotating schedule don't always work specific shifts, these incentives can affect their income.

Keep pay period rotations the same to reduce these fluctuations. All employees could theoretically work the same hours per shift and pay period. This technique helps them obtain the same pay each time.

What industries use rotating shifts?

Rotating shifts are a unique scheduling method that works best for specific industries that require constant coverage. A few examples of industries that use rotating shift workers are:

  • Restaurants and bars

  • Hospitals and healthcare

  • Customer service centers

  • Police and fire departments

  • Hotels

  • Transportation: airlines, trucking, and trains

    While rotating shifts are standard in these industries, a company's specific shift pattern and schedule will vary widely based on needs.

Fixed schedules vs. rotating shift schedules

The choice between fixed and rotating shift schedules represents a pivotal decision for employers, impacting organizational efficiency and employee well-being.

  • Fixed shift schedule: Fixed shifts offer stability and predictability, with employees consistently working the same hours and days, fostering routine and work-life balance. However, industries requiring 24/7 operations adopt rotating shift schedules, ensuring continuous coverage but introducing variability in employees' work hours.

  • Rotating shift schedule: Rotating shifts enable flexibility but can lead to challenges like disrupted sleep patterns and increased fatigue. Striking the right balance involves understanding industry demands, employee preferences, and the inherent trade-offs between stability and adaptability in managing work schedules.

How to create a rotating shift work schedule

Time spent on rotating shift schedules is worthwhile because it helps you save on labor costs and keeps customers satisfied. However, it's essential to think of your team members first.

As you create your rotating schedule, keep in mind that:

  • In an ideal rotating schedule, there shouldn't be more than three night shifts in a row, followed by three consecutive days off

  • Most people would prefer to work eight-hour shifts instead of 12-hour shifts

  • Circadian physiology says that morning shifts shouldn't start before 8:00 a.m.

  • It is essential to spread talent evenly to make sure the same people aren’t always working the evening shift

Time is invaluable — invest it wisely

To create a rotating schedule, simply follow these five steps:

  1. Split your working hours into shifts. What are your business hours? If you're open for 16 hours a day, you could have two shifts of eight hours each. If you are open 24 hours a day, you would need four eight-hour shifts, two 12-hour shifts, or one 24-hour shift.

  2. Find out how many team members you need for each shift. Each shift has its own unique needs. What are the staffing needs for each shift? Do they need to have any special skills? Don’t forget that you’ll need more people during peak hours.

  3. Build the teams. Now that you know how many team members you need for each shift, you can start building your teams. Of course, there are a few other factors to consider:

    • Is there a good balance of new and experienced employees?

    • Have you considered each employee’s preferred shift times?

    • Do you need to hire more talent to fill out shifts appropriately?

4. Determine the rotation. What type of rotation do you want to use? When making the decision, consider your team, culture, and business. What works in a hospital might not work in a restaurant. Do some research of your own before you decide on a rotation.

5. Create the schedule. Now that you’ve created teams and determined a rotation, creating a schedule is time. While you could manually create your schedule, this becomes increasingly difficult as your team grows.

You’ll also have to handle requests for time off. This time off will then lead to employees switching shifts.

To make things easier, you can use employee scheduling software. With Hubstaff, you can:

  • Schedule your employees' work hours

  • Set up weekly shifts for everyone on your team

  • Get alerts and reminders for late, missed, or left unattended shifts

  • Automatically add employee shifts to Google Calendar when you connect Hubstaff to Zapier

  • Get daily summaries of accurate timesheets

  • Manage your team's holiday work schedule with ease

See how Hubstaff's employee scheduling software can help your business by booking a demo now.

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