February 22, 2023

A Guide To Shift Schedules: Tips For An Optimally Flexible Workforce


Shiftwork has long been a staple in the workforce, especially in organizations with 24/7 staffing needs, but what has evolved over the years are the ways organizations approach shift scheduling. Public safety, healthcare, restaurants, manufacturers and others have various types of shift schedules that work for them.

When implemented with employee input, shift scheduling can provide significant employee benefits, such as greater job satisfaction, improved morale and increased productivity. In addition, shift working offers flexibility, with the chance to create a tailored schedule that fits into personal commitments outside of work. Shift schedules can also help avoid burnout: with two or three rotating shift patterns available, some employees appreciate the break from a monotonous routine while ensuring they get the adequate rest they need.

Because of the flexibility of different shift schedule designs, employers can easily and quickly adapt or implement changes according to business needs. Moreover, shift schedules can save money by avoiding overtime wages and reducing labor costs while encouraging efficient use of resources.

Despite the benefits, scheduling shifts can be challenging because there are about as many different shift patterns as there are roles to fill them. In this blog, we delve into the different types of shift schedules that are popular in various industries.

What Shift Schedules Look Like

Many people are familiar with the growing popularity of shifts that run between 8-12 hours per day, operating over 4-5 days. A recent Qualtrix survey found that 92% of US employees say they want a four-day work week citing improved mental health and increased productivity as the perceived benefits.

However, there are many different shift patterns to accommodate the requirements of an organization; these include complex strategies such as 12-hour rosters, six days on followed by three days off, and even 24/48 hour shift schedules where an employee will work 24 hours followed by 48 hours off.

Let’s consider some of the most common types of shift schedules.

California Schedule

The California shift schedule represents that 4-day workweek employees want with extended shifts throughout the week. That could be a schedule where employees work four 10-hour days in a workweek or (typically Monday through Thursday with a three-day weekend. Alternatively, employees could choose to work 80 hours in nine days spread out over two workweeks. This system was developed specifically for California law to comply with overtime regulations regarding hours worked beyond 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. However, the California shift schedule has become an attractive option for many organizations across the US as it helps cut costs while still providing employees with sufficient time off from their jobs.

Panama Schedule or 2-2-3 Schedule

A Panama shift schedule is a slow rotating shiftwork system in which teams rotate between 12-hour day, swing, and night shifts. One team’s schedule might be, 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, 3 days off for 28 days. They then switch to a night shift on the same schedule for the next 28 days. After 56 days, the same sequence starts over. However, the Panama schedule can also lead to fatigue due to long hours of straight work without restful sleep between long stretches of time on the job.

Rotating Shifts

Rotating shifts involve teams alternating between different work hours within the same or other departments. An example would be 7 day shifts, 2 days off, 7 swing shifts, 2 days off, 7 night shifts, 3 days off. Once the cycle is complete, it repeats. Employees become more well-rounded if their tasks change based on the shift.

24/48 Schedule

The 24-48 shift pattern uses three teams and three shifts on a 3-day cycle. Each team works one 24-hour shift followed by two consecutive days (48 hours) off duty. Also known as an ABC shift pattern, it’s popular with fire departments.

4 On/4 Off

This repeating pattern shift is popular with organizations operating 24/7 all year long because it’s simple to implement. It involves four 12-hour shifts followed by four days off. For example, the schedule could be four 12-hour day shifts, rest, and then four 12-hour nights, or two days followed by two nights and then four days off.

Kelly Schedule

Much like the 24/48 schedule, many EMS workers and firefighters often work under the Kelly Schedule, which consists of a 9-day cycle where each team works one 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off duty, works another 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off duty, then works a final 24-hour shift, followed by four consecutive days off duty. An alternative is the 48/96 Schedule, which means they work 48 hours and are off for the next 4 days

The average person cannot even fathom working for 24 hours straight, but of course, EMS workers and firefighters usually stay in a house-like setting where they can rest and do everyday tasks until they get a call.

Managing the Complexity of Shift Scheduling

If you work with complex scheduling, like managing and maintaining shift schedules, there is much you need to consider. Everything from ensuring coverage, qualification requirements for shifts, collective bargaining agreement (CBA) compliance and potentially even employee shift swaps.

Additionally, budget constraints, legal regulations associated with working hours and breaks, performance capacity metrics, and overtime preferences among personnel should all be considered. The goal is to create an optimal shift work schedule that is compliant while also addressing individual preferences.

Advanced employee scheduling software facilitates comprehensive analysis and predictive modeling, allowing organizations to forecast their staffing needs accurately and make better decisions when creating shifts.

Shift scheduling can seem more like art than science as you must balance business goals with your employees’ availability and well-being. But when you get it right, the benefits include improved productivity, reduced stress on both the scheduler and the employees and reduced employee turnover by preserving work-life balance.

TCP Software offers top-rated employee scheduling solutions to help keep your labor costs down and scheduling under control.