Nowadays, most businesses schedule their employees in rotating shifts to get 24-hour coverage and ensure round-the-clock operations.
But what are these rotating shift schedules?
As the name implies, these shifts rotate cyclically in a pattern that enables employees to work different shifts over a period of a few days to a month.
This benefits many businesses but also has a set of drawbacks. That’s why it’s important to implement such shifts properly. To know how, you’ll need to begin by understanding what a rotating shift is.
After reading this article, you’ll learn about its types and examples before learning how to create one.
So let’s begin by understanding the concept.
What Is a Rotating Shift?
A rotating shift is a schedule in which shifts rotate over time, usually in a particular pattern to provide operational coverage for longer periods. These shifts can be at different times and of specific lengths depending on an organization’s requirements.
For example, if an organization needs 24-hour coverage to serve their customers, they can either schedule three 8-hour or two 12-hour shifts. So, mostly, this shift schedule involves:
- Day shift
- Night shift
- Evening shift
These shifts rotate cyclically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This way, employees can be part of all shifts during the rotation cycle while providing 24-hour coverage as opposed to fixed shifts where the hours and days remain the same.
Aside from providing extra hours of operation, this shift pattern also helps retain employees. That’s because a fixed number of employees don’t have to extend their shift timings or work in unfavorable shift timings for extended periods of time.
How Does a Rotating Shift Work?
These shifts work in a way that employees get a chance to work each and every shift that’s part of the schedule. For instance, consider a business that uses three shifts of 8 hours each to get 24-hour coverage. The shifts can be:
- Day shift (7 am to 3 pm)
- Evening shift (3 pm to 11 pm)
- Night shift (11 pm to 7 am)
However, the employer doesn’t want to have fixed shifts; instead, every employee needs to work all shifts on a rotational basis. For this, the employees can form three teams to work different shifts and provide uninterrupted services.
In that case, the employer can choose to alternate the shift workers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, as shown below:
Daily Rotating Shifts
The employees of Team 1 can work the day shift (7 am to 3 pm) one day, the evening shift (3 pm to 11 pm) the next day, and the night shift (11 pm to 7 am) the following day.
Weekly Rotating Shifts
The employees of Team 1 can work a day shift for a week, take up the evening shift the next week, and do the night shift the third week. Teams 2 and 3 can pick the other shifts in a similar pattern during these three weeks.
Monthly Rotating Shifts
Employees of Team 1 can work the day shift for a month, take the evening shift the next month, and do the night shift in the third month. Meanwhile, Team 2 and Team 3 can take the other shifts for three months in a similar pattern.
How Is a Rotating Shift Different From a Fixed Shift?
In a fixed shift schedule, all employees work a fixed shift each day allotted to them. Simply put, employees work the same hours each day.
However, in rotating shifts, employees take up all the shifts over time that are part of the schedule on a daily/weekly/bi-weekly/monthly basis.
This way, employees working the fixed shift have lesser flexibility and need to work the same shift whether they prefer it or not. Due to the fixed shift structure, some employees may have complaints, such as the shift scheduling not being fair, as some employees always work favorable shifts.
As most employees prefer to work day or noon shifts rather than night shifts, they can feel frustrated and dissatisfied if they get fixed night shifts for an extended time.
Which Industries Use Rotating Shift Schedules?
Such shifts are perfect for businesses that require operation for extended periods or 24 hours. They can use the shifts to run their operations smoothly without making the employees work overtime.
Here’s a list of industries that use rotating shifts frequently:
Doctors, nurses, and lab technicians are mostly required to work 24 hours a day to look after patients and handle emergency cases. With such shifts in place, the healthcare staff can get proper rest and still take care of all the patients. Moreover, hospitals can ensure that medical expertise is evenly distributed across all shifts.
Emergency service providers, such as firefighters, police officers, 911 operators, and paramedics, must be available 24/7, as they need to respond to emergencies at any hour of the day. Thus, implementing a rotating shift schedule for these workers can work well as they’ll be able to provide round-the-clock services while having adequate time to rest and recharge.
Manufacturers can use these shifts to maximize production and maintain consistent operation, with a set of workers always being available to work.
The transportation industry often requires workers, such as truck drivers, rental car employees, and logistics staff, to operate 24/7. To make that happen, business operators can consider using these shifts to meet service demands at all hours.
Customer care services mostly require uninterrupted, round-the-clock operations to provide better services to the customers. Thus, employers can consider such shifts as a better alternative to long-hour shifts.
Hotels, restaurants, event planning and catering services often operate for extended hours to entertain maximum customer requests. With the help of rotating shifts, they can ensure the availability of a sufficient number of workers to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction.
Whether it’s department stores, convenience stores, or grocery stores, operations in the retail industry run for extended periods to meet fluctuating demands. Thus, businesses can use these shifts to meet such demands without overworking their employees.
The military operates at all hours of the day and night and, thus, uses a 24-hour clock, known as military time. Rotating shifts can be useful for them to ensure enough military personnel are always available.
The aviation industry calls for 24-hour activities to meet operational demands. They can consider using this shift to provide their services at all hours.
Types of Rotating Shift Schedules
Based on the rotation frequency, there are different types of these shifts deployed by various industries.
Frequent Rotating Shifts
Here, the shifts rotate frequently in a way that employees may get to work day and night shifts in the same week. The frequent changing of shifts can disturb the sleep cycle of employees, and they may face difficulty in adjusting to the frequent changes.
Slow Rotating Shifts
Here, the shift changes very slowly, allowing employees to work the same shift for up to a month before changing. This rotation type is easy to adapt to as they work the same shift for a longer span, unlike frequent rotating shifts.
Partial Rotating Shifts
This rotation type is a mixture of fixed and rotating shifts. Here, half of the employees work fixed shifts while the rest are part of the rotating shift schedule.
Weekend off Rotation Shifts
Here, a set of employees takes turns working on weekends so that each employee gets a fair chance for a traditional weekend off.
Examples of Rotating Shift Schedules
The DuPont shift schedule involves:
It has a 4-week cycle, where each team works as per the sequence below to complete one cycle:
Week 1: Work 4 night shifts in a row and then avail 3 days off
Week 2: Work 3 day shifts in a row, get 1 day off, then work 3 night shifts
Week 3: Get 3 days off and then work 4 day shifts
Week 4: Get 7 consecutive days off
The Pitman schedule involves:
In this 2-week cycle, each team
Week 1: Works 2 day shifts, gets 2 days off and works 3 day shifts
Week 2: Gets 2 days off, works 2 day shifts and gets 3 days off
However, teams with day shifts swap their shifts with night shift workers after each cycle (14 days).
The DDNNOO schedule involves:
In the 6-day cycle, each team ends up with
- 2 day shifts
- 2 night shifts
- 2 days off
24 – 48 Schedule
24 – 48 shift schedule involves:
This schedule has a 3-day cycle where each team works a 24-hour shift and then takes 2 days off (48 hours).
Day 1: Full day work
Day 2: Day off
Day 3: Day off
When Team 1 takes time off, the other two teams provide coverage for the operations.
Continental Shift Schedule
The Continental schedule involves:
In this 28-day cycle, each team:
Week 1: Works 2 day shifts, 2 evening shifts, and 3 night shifts
Week 2: Gets 2 days off, then works 2 day shifts and 3 evening shifts
Week 3: Works 2 night shifts, gets 2 days off, and does 3 day shifts
Week 4: Works 2 evening shifts, 2 night shifts and gets 3 days off
Benefits of Rotating Shifts
One of the foremost advantages of rotating shifts is that it helps businesses keep their operations consistently open 24/7. The shift ensures consistent workflow and increased production. Moreover, with such shifts in place, there’ll always be someone to entertain customers, thus ensuring maximum profitability.
Fair Shift Distribution
The rotating shifts allow all employees to be part of each shift equally, thus eliminating any conflicts among employees regarding favorable shift allotment. For example, if many employees prefer taking on day shifts over night shifts, then it can be ensured that night shifts are distributed equally among all, unlike fixed shift schedules.
In other words, employees will alternate between day and night shifts, ensuring that everyone gets a fair share of favorable and less favorable shifts.
Similarly, if the same employees are assigned the busy shifts of the business repeatedly, it’ll lead to dissatisfaction. However, under rotating schedules, the peak shifts are allotted fairly among all employees, thus eliminating the likelihood of such conflicts.
More Opportunities to Learn
Rotating shifts allow employees to work all the shifts in a cycle and, thus, learn different responsibilities unique to each shift. For example, opening a restaurant is quite a different responsibility than closing it. Therefore, using such shifts, employees can work both shifts and learn how to manage different responsibilities specific to each shift.
Similarly, if some shifts are busier than others, rotational shift work allows each employee to be a part of these so they can learn how to manage the workload.
Moreover, with these shifts in place, employees get a chance to:
- expand their network by working with new people,
- discover the responsibilities of each shift, and
- get an overview of how everything works in the different shifts.
Even Distribution of Talent in All Shifts
Rotating shifts help spread employees with different experience levels evenly in all shifts. You can rotate the shifts so that each shift has a pair of highly experienced employees with less experienced ones. Thus, there’ll always be someone to handle the critical work, while others can learn the job along with them.
This even spreading of talent provides cross-training opportunities to less experienced individuals and gives them a chance to interact with high-performing and highly experienced individuals.
Equal Opportunity to Earn Incentives
This advantage is specific to some industries that involve tipping. For instance, in restaurants, during busy shifts, workers get a good chance to earn more tips as they can serve a large number of customers. So, if the business owner uses these shifts, all the workers will have equal opportunity to make better tips.
Better Work-Life Balance
Unlike the traditional 9 to 5 schedule, the rotating schedule has shifts that vary on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis, giving employees some flexibility to accomplish their pending personal work.
For example, an employee plans to book a doctor’s appointment in a few days. With rotating shifts in place, they can check their schedule to pick up the night/evening shift and visit the doctor in the daytime.
Similarly, if employees work a one-week night shift and the next week’s day shift, they can spend more time with their families during the night shift weeks. This way, such shifts allow employees to plan their activities and have better work-life balance.
Eliminate the Need for Overtime
Rotating shifts help organizations operate for longer hours by distributing workers on multiple shifts without making them work overtime. Thus, such shifts prevent employers from the extra burden of overtime pay expenses. For example, employers can try Continental shifts i.e., dividing resources into three shifts of 8 hours each to get 24-hour coverage.
Increased Engagement and Productivity
When employees are given a variety of work responsibilities and learning opportunities, it decreases the monotony of the job and improves employee productivity.
In rotating shifts, due to alternating patterns, employees may get a chance to work on various tasks based on the shift’s requirements and get to work with diverse colleagues with unique skills and experience, which breaks the monotony of the job and improves engagement at work.
Drawbacks of Rotating Shifts
Negative Impact on Employee Well-Being
Repetitive shift changes may impact employees’ well-being, health, sleep cycle, etc.
As the schedule is inconsistent and always changing, the body needs to constantly adjust to changing sleep patterns. This case is especially true for the fast rotation shift, where the shifts rotate frequently and employees struggle to sleep at different times each day.
On top of that, several researches reveal that employees working in rotating shifts are prone to the risk of sleep disorders, weight gain, insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal problems, and other health issues.
Moreover, a study also mentions that women working in different shifts have lower fertility and higher abortion rates than day-shift workers.
Challenges in Maintaining Social Life
One of the downsides of rotating shifts is that due to fluctuating shifts, employees may have a hard time spending time with their families and friends regularly. For example, if a family has a routine to meet over dinner, they may not be able to be part of it daily due to changing shifts. This can give rise to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Thus, even though this shift provides a better work-life balance and flexibility to some extent, it may not work out sometimes for some people.
Difficulty in Finding Childcare Services
Parents with young children find this shift challenging as they would need childcare services at different times daily, including odd hours. Due to fluctuations in the shifts, they may not get suitable childcare for their children at different times each day. As a result, they may be required to spend extra to arrange services for odd hours or rely on their family for the same.
Less Possibility to Earn Extra Pay
Most employers pay extra for working night shifts, such as ‘shift differential’ to encourage employees to work outside the normal hours. Thus, many employees take up such shifts to support their financial expenses.
However, in the case of rotating shifts, employees don’t always work specific shifts that may help them earn additional incentives. They work the shifts that they get in the rotation, due to which their income may be affected.
With several advantages and disadvantages of rotating shifts, employers must keep certain things in mind while implementing these, including taking the right steps and following certain best practices. We’ll discuss these one by one below.
Steps to Implement Rotating Shifts
Step 1: Check the Preferences of Employees
Before implementing the rotating shift schedule, you should talk to your employees about how these shifts will work, why they’re being implemented, and which shifts they’ll prefer to work the most.
In such shifts, employees mostly get an equal number of all shifts, irrespective of their choice. However, asking about their preferences can help you decide which rotating schedule you should implement.
For example, if a majority of employees prefer to work the slow rotation shifts as it’s easy to adjust, you can consider opting for schedules with slow rotation, such as Panama plus schedule or Continental shift. Asking employees’ preferences will help you gain their trust and give them a feeling that their opinions and preferences are valued.
Step 2: Decide the Number of Shifts and Shift Length
Depending on the nature of your business and the hours of operation it requires, you can determine the number of shifts and the shift length for your employees.
For example, if your business operates from morning 8 to night 1 pm, then two shifts of 8 am to 3 pm and 3 pm to 10 pm will be sufficient. However, if you need round-the-clock operation, you can use two shifts of 12 hours each, like the ones in Panama shift, DuPont shift, and Pitman schedule. Otherwise, you can also maintain three 8-hr shifts to give 24-hr coverage, such as in the Continental shift schedule.
Step 3: Determine the Total Employees in Each Shift
Depending upon the workload, resource requirements, and resource availability, you can determine how many employees you’ll assign in each shift. You may need more resources during the peak hours, so consider the staffing needs accordingly.
One of the biggest challenges for any organization is strategically assigning the available resources across several projects.
Check out our comprehensive guide on resource allocation to learn how to smartly allocate resources, which can help you do all this and more:
Step 4: Assess & Assign the Best Shift Rotation Pattern
Determining the rotation schedule for your organization is a critical step. While deciding on this, consider your resource preference, the nature of your business, business requirements, and the industry you’re in. For example, you can go for slow rotation if:
- your employees find it more convenient and
- it aligns with your business needs.
You can also go for a mix of rotating schedules if half of the employees prefer to work the fixed shift and the rest are fine with this type of shift.
Step 5: Create the Schedule
Once you’ve decided on the rotation period, number of employees who’ll work in each shift, and shift length, you can easily create a schedule for your employees. However, manually creating schedules is taxing as it requires lots of time, analysis, and effort. Moreover, the complexity of scheduling outgrows as the size of the team expands.
Sounds tough, right?
As a solution, you can let any scheduling software do the heavy lifting. For example, Replicon’s Workforce Management Software can create schedules as per the requirements within minutes and notify managers about conflicts or overscheduling as well.
Thus, you can use such scheduling software to do the following:
- Create rotating shifts for your employees
- Schedule resources as per their availability, bandwidth, and skills
- Get alerts for missed, over-assigned, or unattended shifts
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Step 6: Communicate the Schedule Ahead of Time
It’s a good practice to inform employees about their next shifts ahead of time, which will help them plan their activities accordingly. As rotating schedules aren’t fixed or predictable, giving employees timetables for the next week or month can help them arrange their work as per the schedule.
Best Practices to Implement Rotating Shift Schedule
Address Your Employees’ Concerns
One of the most overlooked factors when introducing the rotating shift is employers forgetting to address employees’ concerns regarding the functioning of the schedule. To avoid this scenario and successfully implement it in your organization, make sure to do the following:
- Explain the reason why you’re planning to introduce these shifts
- Clarify how this shift will benefit the business and the employees
- Elucidate on how the shifts will rotate
- Ask employees to share their feedback and raise their concerns
- Conduct a survey after a month or so to check the efficacy of the schedule
- Create guidelines to swap shifts, do overtime, etc.
If many employees have issues working in this shift schedule and have cogent reasons for the same, see how you can manage things, such as implementing the partial rotating schedule.
Allow Employees Some Flexibility
Employees can face some challenges when working in constantly changing shifts, such as young parents having to pick up their children, attending school meetings, or having a medical appointment on a particular date.
To adjust their schedules, you can allow employees to swap their shifts with one another whenever required. However, you can instruct them that they need to communicate this with their respective supervisors ahead of time.
Minimize the Effect of Rotating Schedule
A rotating schedule has several downsides, including disrupted sleep patterns, health issues, work-life imbalance, etc. Though you can’t fully resolve these issues when planning to introduce it, you can mitigate its negative effects to some extent by taking some positive measures, such as:
- Opting for the forward rotation schedule, which is less harmful than backward rotation
- Using the slow rotating shift schedules that help employees adapt to changes
- Using the short length shifts of 8 hours over 12-hour long shifts
- Giving employees adequate paid time off and rest periods
Pay Heed to Workplace Conditions
Employers implementing rotating shift schedules for their employees must be attentive to the workplace conditions and environment, as these play an important role in increasing productivity and decreasing fatigue.
For example, most of these shifts involve night and evening shifts, and using low-intensity light at the workplace can induce drowsiness and inattentiveness in employees. Thus, ensure your office space is well-lit and has proper lighting conditions.
It’s advised to use the light intensity of 1000 lux during the night shift to stimulate concentration and attentiveness. Similarly, make sure your office is ventilated and has access to ample daylight.
Encourage Productive Breaks
A frequent change of shifts can sometimes be frustrating and may decline productivity. Ensure you encourage employees to take enough breaks whenever they feel like it. You can even recommend they set a limit to take breaks, which will help them charge their batteries from time to time.
If you have shifts extending for 12 hours, install a napping room or sleeping pods where employees can rest in between their lengthy shifts.
Conduct Wellness Programs
It’s the responsibility of employers to conduct wellness programs from time to time. Wellness programs are curated to help employees maintain their physical and mental well-being.
With these programs, employers can encourage employees to prioritize self-care and well-being by getting adequate sleep, engaging in physical activities, socializing with friends and family, and consuming a balanced diet.
Promote Adequate Slumber
One of the major drawbacks of rotating shifts is that employees have trouble sleeping at different times due to fluctuating shift timings. Employers can address these issues in the wellness programs and provide tips on the same, such as:
- Using sleep aids such as blackout curtains and fans that induce sleep when sleeping during the daytime.
- Avoiding too much caffeine intake and abstaining from it at least 5 hours before bedtime.
- Listening to some slow or classical music before bedtime.
Employers can look forward to using slow and forward rotation schedules that can mitigate the effects of insomnia and sleep cycle disruption.
Help Employees in the Transition Phase
When you implement rotating shifts for the first time, employees may have a hard time adapting to these changes initially. For instance, an employee who switches to a night shift is prone to making mistakes on the next day shift due to fatigue. Supervisors must keep a tab on such occurrences and check the signs of fatigue in employees.
To avoid serious problems, they can keep the workload low initially and gradually increase it once the employees acclimatize to the changing shift schedule. Supervisors should also have a one-on-one with employees to check if they face issues with such shift work.
Have an Open Door Policy
To encourage open lines of communication and improve employee retention, employers should consider establishing an open-door policy for their employees. This system allows employees to reach out to their managers and express their concerns regarding shift timings, work culture, work environment, or workload with management. Then, management can take proactive action to assist employees with their issues.
Rotating shifts have emerged as the top solution for industries requiring non-stop functioning to operate, as businesses can split their resources into multiple shifts to keep their operations consistent round-the-clock. However, if we consider its downsides, such shifts can pose a threat to employee’s well-being, both mentally and physically.
That doesn’t mean that these can’t be implemented.
Adept managers can always avoid such issues by having an open line of communication and prioritizing employees’ health. Having such a human-centric workplace and showing empathy towards employees always go a long way in maintaining a good working environment.
Make sure you apprise your employees of the schedule ahead of time to help them plan things on time, conduct wellness programs from time to time, implement an open door policy, and keep a tab on workplace conditions. These help employees adapt to the rotating shifts and mitigate the negative effects of the rotating work schedules.