Shift Schedules: Examples and Explanations
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated March 31, 2021 | Published January 22, 2021
Updated March 31, 2021
Published January 22, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Scheduling can be a complex task in any business, both for managers who design them and employees who use them to anticipate their day-to-day plans. To simplify this task and efficiently schedule employees for reasonable times and durations, many employers use shift schedules to keep themselves organized and ensure the company can operate all day. Different kinds of shift schedules are better suited for particular types of work and business structures, so it is important to understand how they differ and how they would affect you as an employee.
In this article, we discuss shift schedules and provide a list of schedule types to help you choose the option that's right for you.
Related: What Is Shift Work?
Why do employers use different shift schedules?
Employers use shift schedules to achieve consistency and fairness when they schedule employees for work. They also help make sure that the right kinds of employees are working at the right times (for instance, in the case of on-call coverage). Shift schedules also ensure that certain types of employees, such as emergency service professionals, have enough time to recover between physically demanding shifts. Some kinds of work, like truck driving, require a certain amount of time off according to state laws as well.
Types of shift schedules
If you are working for a company that uses shift scheduling or looking for a job and would prefer a certain kind of schedule, it can help to know what kinds of shift schedules you might encounter. Here are 11 different types of shift schedules that employers use:
Fixed shift employees work specific days and hours each week. Although there may be certain exceptions, such as overtime during times of increased production, holidays off or schedule swaps, employees on a fixed shift schedule can reasonably expect a predictable calendar. This can be beneficial for parents who share childcare duties or students who need to plan their classes, for example.
Split shift schedules disperse an employee's hours into two or more periods in the same day. For instance, a split shift worker 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.
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 do not permit overtime because it may entitle employees to extra compensation for overtime hours. Overtime laws vary from location to location, but some people who work overtime do receive this additional compensation and count that as one of the benefits of this type of shift.
Rotating shifts are when employees trade their daily scheduled hours every week, month or another set period of time. This type of shift helps ensure that employees work a balance of more or less desirable shifts—for example, early mornings or late evenings. One benefit of rotating shifts can be the variety since the expected schedules do change every so often.
One particular kind of rotating shift schedule is 24/7 shift coverage. Used in businesses that are always open, such as certain kinds of retailers, 24/7 scheduling helps manage employee rosters that can be quite complex. Employers have hundreds of combinations of shift strategies to potentially use when scheduling round-the-clock work, and this abundance of options can mean plenty of flexibility on the part of both the employer and employee.
Graveyard shift is the common term for schedules that have employees working 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 their personal preference. Some employees find that they are most productive at this time and enjoy working overnight or graveyard 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 must often come into the workplace within a certain amount of time if called. On-call scheduling is common in certain kinds of health care, tech and service professions. Some employers pay higher wages for on-call work, which can be a benefit to the employee.
Some employers schedule employees to work schedules that don't necessarily follow a particular pattern. This might be necessary to fill coverage gaps or compensate for under-scheduled shifts in a regular schedule. Some employers, often smaller businesses, create no-schedule shift plans as their primary form of scheduling, sometimes to accommodate for their employees' needs outside of work.
DuPont shifts (and variations)
DuPont scheduling was developed in the mid-20th century at the DuPont company to provide longer periods of rest to industrial employees. The basic DuPont shift involves working a series of 12-hour shifts in a row, with longer week-long breaks built into every month. Although some employees prefer to work shorter shifts, others find the 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 times shifts so that every employee's seven-day break ends on a Friday night. This works out so that each employee works an even number of 36-hour and 48-hour weeks. Another example includes removing intermediary nights off between longer shifts to add extra time to employees' rest periods.
2-3-2 shifts involve working a series of two- and three-day stretches 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 might enjoy the balance between leisure time off and the opportunity to attend to personal matters that must occur during the business day, such as banking and postal tasks.
Four on, four off shifts (and variations)
Four on, four off shifts are when an employer schedules employees to work four days on and then four days off, repeated. This scheduling strategy can be used for any number of days in a row, and many employers are mindful of the type of work their employees are responsible for when determining how long a work stretch 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.
Some employers use different numbers of days on and off as a variation of this schedule type. For example, employees might work three on and three off, five on and five off, seven on and seven off and so forth.
Tips for choosing the right shift schedule
When you are in a situation that allows you to choose your own shift schedule, you can use the following tips to help you decide:
Consider when you're most productive
Some people are naturally more productive at certain times of the day. Whether you are most alert and productive in the morning, midday, evening or at night can have a strong bearing on the shift schedule that works best for you. If possible, consider trying to align your shifts with your own periods of greatest mental alertness.
Think about consistency
Consider the level of predictability you prefer in your day-to-day routine. If you thrive in an environment with a consistent routine, you might prefer a job that schedules employees using a repeating pattern.
If you can, ask your employer and colleagues questions that help clarify the expectations of various work schedules. Find out what it is like to work long shifts or many days in a row if you haven't done so yourself, or ask about the experience of working overnight. Use these insights to help guide your decision-making process.
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