July 1, 2024

What is a 2-2-3 schedule and how does it work?

a woman in a firefighter outfit

Effective scheduling is paramount to the success of organizations across nearly every industry,  but many struggle to create and manage a process that suits the needs of the operation and its employees. The complexities of scheduling a dynamic workforce are often exacerbated by outdated, unspecialized, or manual systems that lead to costly inefficiencies. Non-compliance with labor laws and union collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), a poor employee experience, and reduced productivity are just a few examples. The labor shortages many agencies face only make the situation worse.

If these problems sound familiar to you, there is a solution. By investing in the right approach, you can avoid unnecessary costs, help employees maintain a healthy work balance, and boost operational efficiency—and a 2-2-3 shift schedule managed with the right tools may help your agency achieve just that. Below, we’ll take a close look at everything you need to know about 2-2-3 schedules, including their.

What is a 2-2-3 shift schedule?

A 2-2-3 schedule—commonly called a Panama schedule—is a type of shift schedule that organizations use to ensure 24/7 operational coverage. With this approach, the agency typically divides its workforce into four teams, each of which work two consecutive 12-hour day shifts, followed by two full days of rest, then another three consecutive days of work. This same pattern repeats biweekly, except that the second week begins with two days off, followed by two days on, then another three days off. Organizations in many different industries use a 2-2-3 schedule to ensure consistent coverage and keep workflows running smoothly.

a calendar with numbers and days

What are some industries that use a 2-2-3 shift schedule 

Panama schedules support compliance with labor laws and allow organizations to maintain their operations with a set number of employees, making them fairly common in industries that are open 24/7 or have extended operating hours. Some of these industries include:

  • Police stations/law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services (EMS), and emergency communications centers (dispatch) 
  • Healthcare organizations, particularly hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that offer round-the-clock care
  • Manufacturing companies that operate continuously to keep up with product demand
  • Customer support centers that provide customers with phone or live chat assistance with products or services 24/7

These agencies often use the 2-2-3 shift pattern because of the benefits they offer over other scheduling options.

Advantages of a 2-2-3 shift schedule 

The Panama schedule is an attractive option for both employers and employees, as it enables full shift coverage while still considering the employee experience. 

Some potential advantages of implementing a 2-2-3 schedule include:

Allows you to serve more community members, customers, or patients

Although certainly not unique to the public sector, public safety agencies, in particular, often find it difficult to keep up with demand. Managing public safety schedules while contending with never-ending shift trades, time-off requests, availability updates, and each individual’s skills and certifications is labor-intensive, time-consuming work. When combined with labor shortages and insufficient scheduling tools, it becomes nearly impossible to meet demand. This makes a 2-2-3 schedule—which offers every other weekend off for each employee— an ideal option for personnel while enabling the agency to better optimize its working hours. Since organizations with a highly engaged workforce notice an 81% improvement in absenteeism, leveraging an appealing schedule like the Panama pattern can help you keep shifts covered and employees happy.

Gives employees more consecutive time off 

A few days off here and there are great, but several consecutive days of rest are even better—especially for professionals who work long hours. With the 2-2-3 schedule, workers have more full days off in longer stretches, allowing them adequate time to enjoy their personal lives so they feel refreshed and productive when they return to work. Considering 48% of people would consider leaving their job if it prevented them from enjoying their life, it’s clear that a scheduling approach that better supports your employees’ ability to take adequate time to unwind is crucial in keeping them on board. 

Enables increased productivity 

The Panama pattern fosters a more efficient and productive workforce by giving employees greater flexibility and scheduling stability. Although employees who work for organizations with 24/7 or extended operating hours must notoriously work longer than average shifts, the 2-2-3 schedule breaks up the blocks of time spent on the job so staff can maximize their working hours without burning out. When employees know they have a long stretch of time off on the horizon, they can devote their energy to their roles without fearing exhaustion—making it easier to maintain their productivity during working hours. 

Supports a healthy work-life balance 

53% of a recent survey’s respondents claim that they’ll prioritize their health and well-being over work, but as a competitive and empathetic employer, why would you want to make them choose? With Panama schedules, you can empower your employees to be successful in their work endeavors and promote personal satisfaction and health, all without risking your bottom line. By choosing a scheduling approach that fosters a positive balance between work and rest, you can demonstrate to your staff that you truly value their well-being and—in return—equip your workforce to perform at their best.

Prevents overlapping shifts

With a 2-2-3 schedule, each employee works 12-hour shifts, with four different teams working varying hours (e.g. 6am – 6pm versus 6pm – 6am). Unlike other models, which may require an additional team to report mid-shift (e.g. 4pm and 4am), the Panama schedule requires no overlap, which means the organization doesn’t have to pay for additional staff during the intersecting period. Thus, you can minimize the number of employees you need to still meet minimum staffing requirements while also avoiding unnecessary spending.

As is the case with any type of schedule, a 2-2-3 pattern offers both benefits and potential drawbacks. 

Disadvantages of a 2-2-3 shift schedule

Depending on your specific operation, workforce, toolset, and constraints, implementing a 2-2-3 schedule can also present some challenges. Some possible disadvantages include:

  • May disrupt employee sleep – Because 12- and 24-hour shifts often require employees to work long hours on multiple consecutive days, they can contribute to poor sleep patterns that impact health, productivity, satisfaction, and even safety. Properly managed Panama shifts can help prevent extreme exhaustion by allowing adequate time for rest, making it easier and safer for employees to do their jobs.
  • May lead to employee health issues – The ineffective management of all types of rotating shifts has been linked to sleep disruption, which can lead to health issues like cardiovascular disease. This typically results from poor diet, insufficient sleep, and high levels of stress—all of which can be mitigated with optimal scheduling and shift management.
  • Requires employers to adhere to strict state labor laws – In addition to complying with any other labor laws relevant to your specific industry and organization, you’ll need to closely examine those that may impact your ability to implement a 2-2-3 schedule. In California, for instance, employers must conduct a poll before leveraging a 12-hour shift pattern, allowing employees to determine whether the organization should adopt the model. If two-thirds of employees agree with the approach, the agency must mail the approving results to the Department of Industrial Relationships for legal verification. 
  • Requires employees to work weekends – The flipside of having every other Friday through Sunday off is that employees also have to work every other weekend—a sacrifice some workers may find challenging to make. While some other types of shifts allow employees to work different days depending on the week, a Panama schedule requires them to follow the same pattern and thus work alternating weekends. However, this can also be seen as a benefit for employees who prefer fixed schedules.
  • Subjects agencies to regular overtime costs – From a budget standpoint, a true 2-2-3 schedule often adds up to 84 hours in a pay period, which means every employee might make four hours of overtime during each pay period. While there are some variations of the Panama schedule that help organizations avoid this, it’s sometimes a negative factor when evaluating potential scheduling options. 
  • Doesn’t allow employees to earn optimal shifts with seniority – The idea of the 2-2-3 schedule is that every employee in the agency works the same schedule. This can be perceived as a disadvantage for more senior members, as it means that regardless of how long they’ve been at the organization, they’ll never be able to earn a “better” schedule. 

While these concerns are certainly valid, being mindful of their potential to impact your organization when building and managing your 2-2-3 schedules can help your team prevent and resolve them.

Variations of a 2-2-3 shift schedule 

Agencies can use several 2-2-3 shift schedule variations that are—to some degree—interchangeable. However, each adaptation has distinct details that may make one a better fit for your agency and workforce than another. Some popular variations of the Panama schedule include:

Panama Plus shift schedule 

In addition to the traditional 12-hour shifts found in a 2-2-3 schedule, a Panama Plus pattern includes some eight-hour days. Within one of five teams (instead of four), each employee works two 12-hour shifts, takes two days off, works two 12-hour shifts, then works one 8-hour weekday shift before repeating the cycle. 


  • Employees have some shorter, 8-hour shifts mixed in with their longer, 12-hour shifts, which can help alleviate some issues of stress and exhaustion.
  • This type of rotation prevents staff from having to work more than two consecutive night shifts during a single cycle.  


  • Because employees alternate between different shift lengths and start times, their sleep may become more disrupted than with a more traditional 2-2-3 pattern.

Pitman shift schedule

With a Pitman schedule, the organization uses a 14-day cycle, in which each employee works seven 12-hour shifts. The four teams alternate between two day or night shifts, two days off, and then three additional day or night shifts. The cycle repeats each week except for the second week, which begins with two days off. 


  • This version of 2-2-3 adjusts the schedule to avoid the four extra hours that otherwise roll each employee into overtime every pay period.
  • Employees alternate between day and night shifts, so everyone has a fair opportunity to work each type of shift.


  • Because each employee must work both day and night shifts, they can have difficulties with their circadian rhythms, which can lead to poor sleep and other health conditions. 

DuPont shift schedule 

A DuPont schedule requires employees to work 12-hour shifts throughout a 28-day cycle. Workers alternate between an equal number of day and night shifts throughout a single rotation and have three consecutive days off every other week. Then, employees get a full week off from work at the end of the cycle. The pattern works in these four stages:

  • Stage 1: Work four nights in a row, and then have three days off.
  • Stage 2: Work three day shifts, have one day off, and then work three night shifts.
  • Stage 3: Have three days off, and then work four day shifts.
  • Stage 4: Have seven consecutive days off.


  • One full week off at the end of each 28-day cycle provides plenty of time for employees to spend with their friends and family outside of work.
  • Employees with longer commutes to the job have significant time between one cycle and the next, which can help them recover before starting the next rotation. 


  • Because employees have to wait a full three weeks to earn a long break from work, fatigue may set in and negatively impact their productivity towards the end of a cycle. 

The key to a successful 2-2-3 schedule—regardless of the variation you choose—is ensuring it meets both operational and employee needs. 

CTA: Learn how TCP’s scheduling solution for public safety agencies can streamline your 24/7 operations, cut costs, and minimize stress.


How to implement a 2-2-3 shift schedule 

Although Panama schedules can be challenging to develop and implement, following some simple guidelines can help your team establish an efficient scheduling process that empowers your workforce. Here are some crucial tips for getting started:

Communicate with your team 

When it comes to scheduling, communication is king. An effective 2-2-3 schedule relies on your teams’ ability to hand tasks off properly, show up when and where they’re needed, follow shift policies, and provide real-time scheduling updates as they occur. Without the right system in place for sharing schedule information, mistakes and miscommunications are common. Be sure to document your expectations and policies and provide seamless access to them at all times. Create and communicate your schedules in advance, too, so workers always know when they’re on and can request time off when needed without throwing a wrench in your entire operation. 

Define appropriate start times 

With a 2-2-3 schedule, you can establish start times that align with the needs of your organization and employees. For example, you might decide to implement 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. shifts instead of 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. shifts to help employees avoid peak rush hour and make it easier for them to attend to their personal lives. Take some time to speak to your employees and gain a better understanding of which start times they might prefer so you can align their needs with the needs of the organization.

Look for signs of fatigue 

Fatigue can be hard to spot among 2-2-3 shift workers—especially in public safety—as they may not feel their energy crash until after their busy shift ends. They’re generally on the move and running on adrenaline, so it may be difficult to sense whether or not they’re approaching burnout. It’s important to take the pulse of your workforce often by asking about their levels of fatigue before it’s too late. You can also watch for signs of exhaustion, such as slow reaction times, inability to concentrate, and forgetfulness.

Encourage employees to take breaks 

While states determine whether meal breaks are legally required, employers often provide short breaks throughout workers’ shifts. Especially in industries like manufacturing and healthcare, this can help combat fatigue and boost morale. 12-hour shifts are often both physically and mentally draining, and breaks give workers time to step away and regroup. 

Breaks that are shorter than 20 minutes are still considered compensable under federal law, so it’s important to implement tools that make it easy for employees to log their breaks and for managers to monitor their activity. Some platforms offer mobile apps that automate tracking of short breaks, documentation for legal compliance, and even report generation for identifying patterns and improving the employee experience. 

Keep workspaces adequately lit 

Working 12-hour shifts for several consecutive days can have a profound impact on an employee’s circadian rhythm and lead to serious issues, such as decreased cognitive performance, altered stress response, and depression. To mitigate these potential issues, be sure to optimize lighting throughout employee workspaces to mimic outdoor daylight as much as possible. While this isn’t always possible in the field, keeping areas like plant floors, medical units, and break areas well-lit may help employees stay awake and alert.

Use automated scheduling software 

Creating and managing 2-2-3 schedules can be a time-consuming and burdensome task, especially if your team uses outdated or manual tools. Common factors like last-minute changes, scheduling errors, and shift trades can create a domino effect that leaves your team scrambling to ensure coverage, resulting in a frustrated, exhausted, and inefficient workforce.

You can streamline your 2-2-3 shift scheduling process by implementing automated software that instantly takes into account worker availability, preferences, and more. Powerful tools with 24/7 self-service access can make it easy to get the right workers in the right place at the right time—all without overworking your already-busy staff. While there are many scheduling tools on the market, the best software is one that is fully configurable to the complex needs of your agency and its employees. 

Automate your 2-2-3 shift scheduling process with TCP Software

A Panama shift schedule can help your team meet customer demand, avoid issues of burnout, and optimize operations—but only with the right process and tools for support. Without the right scheduling platform, organizations often face problems like improper coverage, underworked or overworked employees, and labor law compliance risks. This can then lead to issues like unnecessary costs, legal fees, employee attrition, and low productivity and morale. 

To avoid these potential pitfalls, your agency needs an automated approach that’s designed to fit the specific needs of your operations and workforce. TCP’s scheduling solutions help organizations successfully manage their scheduling process with ease. With tools for greater accuracy, compliance, and efficiency, your team can avoid scheduling errors, mitigate compliance issues, and control costs—all while providing a better employee experience and protecting your bottom line. 

With TCP, your agency can automatically create schedules aligned to availability, qualifications, and more. Plus, powerful mobile tools enable 24/7 self-service access to seamlessly handle changes in real-time, optimize communication, and empower workers while on the job. TCP’s scheduling solutions offer standout flexibility and transparency into shifts, so your organization can gain a leg up against the competition and become an employer of choice for top talent. 

Learn more about how simplified scheduling enables public safety agencies to spend more time on critical responsibilities by reading our customer success story, or speak to an expert to see how TDP can help your organization streamline all of its time and attendance processes.