What Is a Rotating Shift?

What Is a Rotating Shift?

Rotating Shift?

A rotating shift is a work schedule where employees alternate between different periods over a designated timeline, i.e., days, evenings, or nights. These types of schedules require employees to work at different times of the day, ensuring coverage is available when needed. This approach is especially helpful for professions that operate 24/7, such as health care, manufacturing, transportation, public safety, and others.

Rotating shifts allow employers to spread the responsibility of all shifts amongst all employees, ensuring everyone gets a mix of the most desirable and undesirable times. For example, if a gas station attendant works 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. one week, he or she may be assigned the 3-11 p.m. shift the following week and the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift the subsequent week. This is designed to prevent burnout and ensure every worker is able to maintain a respectable work-life balance.

What Is a Fixed Shift?

For comparison purposes, a fixed shift is a work schedule in which an employee consistently works the same set hours and days on a regular basis. Unlike rotating shifts, where employees work different shifts at different times, a fixed shift provides workers with a stable and predictable schedule. 

For example, an employee with a fixed shift might consistently work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. This stability in scheduling can be beneficial for employees in terms of predictability, work-life balance, and planning personal activities. It also allows employers to better plan and manage staffing needs without the complexity of rotating schedules.

Most American employees (84%) work fixed shifts. This scheduling approach is most popular in environments where all employees tend to work in one location, such as offices, non-franchise retail stores, and schools. 

Tip: Use scheduling software to easily handle different work shifts. It helps you set up and keep track of everyone's hours, whether they work the same times each day or different shifts.

Fixed Shift

Types of Rotating Shifts

Rotating shifts come in various formats, and organizations often choose the schedule that best suits their operational needs and the well-being of their employees. Here are some common types of rotating shifts:

Fixed Rotation Shifts 

    • Week-Based Rotation: Employees rotate through shifts on a weekly basis. For example, each employee would work a morning shift for one week, an evening shift the next, and night shifts the week after that.
    • Two-Week Rotation: This schedule mimics the week-based rotation but with a longer rotation period of two weeks.
  • Four-Week Rotation: This schedule is similar to one- and two-week rotations yet spreads the timeline out to four weeks. In this format, employees work four days on, followed by four days off. For companies with four different teams, shifts typically last 12 hours, and teams alternate shifts between day and night schedules and time off. This approach generally runs in 16-week cycles, with each rotation lasting 56 working days on and 56 days off. Followed precisely, companies deploying four teams will average 42 working hours each week per employee.

Key: (O = Off, D = Day Shift, and N = Night Shift)





Forward Rotation Shifts

  • Day-Night-Off Rotation: Employees start with day shifts and move to night shifts in a forward direction. The rotation cycle then repeats.
    • The DuPont Method: The DuPont Method is an example of a rotating shift schedule that utilizes the Day-Night-Off rotation over the course of four weeks. Each team works 14 12-hour shifts, which are equally divided between day and night shifts. Additionally, each team receives one full week off, while rotating between the night shift, day shift, and off days. After four weeks, this cycle then repeats.

Key: (O = Off, D = Day Shift, and N = Night Shift)





  • The Panama Method (aka 2-2-3 schedule): The Panama Method is another example of a rotating shift that utilizes the Day-Night-Off rotation. This format covers a 28-day schedule with each employee working 12-hour shifts. This approach typically incorporates four teams that work for two days, rest two days, and then work for three days. This cycle is repeated; however, the days switch so that during the second week, the team begins with two rest days, two work days, and then finishes with three rest days. 
  • Key: (O = Off, D = Day Shift, and N = Night Shift)





    Bidirectional (Day-Night) Rotation Shifts

    • Day-Evening-Night-Day Rotation: Employees rotate through shifts in both forward and backward directions. For example, an individual might start with a day shift, move to an evening shift, then a night shift, and finally back to a day shift.

    Slow Rotation Shifts

    • Monthly Rotation: Employees rotate through shifts on a monthly basis, providing more extended periods on each shift.

    Irregular or Random Rotation Shifts 

    • Patternless Rotation: There is no fixed pattern, and the rotation may occur randomly or based on operational needs. This type of schedule is less common and can be challenging for employees to adapt to.

    The Benefits of Rotating Shifts

    Utilizing rotating shifts offers employers and employees numerous benefits. Some of these are listed below.

    For Employers 

    Increased Operational Efficiency: Rotating shifts allow companies to operate 24/7, meeting customer demands during peak hours and ensuring continuous production or service provision.

    Reduced Overtime Costs: By spreading work hours across different teams, overtime costs can be minimized compared to relying on employees working extra hours on a single shift.

    Improved Flexibility: Having multiple teams cover different timeframes allows flexibility to adjust staffing based on seasonal changes, demand fluctuations, or unexpected events.

    Cross-Training Opportunities: Rotating shifts can expose employees to different aspects of the operation, fostering teamwork and adaptability.

    For Employees

    Exposure to Diverse Perspectives: Working with different colleagues provides opportunities to learn new skills and gain insight into various aspects of the workplace.

    Potential for Higher Earnings: Certain rotating shift schedules may offer premium pay for less desirable hours, leading to increased income.

    Variety and Reduced Monotony: Switching schedules can break up routines and prevent boredom associated with fixed hours.

    Personal Flexibility: Some employees prefer the control over their days off that comes with rotating schedules, allowing them to schedule appointments or pursue personal interests during regular weekdays.

    The Cons of Rotating Shifts

    While rotating shifts offer numerous benefits, there are some cons as well, including increased costs, administrative effort, and legal concerns.  

    Training and Staffing: Training employees on different tasks and procedures for each shift can become time-consuming and require additional resources. Maintaining adequate staffing across various shifts also adds to the financial and administrative burden.

    Absenteeism and Turnover: The challenges of rotating shifts can lead to increased absenteeism due to fatigue or difficulty adjusting and higher employee turnover due to dissatisfaction, resulting in recruitment and training costs.

    Adjustment Periods: As employees adapt to new schedules and tasks with each shift, there might be temporary dips in productivity and quality.

    Fatigue and Sleep Disruption: Altering schedules can hinder sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and impacting employee performance and accuracy.

    Cross-Shift Coordination: Coordinating tasks and projects across different shifts can be challenging, requiring clear communication and effective handover procedures.

    Team Building and Collaboration: Limited overlap between colleagues working different schedules can hamper team building and collaboration.

    Compliance: Depending on location and industry, specific regulations mandate breaks, rest periods, and overtime pay for shift workers. Noncompliance can lead to legal issues and fines.

    Severity varies: The severity of these downsides depends on factors like the rotation pattern, industry, and company culture.

    Mitigation strategies: Good planning, communication strategies, and support systems can help mitigate some of these challenges.

    Which Industries Utilize Rotating Shifts?

    In America, 16% of U.S. wage and salaried employees work outside traditional daytime hours (evening, night, and rotating shifts), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

    When asked why they work rotating shifts, 58.4% of workers in the aforementioned BLS survey said it was “the nature of the job.” And while 8.6% said they did it because they couldn’t get any other shift, more than 15.5% said it was their personal preference.

    The industries most widely utilizing rotating shifts are manufacturing (5.7%), transportation/utilities (6.3%), and hospitality/leisure (2.6%), per Redline. 

    Use Study: National Library of Medicine

    In a 2022 National Library of Medicine report titled “Impact of Rotating Shifts on Lifestyle Patterns and Perceived Stress among Nurses: A Cross-Sectional Study,” 329 nurses were surveyed regarding their opinions on rotating shifts. 

    According to the study, from a medical standpoint, rotating shift work is often mentioned as a factor when it comes to health risks, including cardiometabolic diseases and cancer. However, these conclusions are controversial due to the heterogeneity of shift work schedules and incomplete adjustments for potential covariates, particularly lifestyle patterns.

    The report studied 329 nurses’ work schedule characteristics and their corresponding lifestyle patterns. (physical activity, dietary behavior, and sleep pattern) The stressors that were identified were analyzed via linear regression models. The results showed nurses working fixed-day schedules had reduced perceived stress compared with rotating-shift nurses. Additionally, among rotating-shift nurses, those working fixed-evening or fixed-night shifts had longer sleep duration compared to non-fixed-rotating-shift nurses. Longer rotating shift work was associated with healthier dietary behaviors, better sleep quality, lower perceived stress, and shorter sleep duration. 

    How to Introduce a Rotating Shift Pattern

    Implementing a rotational shift schedule involves careful planning and consideration of various factors, including the nature of the work, the needs of the employees, and any legal or contractual requirements. Here are general steps to help you implement a rotational shift schedule:

    Understand the Work Requirements: Analyze the workload and determine the number of shifts required to meet operational needs. Consider the nature of the work, whether it requires continuous operations, and any peak periods.

    Involve Employees: Incorporate employees in the decision-making process. Consider their preferences and take feedback into account when designing the schedule.

    Choose the Proper Rotation Pattern: Decide on a rotation pattern that suits the nature of the work and the needs of the employees. 

    Consider Legal and Contractual Requirements: Be aware of labor laws and any collective bargaining agreements that may impact the scheduling decisions. Ensure compliance with regulations related to working hours, breaks, and days off.

    Create a Schedule: Develop a schedule that incorporates the chosen rotation pattern. Use scheduling software or tools to help streamline the process and minimize errors.

    Record it in Writing: Carefully write out the details of your plan and include it in your employee handbook. This plan should include every step of the process, employee expectations, and consequences for those who fail to comply. Make sure your policy has been reviewed by your legal team to ensure you’re not compromising any rules or regulations. 

    Communicate Clearly: Clearly communicate the new schedule to all employees. Provide ample notice and be transparent about the reasons for the change.

    Train Supervisors and Managers: Ensure supervisors and managers are trained to handle the new schedule effectively. They should be prepared to address any concerns or issues that may arise.

    Monitor and Adjust: Monitor the implementation of the schedule and gather feedback from employees. Be open to making adjustments based on the feedback and operational needs. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the rotational shift schedule. Take into account the health and well-being of employees. Rotational schedules can impact sleep patterns and work-life balance, so consider providing support mechanisms and resources. Collect data on productivity, employee satisfaction, and any issues that arise. Use this information to make continuous improvements.

    How Time Tracking Software Simplifies Rotating Shifts 

    OnTheClockOnTheClock, a comprehensive time tracking solution, offers numerous shift scheduling features, making it easy for users to set up and maintain their preferred rotating shifts via a mobile app.

    Using OnTheClock, employee shifts can easily be dragged and dropped into the schedule and published within seconds. For your convenience, OnTheClock automatically emails employees to inform them their schedules are published and ready for viewing. The software can accommodate part-time and full-time employees with various types of schedules.

    Employee start and end times can be customized. Managers gain additional customization using OnTheClock’s special filters for locations, departments, jobs, tasks, and departments. Entire shifts for multiple employees can be copied and pasted for weeks at a time, simplifying the scheduling process. 

    Employee scheduling is just one facet of OnTheClock, which offers multiple punch options, geolocation services, GPS tracking, job costing, and much more. Try it today, for free, for 30 days, and see why OnTheClock is trusted by 125,000 employees and more than 15,000 companies. 

    OnTheClock Employee Time Tracking

    Written by

    Herb Woerpel

    Herb Woerpel is a copywriter with OnTheClock. He has 17-plus years of professional journalism experience working for community and national media outlets.

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