Rotating Shifts: Definition, Pros, Tips, and More

Rotating Shifts: Definition, Pros, Tips, and More

Author Swathi Bhat
Author Swathi Bhat

Swathi B.

April 15, 2024


Apr 15, 2024


12 min read

An employee working at night
An employee working at night
An employee working at night
An employee working at night

Are rotating shifts worth it?

From most employers’ perspectives, definitely. After all, what’s not to like about being able to staff your operations 24/7, year-round?

But employees can benefit from rotating shift schedules as well — as long as this scheduling system is executed with not just productivity but also employee well-being in mind.

This article reviews rotating shifts in detail, including their benefits, different rotation patterns, and how to manage this work style with modern technology. Finally, it illustrates how rotating shifts can boost any 24/7 business’s operations.

What are rotating shifts?

Rotating shifts refer to a work scheduling system where employees alternate between different shift times (morning, afternoon, and night) on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

In a rotating shift system, all employees share the responsibility of working less “desirable” hours, such as overnight or weekend shifts.

The word "rotating" is used because employees continuously cycle through a variety of shift schedules — unlike fixed shifts, where employees work the same hours each week. 

Rotating shifts are common in industries that require 24/7 operations, such as law enforcement, healthcare, emergency services, manufacturing, hospitality, and some retail establishments.

These types of work arrangements are not uncommon, either. In fact, 16% of US wage and salary workers have non-standard schedules outside the regular 9-to-5 rhythm. This figure includes evening shifts and night shifts, rotational shifts, and other types of shifts.

Manufacturing (5.7%), transportation and utilities (6.3%), and hospitality and leisure (2.6%) are among the industries with the highest rates of night work. These sectors typically need continuous coverage to provide critical services to their customers or maintain production levels.

It’s the role of HR staff in these fields to help new hires understand how to prepare for and adjust to irregular working hours.

Once employees are aware of the potential challenges, such as disruptions to their sleep patterns and work-life balance, they can better manage their health and personal commitments while on a rotational shift.

What are the benefits of rotating shifts?

Rotating shifts come with definite advantages. Here are some of the biggest ones:

More flexibility in scheduling

Rotating shifts can accommodate employees' personal lives, commitments, and preferences. They offer a variety of working hours that are adaptable to different lifestyles and circadian rhythms. This can improve employees’ job satisfaction and reduce turnover rates.

The effects of light and dark on a person’s energy

Stronger team dynamics

Employees on shift patterns are more likely to interact with a broader group of colleagues. This can make the workforce more cohesive and adaptable.

Plus, employees who work a variety of shifts can learn from their colleagues by cross-training during their shifts, increasing their skill sets and making the team well-rounded and more versatile.

Reduced costs

Shift schedules can help businesses operate more efficiently. Here’s how: you can better align your workforce availability with your production demands. This alignment helps you avoid overstaffing during quiet periods and understaffing at peak times. 

A well-structured rotating schedule can distribute hours more evenly among employees, which reduces the need for overtime and the costs associated with it.

Equality for employees

By having everyone take turns working various shifts, including the typically less desirable ones, the rotational shift system promotes fairness among staff. This perception can improve workplace morale and employee satisfaction since all team members share the burden and benefits of different shifts.

Other benefits

Although rotating shifts can be challenging, thoughtful scheduling can help mitigate negative health impacts as long as employees have enough time to adjust and recover between shifts.

A flexible and fair scheduling system can make an employer more attractive to potential hires and help retain current employees by meeting their diverse needs and keeping the work environment positive.

What are the different types of rotating shifts?

Rotating shifts vary widely across industries due to specific operational needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Here's an overview of some of the most common rotating shift schedules:

The 2-2-3-2-2-3 schedule

Also simply called the 2-2-3 schedule, this shift pattern involves the following, which repeats over a 28-day cycle: 

  • Working two days

  • Having two days off

  • Working three days

  • Having two days off

  • Working two days

  • Having three days off

This schedule is also known as the Panama schedule since it was first used to keep the Panama Canal operational around the clock.

A busy shipping canal

The shifts on the 2-2-3 schedule are usually 12 hours long, which accounts for the greater number of days off in between work periods.

To make this schedule work, you need a minimum of four groups or teams. Two teams perform the day and night shifts at any given time, while the other two teams are off on those days.

Employees typically rotate through the day shift and night shifts at regular intervals, such as every two or four weeks.

Features and benefits:

This schedule makes continuous operation possible by strategically rotating teams throughout the week. It strikes a good balance between work and rest, avoiding extended periods of work without breaks.

Best used where: 

The 2-2-3-2-2-3 schedule is effective for operations that require steady coverage without overburdening employees. Think of healthcare settings like hospitals or factories where continuous monitoring of the production process is essential.

The Pitman shift schedule

Like the 2-2-3-2-2-3 schedule, the Pitman shift schedule consists of a cycle that has teams work 12-hour shifts in a pattern of 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, and 3 days off.

However, the Pitman variation of this schedule uses fixed night shifts and day shifts, so teams don’t rotate through these shifts as they do with the regular 2-2-3 schedule. 

Features and benefits:

Like the regular 2-2-3 configuration, this schedule allows for 24/7 coverage by dividing the workforce into four teams that work 12-hour shifts each. It provides a decent work-life balance, with regular long weekends off.

Best used where: 

This shift type is useful for industries and services where there’s a difference in knowledge and skills requirements between the day and night shift workers. It’s especially suitable for employees who prefer to work the night shift on an ongoing basis rather than rotating in and out.

The DuPont shift schedule

The DuPont schedule also works with 12-hour shifts and rotates through day and night schedules, but it’s characterized by longer work and time-off periods. It operates on a 4-week cycle: 4 nights on, 3 days off, 3 days on, 1 day off, 3 nights on, 3 days off, 4 days on, 7 days off.

Features and benefits:

This schedule alternates regularly between night and day shifts. Shifting in this way can be challenging but is a fair arrangement across the workforce.

The highlight of this schedule is the seven consecutive days off. This extended rest time is particularly beneficial for recovery after long stretches of night shifts, especially since the frequent rotation between night and day can be challenging for employees.

Best used where: 

The DuPont schedule is ideal for manufacturing facilities and chemical plants, where continuous operation is necessary.

A chemical plant

The Southern swing schedule

This schedule involves a mix of 8-hour shifts that rotate in a specific pattern, often every week. The typical cycle is first shift (day), second “swing” shift (evening), third shift (night), followed by a set number of days off.

Features and benefits:

On the swing shift, employees gradually move from the day shift to the night shift, which gives them time to adjust to their changing schedule.

Regular rotation and shorter shifts can be easier for some employees to manage than longer, 12-hour shifts.

Best used where: 

The swing schedule is suitable for the manufacturing and retail industries, where operations extend beyond traditional business hours but may not require 24/7 coverage.

The continuous operations schedule

The continuous operations schedule is meant to fit the unique demands of companies’ operations by combining 8- and 12-hour shifts. The goal is to maintain 24/7 coverage without compromising efficiency or employee health.

The rotational pattern, frequency of shifts, and length of rest periods are adjusted according to the workload, employee preferences, and specific operational requirements.

Features and benefits:

This schedule allows organizations to adjust their shifts to match their peak operational periods and employee availability. It also gives managers the ability to adjust shift lengths and patterns as needed to accommodate changes in demand or operational tempo.

Best used where: 

This schedule is ideal for industries where demand can fluctuate significantly, such as IT and tech support services, utilities, and certain manufacturing sectors. It's also well-suited for businesses that experience seasonal peaks or require a high degree of flexibility in staffing levels.

The 3-4-4-3 schedule

The 3-4-4-3 schedule is somewhat similar to the Dupont schedule. It operates on a repeating two-week cycle, with employees working a set shift pattern. Typically, this involves 12-hour shifts. An employee works three days, has four days off, works four days, and then has three days off. 

This pattern repeats every two weeks, giving shift workers a predictable schedule that balances work periods with substantial rest intervals.

Features and benefits:

The 3-4-4-3 schedule provides a consistent routine and a stable and predictable work-life balance. This makes it easier for employees to plan personal activities around work.

The four days off after work stretches provide employees with significant downtime, which can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Over time, this schedule rotates through different days of the week. The net result is that all employees share weekend duties.

Best used where: 

The 3-4-4-3 schedule is well-suited for industries where the nature of the work demands prolonged periods of focus and alertness. Its predictability and the substantial rest periods it offers make it a popular choice for companies focused on reducing employee burnout and turnover while maintaining high operational standards.

An employee enjoying a long break in between shifts

Tips for implementing rotating shifts in your workplace

So, how can you start implementing balanced rotating shifts for your employees’ benefit? Here are some key tips:

1. Use open, transparent communication

Start by openly discussing the rotating shift system with your employees. Explain the rationale behind the change and its expected benefits. As the company makes this transition, encourage feedback and suggestions so that everyone feels heard.

2. Create your shift teams 

Organize your employees into teams based on their skill sets, preferences, and availability.

Use a fair and transparent method to allocate shifts to give all employees equal access to their preferred times and days. Consider using software that automates this process to avoid any bias or favoritism.

This thoughtful approach can make the transition to new shift patterns smoother and better accepted.

3. Tap into modern technology

Invest in scheduling software such as Lark Suite, which makes managing rotating shifts easier for both management and staff. Try out Lark’s Change of Shift Report template, for instance.

A good software system allows for easy shift swaps, reminders, and schedule visibility for all team members. It should also integrate well with your employee attendance management system.

4. Monitor employee health and well-being

Since shift work can significantly impact your employees’ well-being, regularly check in on their physical and mental health. It’s important to offer support resources, such as access to wellness programs or flexible scheduling, for those who are struggling with the shift rotation.

By focusing on these four areas, you can implement an effective rotating shift schedule that supports your business needs while also looking out for your employees’ well-being.

How can Lark help implement rotating shifts?

Lark Suite includes a fully customizable Attendance app that’s great for shift planning, whether you’re using fixed shifts, rotating shifts, or a combination.

In Attendance, you can manage your employees’ shifts, record their attendance, approve leave and overtime requests, and view a variety of reports.

A view of Lark’s Attendance app

Here’s what’s included in this employee scheduling software:

  • Attendance settings: Create and manage attendance groups, set shifts, attendance methods, and any relevant rules.

  • Attendance reports: Track and export employees' attendance data and manage attendance reports.

  • Leave management: Create and manage different types of leave and view and export members' leave balances.

  • Overtime management: Create and manage overtime rules and view and export members' overtime records.

  • Administrator: View and manage attendance administrators and configure the app's modules.

Shifts are managed from the Admin access to the app. You simply go to the schedule page, select the appropriate employee groups, and then choose existing shifts from the pop-up menu — or create a new shift that meets your needs. You can then edit the schedule by shift or by cycle.

You can also schedule shifts in batches based on group or selected dates.

With Lark, it’s easy to upload your Excel shift schedule as well (no need to re-input your employee schedule data).

And there’s one more nifty feature: Admin can enable employees to select a shift and clock in by themselves, all from the same Attendance module.

Once a schedule is set, employees can go to Lark’s integrated Calendar app to see their scheduled shifts. The attendance bot will remind them to clock in on time according to their schedules.

A view of Lark’s shift settings

Common FAQs about rotating shifts

Are rotating shifts better than night shifts?

Prolonged night shifts can lead to sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, cardiovascular diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Rotating shifts offer more variety and can prevent the long-term health issues associated with consistent night shifts since employees can physically recover during their daytime work periods. However, rotational work patterns can disrupt employees’ internal clocks more frequently. 

The "better" option depends on your employees’ personal health, lifestyle preferences, and how well they adapt to changes in their sleep schedules.

How can you survive working in rotating shifts?

Surviving rotating shifts is not difficult, but it requires some strategic planning: 

  • Invest in quality sleep by using a dark, quiet sleeping environment and maintaining a healthy diet. 

  • Use caffeine wisely and minimize it before sleep periods. 

  • Stay active and exercise regularly to boost your overall health.

  • Share your schedule with family and friends to help you better manage your social obligations.

What is the best rotating shift schedule?

The best rotating shift schedules balance work demands with employee health and personal time. 

A popular choice is the 2-2-3 schedule since it offers a regular mix of work days and days off, including every other weekend off. This pattern also helps employees maintain a healthy balance between rest periods and work commitments.

Manage your rotating shifts with automation technology

Rotating shifts are a powerful yet fair solution for effective round-the-clock operations in manufacturing, health services, logistics operations, emergency services, and other areas.

The different industry-specific rotating shift schedules are designed to maximize productivity and coverage while also preventing employee burnout.

Modern automation software like Lark Suite makes shift scheduling and attendance tracking easy. It provides real-time reporting and valuable insights into staffing needs and productivity patterns.

To learn more about how Lark can make your shift schedules more professional and integrated with other business solutions, try it for free or schedule a demo today.