Skip to content

Rotating Shifts: Definition and How to Implement Them

7 min read
Managing rotating shifts

A traditional 9-5 schedule won’t necessarily work for every organisation. Many businesses operate round the clock to meet customer demands and stay ahead of the competition. Or perhaps they operate on evening and night shifts to accommodate their service or product to their customer’s needs.

As a result, rotating shifts have become a common practice to provide adequate staffing and smooth operations as needed. But how do these shift rotations work, and would they be an effective solution in your organisation? Read on to find out.

book free demo Factorial shift management

What is Shift Rotation?

Shift rotation refers to the practice of systematically rotating employees through different work shifts or schedules within a business or organisation. It’s a strategic approach aimed at maintaining productivity, optimising operational efficiency, and ensuring smooth transitions between shifts, allowing organisations to distribute workload accurately while maintaining a consistent level of service or production.

But why is shift rotation important? Well, imagine a scenario where an organisation’s work rota operates 24/7 or has extended business hours, such as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, or customer service. Without an effective shift rotation plan, the transition from one shift to another can be chaotic, leading to many challenges that can negatively impact productivity and employee well-being.

Disadvantages of Rotating Shift Schedules

Shift rotation isn’t always a seamless schedule experience, and it’s not to say that it’s a better option than the traditional 9 to 5 shifts, which provide a consistent and predictable schedule, allowing employees to plan their personal lives and commitments more effectively.

Having such a fixed schedule also enables employees to maintain regular sleep patterns. Sufficient sleep is crucial for cognitive function, decision-making abilities, and overall well-being. In contrast, rotation shifts often disrupt sleep patterns due to constantly changing work hours, leading to fatigue and increased risk of accidents or errors on the job. Research has found that night shift workers, in particular, are 40% more at risk of injury than other shift workers.

All in all, shift rotation is a great alternative, but it has to be a decision that would benefit company functions or improve how the company’s service or product is received.

Benefits of Rotating Shifts

According to research by Deputy, 96% of shift workers appreciate specific aspects of their job, with 66% emphasising the importance of flexibility and 65% prioritising advanced notice of schedules for better work-life balance and planning. Shift work is also typically associated with accurate wage calculation and schedule transparency. In terms of well-being, many shift workers report a greater work-life balance due to the flexibility shift rotation offers them.

But the benefits of rotating shifts extend beyond that of flexibility. One advantage is that rotating shifts allow employees to experience different time slots, such as a morning shift or afternoon shift, over a specific period. This variety helps individuals adapt to varying work demands and sleeping patterns, reducing the risk of monotony that may arise from working the same shift repeatedly. Alternatively, some organisations use a fixed shift schedule in their rotation plans, providing their employees with fixed shifts and predictable working hours for better planning and stability.

Another benefit of rotating shifts is the opportunity to switch shifts with colleagues. This arrangement allows employees to manage personal commitments and adapt their schedules collaboratively, mutual cooperation that can strengthen team dynamics as employees support each other in fulfilling their respective responsibilities.

Types of rotating shifts being organised

Types of Shift Rotation

There are several types of shift rotation systems organisations operate under, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Regardless, the choice of shift rotation depends on various factors, including the nature of the work, employee preferences, operational requirements, and legal regulations. Here are a few types of shift rotation schedules that work effectively.

1) Dupont Shift Schedule

The Dupont shift schedule involves four teams of employees rotating two 12-hour shifts over a four-week cycle. This means:

  1. Working four-night shifts, followed by three days off
  2. Three-day shifts, one day off
  3. Three-night shifts, three days off
  4. Four-day shifts, seven days off

While the Dupont schedule allows for a full week of rest, the long shifts and limited days off in between can be challenging for some, especially considering the occasional need to work more than 40 hours in a week.

2) Southern Swing Schedule

The Southern swing schedule operates on a 28-day cycle, using three eight-hour shifts. Four teams rotate between seven-day shifts, followed by two days off, then seven swing shifts, two days off, seven-night shifts, and finally, three days off. This schedule provides the advantage of shorter eight-hour shifts, but the consecutive seven-day work period may require some adjustment.

3) Pitman Shift Schedule

The Pitman shift schedule, known as a 2-3-2 schedule, follows a two-week cycle. Employees work two shifts, followed by two days off. Then they work three shifts, followed by two days off. This is followed by two shifts and three days off, creating a pattern that repeats every two weeks. Each shift lasts 12 hours and can be during the day or night, but allows employees to enjoy every other weekend off, providing a sense of normalcy and ample time for family or personal tasks.

4) 2-2-3-2-2-3 Shift Schedule

The 2-2-3-2-2-3 shift schedule operates on a 28-day cycle and involves 12-hour rotating shifts. It’s got an extensive variation of shift scheduling, and consists of:

  1. Three consecutive day shifts, followed by two days off.
  2. Two day shifts, followed by three days off.
  3. Two night shifts, followed by two days off.
  4. Three consecutive night shifts, two days off, two night shifts, and three days off.
  5. The cycle ends with two day shifts and two days off.

This schedule offers frequent days off, with no more than three consecutive work days, and provides employees a three-day weekend every other week. However, it’s important to note that 12-hour shifts can be demanding, especially in physically intensive industries like construction or healthcare.

Shift Rotation Strategies

Once you’ve established which shift rotation schedule works best for the demands of your organisation or its service, there are a few key strategies that guarantee it’s implemented successfully and will bring positive results in the long run. Here is a breakdown of what you can do to ensure that your rotating shifts will meet all your company demands and expectations.

Shift Shadowing Programme

Shadowing allows your employees to observe and assist the outgoing team during a brief overlap period. This hands-on approach facilitates knowledge transfer, allowing newcomers to familiarise themselves with ongoing tasks, processes, and potential challenges. It works by providing valuable insights into the current workflow, enabling a smooth transition as employees step into their new roles with confidence.

Shift Preference Survey

Surveys are an insightful way to gather individual shift preferences and constraints from your team members. The collected data is used to create personalised shift schedules that align with each employee’s availability and preferences.

Task Prioritisation Protocol

Introducing a set protocol for how tasks are prioritised during shift rotation is a great way to guarantee a smooth handover process. Clearly define your critical tasks that require immediate attention and those that can be deferred, which in turn will minimise confusion and delays, allowing incoming employees to focus on urgent matters and maintain operational efficiency.

Rotating schedule being arranged by HR

Shift Transition Checklist

A checklist offers comprehensive guidance for employees to follow during shift handovers. It outlines essential communication points, ongoing tasks, and safety protocols that need attention during the transition. It’s perhaps one of the best ways you can introduce a systematic and organised framework for a seamless exchange of responsibilities and information.

Automated Shift Scheduling Software

Making use of automated software grants you access to sophisticated algorithms that optimise shift schedules based on employee availability, skill sets, and preferences. Because these shift management tools streamline the scheduling process and ensure a balanced workload for all team members, you can rest assured your scheduling functions run smoothly while minimising the chance of human error interfering.

Overlap Periods

Overlap periods designate specific time frames where the outgoing and incoming shifts coexist. These overlapping hours allow for face-to-face communication, collaboration, and a smooth transfer of responsibilities, which works wonders in reducing the potential for miscommunication during shift transitions.

Mentorship Programme

Mentorship programmes pair experienced employees with newcomers to provide guidance and support during their initial shifts. Mentors share their expertise, answer questions, and help new employees navigate their roles, giving way to a supportive learning environment while at the same time accelerating onboarding and boosting overall team competence.

Shift Rotation Workshops

Some of your team members may not be ready for a rotating shift schedule or might not fully understand how it works. An effective solution to this circumstance might be targeted workshops, with focused training sessions that cover best practices in shift rotations, emphasising effective communication, time management, and team collaboration. This hyper-specific strategy equips employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their shifts, resulting in a more cohesive and efficient workforce.

Rotation Feedback Sessions

Feedback is extremely valuable for all team members, from interns to leads. To track how your rotating shifts are going, consider periodic gatherings where employees openly share their shift rotation experiences and offer suggestions for improvement. Actively involve your team members in shaping the shift rotation system, empowering them to voice their opinions and insights.

Shift Trade Platform

A shift trade platform is a designated system that allows employees to trade shifts with each other, provided it aligns with organisational requirements. This flexible approach empowers employees to manage their schedules while ensuring adequate staffing coverage.

Real-time Communication Apps

Communication is key when handling shifts, as they provide a platform for quick updates and seamless information exchange between employees across different shifts. Some of the best communication apps that might come to mind are Slack, Deputy, or Whatsapp. These offer immediate communication, reducing response time and promptly resolving critical issues.

Shift Performance Recognition

Recognition might sound small, but it can lead to noticeable results regarding employee performance and engagement. In the context of shift rotation, recognition acknowledges and rewards exceptional employee performance during shifts. This strategy motivates employees to excel in their roles, boosts team morale, and fosters a culture of recognition and appreciation.

Shift Rotation Simulation

Suppose your team needs a substantial amount of training before introducing a shift rotation schedule. In that case, you might consider alternative training options, such as simulated shift rotations during training sessions. This immersive approach familiarises employees with different scenarios and challenges they may encounter in real-life situations. By experiencing various rotation scenarios beforehand, employees are better equipped to handle actual shifts.

Managing Shifts with Factorial

Factorial is a comprehensive HR solution that simplifies scheduling, making it a breeze for businesses to efficiently track and manage employee shifts. You gain access to a centralised hub where employees can access their schedules, stay updated on any changes, and request time off or swap shifts with their colleagues.

Additionally, you’ll never have to worry about scheduling conflicts or coverage gaps, as you can define shift start and end times, assign employees to different shifts, and set up recurring or one-time shifts effortlessly.

Factorial’s shift management feature puts you in control, allowing you to tailor schedules to your specific requirements while tracking who’s scheduled for each shift, monitoring attendance records, and generating insightful reports on workforce productivity. Armed with this data-driven approach, you can make informed decisions, optimise staffing levels, and identify potential coverage gaps before they become an issue.

Sergio is a seasoned copy and content writer who has worked directly with company founders, CMOs, brand executives, and marketing directors from multiple industries. He's an HR geek and humble terpsichorean.

Related posts