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What Is A Rotating Shift? Your 2022 Business Guide

What are rotating shifts?What are rotating shifts?
min read
August 21, 2023

Shift work is a popular way to handle the rhythm and needs of different businesses from manufacturing and hospitals where night shifts are a must to restaurants and cafes where rotating shifts ensure fair treatment for all employees. What is a rotating shift, then?

In this guide, you can get to know the basics about rotating shift work and how to employ it successfully in your business. 

What Are Rotating Shifts?

Numerous types of businesses and organizations need to use shift work in order to cover their schedules. Some of the main fields include food service, healthcare, security and protection services, cleaning, construction, manufacturing, transportation, and personal assistance, among others. 

If you have to keep operating constantly over a span of, say, 16 or even 24 hours, you need to plan shifts for your employees. That’s the only way to cover the whole set of work hours in a reasonable manner. 

A rotating shift is a common method to schedule your team’s work in a balanced and fair way. Instead of having the same employee work the night shift all the time, for example, they would get a breather and work day shifts too. Others would then fill in the night shift, on rotation.

In this scenario, a number of employees would share the burden of the more difficult shift. 

The other option for shift work is using a fixed schedule. For example, then the same employee would work a day shift, while another the night shift. This may be a choice for some businesses, depending on their exact needs. However, it may lead to disparities between different team members that can lead to exhaustion and frustration. An engaged workforce is more productive, which means a rotating shift will most likely be the preferred way to go.

How Rotating Shifts Function

The basic concept of rotating shifts is scheduling employees to take on different time slots of work on a cyclical principle. 

The rotation can work in different ways. Let’s say you have three different shifts. One option is to assign a team member to each of them, and the whole team takes turns passing through all the shifts. Another possible approach is to have an employee work the same shift, but on alternating days of the week. You can also set up a rotation system for weekends. Then periodically, everyone on the team gets to spend the traditional days off with their family and can have a normal social life. This is also important in terms of establishing a solid work-life balance for your staff.  

You can learn more about the basics of shift work in this guide from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Pluses and Minuses of Rotating Shifts

Using a rotational shift system has both advantages and disadvantages - for your business and for your employees. 

In terms of the positives, rotating shifts are a good way to ensure a fair distribution of the work between all the team members. For example, for restaurants and cafes, having employees take on both day and evening or afternoon shifts is important for their income and work satisfaction. In the case of diners, the evening hours usually boast more clients and thus better tips for the staff. It is thus essential to have all employees take the evening shifts at some point, since they are more profitable. 

Using rotation in the shift scheduling is paramount for businesses and organizations that need a 24-hour service, such as hospitals. The night shifts are notoriously difficult, and it is not good practice to have the same people work at night all the time. That’s why rotating shifts are usually the solution, as they allow the equal distribution of the most difficult shift to all employees. 

For some employees, shift rotation may also be advantageous in terms of flexibility. It allows different work rhythms and team members may be able to combine more consecutive days off to get extended work pauses without taking official paid time off

As for the negative sides of shift rotations, the biggest issue lies in night shifts. They are usually the most difficult ones to handle, as they require team members to break their natural sleep cycles. Night shifts can have a harmful impact on employees’ physical and mental health. For some people, adapting to disrupted sleep patterns or sleep deprivation is easier than for others. Still, night shifts should be scheduled with concern and care. 

The other disadvantage of rotating schedules is their unpredictability. Employees have to adjust to a constantly changing rhythm. They also have to keep track of the planning for each week. This can be tiring and can have a negative influence on one’s feeling of well-being. Productivity and team morale of shift workers may also suffer as a result of fatigue and dissatisfaction with the work rhythm.  

The Main Types of Rotating Shifts

There are different variants for handling rotating shifts. Here are four of the most widely used ones. 

Days Off Rotation

Rotating weekend work is a common practice in diverse business contexts where Saturdays and Sundays are work days. So what is a rotating weekend schedule? Employees take turns on when to work weekends, and when to have the weekend off. This ensures all get a fair amount of weekend time with their loved ones. 

Quick Rotation

When rotating shifts are constant, you may decide to arrange them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Then an employee may pass through a cycle of different shifts within a period of seven to 14 days. 

Slow Rotation 

It is possible to set a rotation schedule on a ‘slow basis’ as well. Then the shifts stay the same for months or even half a year. This is preferred in some cases, as this allows employees to better adjust their sleeping cycle and life planning. 

Rotation for Parts of the Workforce

For some businesses and organizations, partial rotation may also be a solution for handling shift allocation. A part of the team may work on a fixed shift schedule, while the others go through a cycle of shift rotations. 

How to Set Up Your Rotating Shift Schedule

There are different ways in which you can set up rotating shifts for your team. In this section, you can find eight of the most popular ones - with specific tips on how to apply them. 

It is important to note that whichever structure you opt into for your business, you have to take into consideration some guidelines on ensuring a fair schedule for all of your employees. It should be based on taking care of their physical and mental health, personal needs, and necessity for communication and coordination of shifts, among others. 

The main principles that lead to a working rotating shift system in the long run include:

Options for Three Teams

The 24-48 Schedule 

This schedule is intended for three teams covering a 24-hour shift. The cycle is made up of three days:

Options for Four Teams

The 2-2 3-2 2-3 Schedule 

This is one of the most common options for arranging rotation of shifts. It is often used in the food service sector. 

The pattern for each employee then looks the following: 

Cycle: Two weeks

Shift length: Variable 

The DuPont Schedule

DuPont is a system suitable for four teams. It is split into two 12-hour shifts. 

The schedule of each team includes:

Cycle: Four weeks, average work week of 42 hours per employee, which is more than the full-time standard and may lead to overtime pay 

Shift length: 12 hours, day and night shift 

The Pitman Schedule 

Another option for four teams is the Pitman system, which is also based on two 12-hour shifts. 

The distribution for each team is as follows:

You can rotate teams through the different formats.

Cycle: Four weeks, average work week of 42 hours per employee 

Shift length: 12 hours, day and night shift 

Options for Five Teams

The 6-4 6-4 6-4 Schedule 

This shift schedule is suitable for five teams covering 10-hour work shifts that overlap in a 24-hour span. 

The cycle works like this:

Cycle: 30 days

Shift length: 10 hours (with overlaps), 8-hour shifts are also possible without an overlap

The 5-3 5-4 5-3 Schedule 

Another variant for five teams is the 5-3 5-4 5-3 system. 

The pattern is:

Cycle: 25 days 

Shift length: 10 hours (with overlaps)

The 4-2 4-3 4-3 Schedule

You can use the 4-2 4-3 4-3 system for five teams as well. 

This is how it works:

Cycle: 20 days

Shift length: 10 hours (with overlaps)

Options for Six Teams

The 4-3 Schedule 

The 4-3 rotating system is tailored for six teams. It is based on three kinds of 10-hour shifts (first, second and third) that cover a full 24 hours. They have a partial overlap, which provides extra workers for a business at busy times. 

The pattern is the following for each team: 

Cycle: Three weeks 

Shift length: 10 hours (with overlaps)

Get started with time tracking 

Whichever type of rotating shift fits best for your business, you need to track employees’ time in order to account correctly for shifts worked, payroll and workers’ comp

You can get your team started on time tracking today with the Hourly app. It’s easy to use and has the right functionalities to help you stay on top of your business processes. 

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