Scheduling employees can be tough.
Whether you’re the human resources person at a small business, the manager of a franchise, or somewhere in between—shift scheduling is a notoriously tricky task.
You’ve got employee satisfaction to think about, as well as labor laws, schedule conflicts, business opening hours, and more to consider.
It’s no surprise you’re here, checking out your options.
The good news is: you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll look at the different work schedules available and the best practices for ensuring yours supports employee retention, helps with productivity, and keeps costs down.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Work Schedule?
A work schedule outlines the days and times that your employees will work over the course of a set period. The set period in question can vary—for example, it could be weekly or monthly—but the information must be made available to employees in advance.
A work schedule is also often called a work rota or roster—and its purpose is to ensure your business is adequately staffed at all times, without overworking team members. It should include the employee’s name, the start time, the finish time, and the location.
A work schedule is also an important contributor to employee satisfaction and happiness. It clearly communicates when your team is expected to work—so they can plan things for their lives outside of work. That work-life balance is key to employee happiness.
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The Benefits of Effective Work Scheduling
We’ve already touched upon some of the benefits of effective work schedules, but let's dig a little deeper into why they matter.
Work schedules can help you:
- Avoid overworking employees: An effective work schedule ensures that employees aren’t overworked or burned out. It’s essential that businesses consider employee satisfaction. A dip in that could—and often does—result in low employee retention and a bad employer reputation.
- Hone in on the best option: A work schedule can help you find the best ways to staff your business by enabling you to try different approaches and team combinations.
- Keep things transparent: An accessible and available work schedule allows employees to see when both they and their peers are working. This helps foster greater trust in you as an employer and ensures that no employees are perceived to be getting special treatment.
- Manage overtime effectively: A work schedule can help companies better manage employee overtime by providing a complete view of the hours each employee has worked over the course of the week. This helps businesses limit overtime—and the additional costs it involves.
- Reduce labor costs: Scheduling employees in line with demand can reduce costs and avoid an idle workforce. This is especially important for small businesses, where overstaffing can have a major effect on the bottom line.
Of course, you only reap the benefits when your chosen work schedule suits your business and employee needs. Striking that balance can often be tricky.
Let’s check out your options.
8 Types of Work Schedules for Small Businesses and Managers
Let’s take a look at the seven common types of shift work schedules you can choose from.
|Schedule Type||How It Works||Best For||Pros||Cons|
|Part-time||<35 hours a week, often inconsistent shifts||A wide variety of businesses, like. retail, hospitality||Flexible, more affordable, happier employees||Managerial scheduling stress, less dependability, lower engagement|
|2-2-3||12-hour shifts, two days on, two days off, three days on||24/7 businesses, like call centers, security services||Serve more customers, get more done each shift||Can be exhausting for employees, tricky scheduling, legal requirements|
|4-10||10-hour days for four days or 40 hours.||Catering to customers outside of core hours, like service technicians, customer support||Increased productivity, improved retention, happier employees||Dissatisfaction over who works which days, staffing challenges|
|9-80||Longer shifts for 9 business days in order to take the 10th day off||An alternative to the 9-5, five-day workweek, good for construction, oil and gas, etc.||More free time for employees, choice of day off, greater satisfaction||Tiring work days for employees, can be difficult logistically for employers, extra expenses for sick days|
|Split shift||Eight hours a day across multiple shifts||Meeting varying demand and ensuring employee focus, good for hospitality, childcare, etc.||Greater productivity, rested employees, happier employees||Can cause dissatisfaction if not properly managed|
|Irregular shift||Varying shifts from week to week||Ensuring all hours are covered and the establishment can remain open, good for healthcare, retail, etc.||Always staffed, can adapt to shifts to meet demand||Often unpredictable work schedule for employees, low employee satisfaction, employee burnout|
|Dupont shift||12-hour shifts over three weeks, fourth week off||24/7 operations, like manufacturing, emergency services, etc.||Easier to schedule staff, easier to accommodate employee time-off||Difficult to find coverage for sick days, long hours can fatigue employees over time|
|On-call shift||Employees on call to deal with emergencies or staff shortages||Businesses with irregular and unexpected needs, like healthcare, IT||Can supplement full-time work, dynamic work environments||Can cause stress and anxiety, can result in paying for labor that isn’t needed|
That’s your overview covered. Now, let’s get into the specifics.
1. Part-time Schedule
A part-time schedule involves working fewer hours over the course of the week—often including weekends. Specifically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes part-time work as fewer than 35 hours per week.
Many small businesses choose a part-time shift schedule for the cost-savings and agility it offers. Part-time workers don’t require the same financial investment as full-time employees, and they can also be brought on to specific teams as needed. For example, a part-time customer support agent could be hired to support the core team during peak hours.
Part-time work provides more flexible work schedules, but part-time employees don’t enjoy the same workplace benefits as full-time employees. Hours can also be inconsistent and unpredictable—think seasonal work schedules in retail.
2. The 2-2-3 Schedule
The 2-2-3 schedule is a popular one for businesses that operate 24/7. It consists of a 28-day rotation involving four teams that work 12-hour shifts as follows:
- Two shifts
- Two days off
- Three shifts
Typically, the teams will work opposite schedules throughout the 28-day schedule; one team works days for two weeks while the other works nights.
3. The 4-10 Schedule
The 4-10 schedule is exactly what it sounds like: employees work 10-hour shifts over four days. It’s often called a four-day workweek or compressed work schedule, as it compresses the standard 40-hour workweek of a full-time position into four days.
This schedule often works for companies that need available employees outside of the standard 9-5 schedule. For example, say you manage a team of technicians that visit customers to carry out maintenance work. The 4-10 schedule enables you to better meet the needs of customers who work a 9-5.
4. The 9-80 Schedule
The 9-80 work schedule involves employees working longer hours over a two-week period in order to get one day off every second week. It’s an alternative to the 9-5 or 4-10 work schedules, in that it’s sometimes—but not always—used for full-time work schedules.
The 9-80 schedule consists of employees working:
- Eight nine-hour days
- One eight-hour day
- One day off
This totals 10 working days. By working an extra hour most days, employees complete 80 hours of work over nine days, instead of ten.
5. Split Shift Schedule
The split shift schedule enables employees to split their workdays into multiple shifts. They often still work the 40 hours a week required for a full-time position, but they do it throughout the day—not all at once.
The split shift schedule can be great for small businesses that need to extend the hours they’re open, save money on staffing, and offer greater flexibility to employees.
In order for something to legally constitute a split shift, the gap between shifts must be two hours or more—and separate from any required meal periods, such as lunch.
For example, an employee may work their first shift from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. (four hours) and then their second shift from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (another four hours). They could even work shorter shifts and include a third shift—just remember the mandatory two hours between shifts.
6. Irregular Shift Schedule
Irregular shift schedules change from week to week, with employee shifts and days off changing fairly routinely. The schedule varies based on business needs, seasonal work, and employee obligations outside of work.
It’s a great option for small businesses that need cost-effective, flexible work schedules to accommodate the ebbs and flows of business demand. Plus, with tools like Hourly, you can easily manage workers’ compensation insurance and payroll for irregular shift workers—and all other employees—without worrying about overspending or compliance issues.
Irregular shifts are sometimes called rotating shifts and can sometimes be more predictable than the name implies. For example, irregular shifts can be used in hospitals, emergency services, and other 24/7 services. A nurse, let’s say, could work 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. one day, and then 4 p.m. to midnight the next.
7. Dupont Shift Schedule
The Dupont shift schedule—named after the American multinational that first implemented it—is another popular pick for 24/7 establishments.
It involves four different teams working two 12-hour shifts—with day and night shifts set on a four-week rotation cycle. It looks like this:
- Four night shifts
- Three days off
- Three day shifts
- One day off
- Three night shifts
- Three days off
- Four day shifts
- Seven days off
The cycle culminates in seven days off—a huge benefit for many of the workers on Dupont shifts.
8. On-Call Shift Schedule
The last shift schedule on our list is the on-call schedule, where employees are asked to be available for work outside of their regular working hours—typically during non-working hours or on weekends.
Employees aren’t physically present at the place of work during an on-call shift, but they’re expected to be geographically close enough to come in on short notice. The employee gets paid—usually on an hourly basis—regardless of whether they’re called in or not.
Doctors often work on-call shifts, as do many other workers in the emergency services—such as police officers, firefighters, and more. It’s also popular in software and IT companies, where major bugs or breaches need attention right away.
Best Practices for Creating a Work Schedule for Your Business
Deciding on a work schedule for your business can be daunting, but it ultimately comes down to this one question: How much work do I need to get done to run my business?
You need to consider your:
- Hours of operation: Are you open 9-5? Maybe you operate a 24/7 business? Are you empty in the morning but packed in the afternoon? Consider the number of hours your business is operational, and whether demand can be anticipated. For example, if you operate a 24/7 business—the Dupont shift schedule is a popular choice, as is the 2-2-3 schedule.
- Amount of work hours available: Does your work vary throughout the days of the week or month? Would you benefit from having more staff at the start of the week, and fewer at the end? Consider the amount of work to be done at your business throughout the week. If, let’s say, you need more staff over the weekends, you could consider an irregular shift pattern or hiring on-call staff.
- Labor budget: Ideally, you’ll hire the staff you need—but labor budgets can restrict your freedom to bring on full-time employees. Think about how you can create a work schedule that aligns with your budget. For example, if you have a small budget, consider part-time workers or split shifts to help you cover peak hours without overstaffing.
Once you’ve got answers to the above questions, you’re in a better position to decide on a work schedule for your team. However, choosing between the different types of work schedules is only half the battle—you also need to create the schedule and fill it with actual shifts.
Here are some best practices to ensure you can efficiently schedule employee shifts.
Ask Employees What They Prefer
The first thing you can do when creating a shift schedule is speak to your employees about their preferences. If you can accommodate employee wants as well as business needs—you’re onto a winner.
This involves talking with your team to find out what they’ve got going on—either in the short-term or long-term, depending on the shift schedule you’re creating. For example, consider whether any parents on your team need to be available for school drop-off and pick-up.
Talking to your team often uncovers solutions you’d never have thought of and shows your employees that you want to create a work schedule that works for both you and them. This helps improve employee satisfaction and, subsequently, employee retention since employees feel heard by management.
Plan Ahead to Minimize Scheduling Conflicts
Another top tip for effective shift management is to plan as far in advance as possible. This not only effectively sets employee expectations and enables them to plan their lives outside of work, but it also leaves you time to make any necessary schedule changes.
It’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan. Planning in advance gives you the time you need to create a plan B—for example, finding an employee who’s happy to be on-call during a given week.
Ensure your Schedule is Compliant with Labor Laws
Whatever you choose, make sure you stay in compliance with labor laws. It’s up to you to make sure everything’s above board when it comes to rules and regulations. Labor laws differ from one state to another—minimum wage, paid sick leave rules, pregnancy accommodations, overtime pay, and more all vary.
One way you can stay up to date with local labor laws is with federal and state labor law posters. You’re required to post them and they’re free to businesses. However, many businesses opt to contract a labor law poster service to ensure continued compliance.
Use Tools to Help You
When it comes to logistics and planning, software solutions can help you work more efficiently. While there are many specialized tools available, you also want to consider everyday software that can help you get the job done.
Using the latest scheduling software and tech helps ensure you can efficiently manage shift rotas and employees. It not only improves your experience but also theirs—an important consideration for employee satisfaction.
Find the Work Schedule that Works for You
Whether you need employees for long hours throughout the entire week or only at certain times on particular days, there’s a work schedule that will work for your business.
The right option for you depends on your specific business needs, opening hours, and available staff—as well as other circumstantial factors like seasonal surges or emergencies.
This might seem like a lot to take in right now, but once you know exactly what your business needs, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out which schedule is right for you.