What Is a Shift Schedule? (With Types, Advantages and Tips)

Updated February 16, 2023

Scheduling can be a complex task for businesses operating for 24 hours or extended periods each day. To simplify this task, you can use shift schedules to stay organized and efficiently schedule employees for reasonable times and durations. Knowing the advantages and types of shift schedules can help you prepare and optimize schedules to increase productivity, improve team morale and maintain consistent operations.

In this article, we explain what a shift schedule is, describe its benefits, list different types of shift schedules and offer tips to help you choose the option that's right for your team or department.

What is a shift schedule?

A shift schedule, also known as a shift work or shift worker's schedule, is a method for scheduling employees in rotations. Shift schedules ensure a company can staff its operations for extended periods without interruptions. It's a common scheduling tactic for companies in various industries, such as manufacturing, health care, transportation and hospitality. For example, hospitals use shift schedules to ensure they always have health care providers working. Shift schedules can help companies manage their resources, improve efficiency and provide customer service.

Related: What Is Shift Work?

Benefits of shift schedules

Shift schedules can help you achieve consistency and fairness when scheduling employees for work. They also help make sure the right employees are working at the right times, such as during on-call coverage. You can use shift schedules to ensure certain employees, such as emergency responders, have enough time to recover between physically demanding shifts. You may also benefit from creating shift schedules if you work in an industry with required time-off laws, such as truck driving.

Related: How To Create an Employee Schedule That Works for Your Team

11 types of shift schedules

Here are 11 different types of shift schedules you can use and the advantages of each one to help you choose the right one for your team:

1. Fixed shift

Fixed shift employees work specific days and hours each week. Although there may be certain exceptions, such as holidays or overtime during periods of increased production, employees on a fixed shift schedule can reasonably expect a predictable work calendar. For example, a customer service employee may work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday each week. This type of schedule can often improve morale since employees know what shifts they work each week.

2. Split shift

Split shift schedules disperse an employee's hours into two or more periods on the same day. For instance, a split shift employee might work a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon. Split shift schedules can be consistent, like fixed shift schedules, or variable depending on what the company needs. Employees on split shifts may benefit from the rest between periods of work and the ability to attend to midday personal tasks if necessary.

Related: What Are Typical Second Shift Hours?

3. Overtime

Working overtime shifts means working more than the standard number of hours in a day or week. Some employers require overtime at certain times, while other employers don't permit overtime because it may allow employees to receive extra compensation for additional hours. Overtime laws vary among locations, but some people who work overtime do receive this additional compensation and attribute that as one benefit of this type of shift.

Related: What Is Overtime Pay and How Does It Work? (Plus Types)

4. Rotating shifts

Rotating shifts are when employees have different scheduled hours every week, month or other time period. This type of shift helps ensure employees work a balance of shifts. For example, one employee may work early mornings one week and late evenings the next. Some employees enjoy this type of shift because of the variety of their schedules.

Read more: What Are Rotating Shifts? Definition, Benefits and Tips

5. 24/7 shifts

One particular kind of rotating shift schedule is 24/7 shift coverage. Businesses that are always open, such as gas stations, use 24/7 scheduling because it helps manage employee rosters. You have many potential combinations of shift strategies to use when scheduling 24-hour work, which can provide flexibility to your employees.

6. Graveyard shift

Graveyard shift is the common term for schedules where employees work through the night or in the very early hours of the morning. Some employers use a combination of other scheduling strategies to disperse the responsibility of working graveyard shifts. Others keep the same employees on nights consistently because of the type of work or the employee's preference. Some employees find they're most productive at this time and enjoy working overnight or graveyard shifts.

Related: What You Need To Know About Night Shift Jobs

7. On-call shifts

Employees who work on-call shifts are often not physically present at their place of work during their scheduled on-call time. They are instead required to remain available via phone under certain conditions and come into the workplace within a certain amount of time if called. On-call scheduling is common in health care, technology and service professions. Some employers pay higher wages for on-call work, which can be a benefit to the employee.

Related: On-Call Employees: Definition, Payment and Examples

8. No-schedule shifts

Some employers schedule employees to work schedules that don't necessarily follow a particular pattern. This type of shift schedule might be necessary to fill coverage gaps or compensate for under-scheduled shifts in a regular schedule. Often, smaller businesses create no-schedule shift plans as their primary form of scheduling to accommodate for their employees' needs outside of work.

9. DuPont shifts (and variations)

DuPont scheduling, developed in the mid-20th century at the DuPont company, provides longer periods of rest to industrial employees. The traditional DuPont shift involves working a series of 12-hour shifts in a row, with longer week-long breaks every month. Although some employees prefer to work shorter shifts, others find longer breaks to be a benefit of this type of schedule.

Some variations of the DuPont schedule involve distributing the 12-hour shifts and longer breaks in different ways. For example, one common use of the DuPont schedule creates shifts so every employee's seven-day break ends on a Friday night. This schedule allows each employee to work an even number of 36- and 48-hour weeks. Another example includes removing intermediary nights off between longer shifts to add extra time to employees' rest periods.

10. 2-3-2 shifts

This type of shift schedule involves working a series of two- and three-day periods over each 14-day period. This schedule type provides each employee with a long weekend every couple of weeks and frequent weekdays off. Employees who work this schedule often enjoy the balance between leisure time off and the opportunity to attend to personal matters during the business day, such as banking and postal tasks.

11. Four-on, four-off shifts (and variations)

Four-on, four-off shifts are when an employee works four days and then has four days off repeatedly. You can create variations of this schedule using any number of days in a row. Many employers are mindful of the type of work their employees do when determining how long a work period to assign. Physically or mentally demanding jobs, for example, may require more frequent days off or longer periods of rest at a time. Many employees like the predictability and lengthier periods of leisure associated with this type of schedule.

Related: 20 Examples of Alternative Work Schedules

Tips for creating a shift schedule

When determining the shift schedule to use for your team, department or organization, here are some tips you can consider:

Identify your needs

Before deciding the type of shift schedule you want to use, identify your needs. These may include the number of employees to staff shifts and the volume of work you plan to cover. You can use observation or historical data to identify high-activity periods when you may require more employees. Use this information to help you identify the right shift schedule for your team.

Assign shifts

Depending on the schedule you choose, assign employees to cover each shift. It can be helpful to request employees' input to determine the shifts they desire or feel qualified to have. For example, some employees may prefer to work in the evenings, while others may feel more motivated in the mornings. Getting input from employees can make them feel valued, which can boost team morale and improve retention.

Related: How To Improve Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

Use software

There are many types of software you can use to prepare and distribute shift schedules. Consider using this software to help you automate certain processes, such as building weekly schedules. Some software can also offer employee schedule templates, manage schedule changes and provide communication tools. Research different software to find one that meets your needs and budget.

Related: How To Create a Work Schedule in Excel for Your Team

Review schedules

After implementing a shift schedule, review it periodically to determine its effectiveness. Consider how well the schedule accounts for high-activity periods and employee preferences. Use metrics, such as output, to evaluate employees' productivity. You can use this data and information to help you adjust the shift schedule as needed to ensure it works well for your team or department.

Please note that the company mentioned in this article is not affiliated with Indeed.

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