Rotating shifts - What they are and when they are useful.

Find out what rotating shifts are, what different types of rotating shift schedules exists, and whether it makes sense to use them in your business.
20. September 2022  • 4 minute read
Working in shifts is necessary for industries with varying and longer opening hours. Especially in industries that require a 24/7 presence in order to be able to help everyone, as is the case in healthcare for example. It is not easy to work rotating shifts on a regular basis and as a team manager, this can cause problems when it comes to leading the team.

But don't worry. This blog explains everything you need to know about rotating shifts. Learn what they are, which different rotating shift schedule patterns exist, and on how you can manage them effectively.

What are rotating shifts?

Rotating shifts are work schedules in which employees rotate through a set of predetermined work hours or shifts. Employees on a rotating shift schedule typically work for a set period of time, such as two weeks, before moving to the next shift. Rotating shift schedules can be beneficial for businesses because they can cover more hours of operation with a smaller number of employees. However, they can also be challenging for employees because of the constant change in hours and the potential for sleep disruptions.

When is it convenient to use a rotating shift schedule?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the convenience of a rotating shift schedule will depend on the specific needs of your business and employees. However, in general, businesses that operate 24 hours a day or have peak periods of activity at night or on weekends may find that a rotating shift schedule is the most efficient way to cover all operational hours whilst limiting costs.

Rotational shift schedules are common in the following industries:

  • Healthcare: Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff need to be on duty at all hours.
  • Factories: Some types of production simply never stop.
  • Police and firefighters: There needs to be a police/firefighter presence at all hours to keep the community safe.
  • Retail: Some stores are open for extended hours, 24/7 even.
  • Hospitality: Some restaurants and hotels are open for extended hours, 24/7 even.

Different types of rotating shift schedules

There are different types of rotating shifts that you can use, depending on your needs. But these are some of the most common ones:

  • DuPont Schedule
  • 2-2-3 Work Schedule
  • Pitman Schedule

The DuPont Schedule

The DuPont method is a rotating shift schedule that alternates between four teams of employees in a four-week cycle. Each team works an amount of 14 12 hour shifts equally divided between day and night shifts. Team 1 for instance, works the nights in the first week, followed by team 2, who works a mix of day and night shifts. This cycle then repeats itself as can be seen in the example below.

Here is an example of the DuPont schedule:

D = Day shift
N = Night shift
O = Rest day.





2-2-3 Work Schedule

The 2-2-3 or also called the Panama schedule is a 28-day rotational cycle in which each employee works in 12-hour shifts.

The 2-2-3 work schedule usually involves 4 teams that work 2 days, then get 2 rest days, followed by 3 days of work. This is repeated weekly, however, the second week begins with 2 rest days, then 2 workdays, then 3 rest days. This is then repeated in week 3 from the beginning. Typically, a month consists of 14 12-hour shifts.

Here is an example of a 2-2-3 work schedule:

D = Day shift
N = Night shift
O = Rest day.





The 4 on 4 off schedule

The 4 on 4 off schedule is a continuous shift pattern that runs throughout all 52 weeks of the year and provides 24/7 staff coverage. The teams work four consecutive days followed by four consecutive days off. One shift in the 4 on 4 off schedule lasts 12 hours and the teams alternate between day and night shifts.

The overall cycle of the 4 on 4 off schedule lasts 16 weeks, after which it starts over from day 1. Each 16 weeks cycle consists of 56 working days and 56 off days, equally divided between day and night shifts. On average, your employees end up working 42 hours a week.

The 4-on-4-off pattern can however be adapted to meet your organizations specific needs. For example, you could choose to have your team work eight hour shifts instead of 12 hour shifts. However, if your organization requires 24/7 coverage, you will have to add an extra team to each day to cover both the early, mid, and late shifts.

Here is an example of the 4-on-4 off-shift pattern:

D = Day shift
N = Night shift
O = Rest day.





How to implement a rotational shift schedule.

5 practical tips to help you implement and manage rotational shifts.

Although working with rotational shifts is one of the most convenient and flexible schedules given the circumstances, it can be problematic if not implemented carefully.

Here are a few tips to help you implement and manage a working with rotational shifts:

1. Set a proper start time

It is critical that your employees are satisfied with the time their shifts begin. Therefore, there is no right advice for this as every team has different preferences. For example, if most of your employees are early risers, you can start the shifts at 05:00. However, you may have to resort to a different time if many employees prefer to not start that early. It is hugely important that the team is comfortable with the times of the shifts to ensure they are the most productive.

2. Assist new employees.

New employees may require time to get used to rotational shifts, both mentally and physically. Their bodies may not (yet) be able to handle the work schedule. This can cause problems in their work and private life. For example, a new employee, who worked a night shift the previous night, is more likely to make an avoidable mistake the next workday than an experienced employee. Your new employees may also suffer from fatigue, sleeplessness, and other issues as a result of the rotating schedule. Therefore, as a manager, it is important to regularly check for any signs of fatigue. You can assist them with getting familiar with the workload and unusual shift times; a good move is to have more experienced employees provide guidance.

3. Encourage productive breaks

Taking regular short breaks can help your employees feel refreshed. During the break, they can go for a walk or take a nap, or do anything that gives them renewed energy. Some employees prefer to take a break every 45 minutes. On the other hand, some workers do not take a break until 75-90 minutes. It is wise to set a minimum and maximum for breaks. This ensures that enough rest is taken, but also enough work is being done.

4. Anticipate potential problems

As in any workplace, replacements need to be arranged regularly when someone is on leave. This could be because of illness, vacation, and so on. You want to make sure that it fits the schedule of the person taking on the shift when a replacement needs to be arranged. Each team is the backup for their colleagues once every four weeks. You can divide the teams per week based on the week in which they themselves have the fewest shifts so that if it happens that they have to replace someone, they don't have too many shifts during that week. Furthermore, this rotation also applies within the teams itself, to make sure that there is a fair alternation of people who takeover shifts of their colleagues.

5. Communicate with employees

Talking to your employees frequently will give you a better understanding in terms of the schedule they prefer. You can also allow your employees to be flexible with each other regarding scheduling and swapping shifts. For instance, you can follow a rotational shift schedule if most of your employees prefer it, but if a few of your employees prefer the night shift, you can make dividing the shifts easier by assigning them to more night shifts. Furthermore, it's a good idea to talk to your employees and ask them about their experiences and problems. This way, you can guide them to overcome issues and increase their productivity. 


Working in rotating shifts demands a lot from your employees, it is certainly not for everyone. This means that managing a shift working team comes with a lot of responsibilities. This includes guaranteeing the well-being of employees, the quality of work, and the growth of the company. And while a rotational shift schedule is a healthy, productive, and convenient way to schedule, you need to implement it properly to enjoy its benefits.

Therefore, definitely take advantage of the tips provided and continue to validate the progress continuously with your team.

Make it easy on yourself by using an employee scheduling system like Workfeed to make the process less time-consuming so that all your attention can be focused on your team.
Berry van Waarden
Agota Vonya
Content Creator

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