Table of contents
  1. What Is a 24-hour Shift Schedule?
  2. Fixed vs. Rotating Shifts
  3. Common Types of 24-hour Shift Patterns
  4. What To Consider When Choosing a 24-hour Shift Schedule for Your Business
  5. Tips for Building an Effective 24-hour Shift Schedule
  6. Conclusion
  7. FAQs

If your business needs to operate around the clock, you must build a 24-hour shift schedule your employees are happy with and that’s effective for your business’s operations. Otherwise, you risk absenteeism, employee burnout, or lost productivity.

In this guide, we explore common types of 24-hour work schedules. We also explain how to choose the best schedule for your business and implement it.

Key Takeaways

  • 24-hour schedules involve teams of employees working across day and night or day, swing, and night shifts to provide 24/7 staffing.
  • There are many types of 24-hour schedules. Some of the most popular include 4 on 3 off, 4 on 4 off, 2-2-3, and DuPont schedules.
  • Choosing the best 24-hour schedule for your business requires balancing operational needs with employee needs.

What Is a 24-hour Shift Schedule?

A 24-hour schedule is a type of work schedule that enables your business to operate 24/7 with no breaks in staffing. Twenty-four-hour schedules are frequently used in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and emergency services. A growing number of retail and customer service businesses also need 24/7 staffing.

Twenty-four-hour schedules typically require more complexity than just assigning employees to 24-hour shifts. Most employees can’t work 24 hours at a time without burning out.

So, round-the-clock work schedules usually involve several teams of employees working in shifts. Some schedules are split into 12-hour day and night shifts. Schedules that call for 8 or 10-hour shifts add a third morning shift or a “swing” shift that typically runs from early afternoon to late evening.

24/7 shift schedules must balance several competing factors, including:

  • Employees’ need for rest and work-life balance
  • Legal requirements
  • Overtime costs
  • Ability to manage workloads during peak hours
  • Schedule complexity, which can make managing employees more challenging

Fixed vs. Rotating Shifts

Most 24/7 work schedules are broken into shifts, and how you assign employees to these shifts is important. You can assign employees to the same shift consistently—a practice known as fixed shifts. Or you can rotate employees among shifts—a practice known as rotating shifts.

With fixed shifts, you’ll have some teams of employees that always work day shifts and other teams of employees that always work night shifts. Fixed shifts are simple to manage and give employees more consistent schedules. 

However, many businesses opt for rotating shift schedules because they’re more equitable for employees. With these, you don’t have 1 group of employees that always works coveted day shifts and another group of employees locked into less desirable night shifts.

In the shift patterns below, we highlight how you can rotate shifts to ensure each schedule is as fair as possible for employees.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Discover our guide on how to create a great rotating schedule.

Common Types of 24-hour Shift Patterns

Here are some of the most common types of 24-hour work schedules, plus their pros and cons.

4 on, 3 off shift pattern

How it works: Employees work 4 consecutive 10-hour days, then take 3 consecutive days off. Your schedule is broken into 3 shifts—typically, day, swing, and night shifts—and each team transitions from day to swing to night shifts on a weekly basis. The schedule resets after 3 weeks.

Typical shift length: 10 hours

Number of teams required: 6

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees work the same days each week.
  • Employees work only 40 hours per week.
  • Teams’ work hours overlap, so they can share information easily.
  • Employees get a relatively long time off between work periods.

Cons:

  • Employees’ work hours change weekly, so keeping consistent personal schedules can be difficult.
  • Overlap between teams can lead to times when there isn’t enough for employees to do.

Best for: This is one of the most popular 24/7 shift schedules. It’s ideal for businesses that have times of peak demand, such as retail businesses that receive more traffic during morning and evening hours.

4 on, 4 off shift pattern

How it works: Employees work 4 consecutive 12-hour days, then take 4 consecutive days off. The schedule is broken into 2 shifts, typically day and night. Teams can switch between day and night shifts on any pattern you prefer, such as weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Typical shift length: 12 hours

Number of teams required: 4

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees get lots of time off between work periods to rest.
  • There’s flexibility around how employees rotate between day and night shifts.
  • Employees’ work schedules have a degree of predictability.
  • The schedule requires just 4 teams.

Cons:

  • Teams’ work hours never overlap, so they can have difficulty sharing information.
  • Employees work 48 hours per week, so you must pay non-exempt employees overtime.
  • The days each employee works change each week, making personal planning more difficult.
  • Twelve-hour shifts can lead to increased burnout.

Best for: This is a good alternative to the 4-on, 3-off schedule for businesses with constant demand, such as many manufacturing companies. Since shifts are 12 hours long, it’s best suited for jobs that require intermittent work or less focus.

2-2-3 (Panama) shift pattern 

How it works: In a 2-2-3 shift pattern, employees work in a cycle consisting of 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on, and 3 days off. Shifts are typically 12 hours, so employees work 60 hours one week and 24 hours the next. Employees rotate from day to night shifts every 2 weeks.

Typical shift length: 12 hours

Number of teams required: 4

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees never work more than 36 hours between rest periods.
  • Increased rest periods help reduce employee burnout.
  • It requires just 4 teams.

Cons:

  • Sixty-hour workweeks can mean high overtime costs. 
  • Sixty-hour workweeks can be stressful for employees.
  • Employees work different days each week, making personal planning more difficult.

Best for: The Panama schedule can work well for businesses across various industries, including manufacturing, transportation, and food service. However, the schedule is complex and requires employees to be comfortable with long workweeks, so it works best for companies with strong communication between managers and employees.

🧠 Did You Know?

Another 24/7 schedule that closely resembles the 2-2-3 schedule is the 2-3-2 or Pitman schedule

DuPont Schedule

How it works: The DuPont schedule, named after the DuPont manufacturing company, is a 4-week schedule that requires 4 teams working 12-hour shifts. Teams alternate between day and night shifts each time they have a stretch of workdays.

In a 4-week period, one team’s schedule will look like this: 4 nights on, 3 off, 3 days on, 1 off, 3 nights on, 3 off, 4 days on, then 7 off. 

Typical shift length: 12 hours

Number of teams required: 4

Example:

Alt

Pros:

  • It includes 1 off week in each 4-week cycle.
  • It requires only 4 teams.
  • The 4-week cycle is easy to manage.

Cons:

  • Employees work 72 hours during 1 week of the cycle,
  • Frequent day-night transitions can be difficult for employees,

Best for: The DuPont schedule was originally created for manufacturing plants, and it continues to be a good option for manufacturing businesses. It can also work well for any business that has consistent demand and is okay with 12-hour shifts.

Continental shift pattern

How it works: Employees work 6 consecutive 8-hour shifts, transitioning every 2 days from day to swing to night shifts. After 6 days on, they get 2 days off. The schedule resets every 8 weeks.

Typical shift length: 8 hours

Number of teams required: 3

Example:

Pros:

  • Pattern requires 3 teams only. 
  • The schedule might have reduced overtime costs compared to other schedules.
  • Employees work only 8 hours per day.

Cons:

  • Employees work 48 hours most weeks.
  • There’s shorter, less frequent rest compared to other schedules.
  • Shift rotation makes it difficult for employees to keep consistent personal schedules.

Best for: This schedule is a good option for businesses that need to operate 24/7 but have very variable demand between day, swing, and night shifts. Employees work a busy day shift for only 2 days before rotating onto a less busy swing shift and then a quiet night shift. 

24 on, 48 off shift pattern

How it works: This schedule doesn’t use shifts. Instead, employees work a full 24-hour day followed by 2 days off.

Typical shift length: 24 hours

Number of teams required: 3

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • It requires just 3 teams.
  • Employees get a long rest period after each 24-hour workday.
  • Employees’ schedules rotate each week, ensuring all employees get some weekends.

Cons:

  • Twenty-four-hour workdays can be highly demanding and aren’t suitable for many jobs.

Best for: The 24 on, 48 off shift pattern is widely used in emergency services since employees are working in spurts when emergencies strike rather than working continuously for 24 hours. This schedule can also be used to assign on-call duties for healthcare and customer service businesses.

6 on, 4 off shift pattern

How it works: Employees work 6 consecutive 10-hour shifts followed by 4 days off. There are morning, swing, and night shifts, and employees rotate onto a new shift for each 6-day work period. The cycle resets every 30 days.

Typical shift length: 10 hours

Number of teams required: 5

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • The overlap between teams increases manpower during high-demand times.
  • The 30-day cycle means employees have consistent days off each month.
  • There are relatively long rest periods between work periods.

Cons:

  • It requires 5 teams.
  • Employees can work up to 60 hours in a week.
  • Employees work different days each week.
  • Shift overlap may not be helpful for businesses with consistent demand.

Best for: This schedule works well for many healthcare businesses since it enables teams to overlap between shifts and share information. It also gives employees several days off in a row, which can reduce burnout in high-stress jobs.

🧠 Did You Know?

If you want to learn how employees in different industries feel about specific shift patterns, Reddit is a goldmine. For instance, check out this subreddit to see how police cope with 6 on, 4 off shifts.  

5 on, 3 off shift pattern

How it works: This is a 25-day cycle in which employees work 10-hour shifts. Employees work 5 consecutive days, then get 3 days off. Then they work 5 consecutive days and get 4 days off. Finally they work 5 consecutive days and get 3 days off.

This pattern typically involves 3 shifts that overlap for 6 hours per day. Employees rotate between day, swing, and night shifts during each 5-day work period.

Typical shift length: 10 hours

Number of teams required: 5

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees never work more than 5 days in a row.
  • Shifts overlap, offering extra manpower during high-demand periods.
  • It provides a relatively high number of days off in each cycle.
  • Rotating rest days enable all employees to have weekends off in each cycle.

Cons:

  • It requires 5 teams.
  • Shift overlap may be wasteful if your business has constant demand.
  • The 25-day cycle can be confusing since it doesn’t sync with calendar weeks or months.

Best for: This schedule is complex to manage, so it works best for businesses with highly responsible employees and excellent communication channels in place. It’s most suitable for healthcare, retail, and customer service businesses that can benefit from shift overlap.

6 on, 3 off shift pattern

How it works: Most employees work 6 consecutive 8-hour shifts followed by 3 days off. However, you also need a part-time team to fill in shifts 2-3 consecutive days each week. Your schedule is split into 3 shifts, and employees rotate shifts at the start of each new 6-day work period. 

Typical shift length: 8 hours

Number of teams required: 4.5

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • It requires full-time employees to work less hours per week than many other 24-hour schedules do.
  • Employees’ days off rotate, ensuring all employees have some weekends off.
  • It offers a good work-rest balance for many employees.

Cons:

  • There’s no overlap between shifts.
  • The part-time team may be less committed to your business.

Best for: This schedule isn’t frequently used because it requires a part-time team to fill in scheduling gaps. However, it offers more flexibility since you can ask part-time employees to fill in for full-time employees who are out sick or on vacation. It’s best suited for manufacturing or retail businesses because there’s no overlap between shifts.

3 on, 4 off shift pattern

How it works: This shift pattern requires employees to work 3 consecutive days of 12-hour shifts followed by 4 days off. Every 2 weeks, employees switch from day shifts to night shifts. Most shifts have 2 teams working simultaneously, but there are occasionally shifts with only 1 team or 3 teams.

Typical shift length: 12 hours

Number of teams required: 10

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees work the same days each week.
  • Employees don’t have to work overtime.
  • It offers a high degree of rest between work periods.

Cons:

  • It requires 10 teams of employees.
  • Some shifts have 1 team while others have 2 or 3. 

Best for: This is an uncommonly used schedule because it requires 10 teams of employees and results in some understaffed and overstaffed shifts. However, it offers employees a predictable schedule and a very large amount of rest between shifts. So, it’s sometimes used in industries like oil and gas that involve highly demanding and dangerous work.

4 on, 6 off shift pattern

How it works: Employees work 4 consecutive days of 12-hour shifts followed by 6 days off. Most shifts have 1 team working, but there are several shifts each week staffed by 2 teams. Employees rotate between day and night shifts every 2 weeks.

Typical shift length: 12 hours

Number of teams required: 6

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees must work 48 hours per week at most.
  • Employees’ days off rotate, ensuring all employees have some weekends off.
  • There’s a large amount of rest between work periods.

Cons:

  • Some shifts may be overstaffed each week.
  • It requires 6 teams.

Best for: This is an infrequently used schedule that’s best for high-intensity jobs where employees need lots of rest between work periods. For example, it can work well in the oil and gas industry.

5 Over 7 Shift Pattern for 24/5 Schedules

Some businesses in customer service operate on 24/5 schedules, offering round-the-clock service 5 days a week instead of 7. The most popular shift pattern for 24/5 staffing is called a 5 over 7 pattern.

How it works: A 5 over 7 schedule mimics the typical workweek in that employees work 5 consecutive 8-hour days, then get 2 days off. Twenty-four-hour days are split into 3 shifts, and employees rotate shifts weekly. 

Typical shift length: 8 hours

Number of teams required: 3

Example:

Example

Pros:

  • Employees work the same days each week.
  • It doesn’t require overtime.
  • It requires just 3 teams.

Cons:

  • There’s no overlap between shifts.

Best for: This schedule is widely used by customer service businesses. It’s equitable to employees and gives them consistent weekly schedules without requiring overtime. They might even get weekends off. 

What To Consider When Choosing a 24-hour Shift Schedule for Your Business

There’s a lot to think about when choosing the right 24-hour work schedule for your business. You must balance scheduling demands and employee morale, all while maintaining flexibility and keeping productivity as high as possible.

Here are several key things to consider when picking a shift pattern.

Shift overlap

One of the major differences between the shift patterns we highlighted is that some require teams to overlap for several hours a day, while others don’t. This is important because you need enough manpower to handle peak demand on your business, but you also don’t want to have employees standing around without enough to do.

In general, businesses in industries like healthcare, retail, customer service, and food service tend to have more ebbs and flows in how busy they are throughout the day and can benefit from shift overlap. Businesses with more constant demand, like manufacturing and transportation businesses, may prefer schedules without shift overlap.

Most industries and most states don’t have laws regulating how long employees can work. However, industries like commercial trucking have regulations limiting how long drivers can spend behind the wheel

In addition, states like California have rules requiring that employees approve alternative schedules that require shifts longer than 10 hours.

Make sure the schedule you choose follows all applicable regulations around allowable work hours. It’s a good idea to consult a labor attorney to ensure you don’t violate any regulations.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Check out our state labor law guides for more about regulations that may impact 24-hour scheduling.

Overtime pay

Paying overtime can be a necessary cost of 24/7 operations. However, it’s still important to think about how much you’ll spend on overtime pay with different shift patterns. Schedules that require non-exempt employees to work a maximum of 48 hours a week will generally cost less than schedules that require up to 60 hours per week.

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Healthcare facilities may be able to reduce overtime pay with certain schedules—including the 6 on, 4 off schedule—by using an “8 and 80” system. Under this overtime scheme, employees are paid overtime when they work more than 8 hours in a day or exceed 80 hours in a 14-day period. 

Employee burnout

The type of work your employees do can also influence which shift pattern is best-suited for your business. Employees in high-stress roles, such as in healthcare settings, may need to work shorter shifts or fewer consecutive days in a row to avoid burnout.

Employees who work intermittently, such as on-call employees in emergency services, may be able to work 12 or 24-hour shifts without a problem. Employees in jobs that require more focus may not be able to work extended shifts safely or productively.

Schedule management

Schedules that reset on shorter cycles (such as every 3 weeks) are typically easier for you and your employees to manage than schedules that reset on longer cycles. This can improve employees’ work-life balance, since they’re able to coordinate with family and friends more easily.

Shorter, more predictable shift patterns also make it easier to manage employee absences due to sickness or vacation. Employees can fill in for colleagues or trade shifts without having to plan months into the future.

Number of teams

Shift patterns that require more teams (5 or more) can be significantly more complex to manage than shift patterns requiring fewer teams. If an employee takes time off, it can feel like a puzzle to figure out how to fill in for them without disrupting your entire schedule. You also have to hire and manage a greater number of individual employees, which can increase your business’s overall payroll and benefits costs.

Tips for Building an Effective 24-hour Shift Schedule

Here are 7 tips to ensure your 24-hour schedule is as effective as possible for your team.

Communicate with your employees

Communicate with your employees about the type of 24/7 schedule they prefer. Some employees might prefer more intense work periods followed by longer rest periods, while others might prefer working shorter shifts more frequently.

Employees might also have commitments outside of work that impact their ability to work different shifts. For example, employees with children might prefer working night shifts because they want to be able to take their kids to and from school.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam makes it easy to survey your employees so you can ask them what shift schedule they prefer. You can also collect feedback from employees after implementing a new work schedule.

Balance skills and experience across teams

When building teams for your shifts, don’t just consider employee preferences—think about the skills and experience each employee will bring to a team. For example, each team should have a mix of newer employees and more veteran employees who can serve as mentors. Each team should also be staffed to fill all required roles for your operations, such as doctors, nurses, and administrators for a healthcare shift.

Transferring employees from one team to another can be disruptive to their schedules, so it’s important to minimize how frequently you need to do this. Consult your supervisors to find out which employees work well together and which should be assigned to different teams.

Use scheduling software

Shift scheduling software like Connecteam can make managing schedules much easier. You can create a schedule for one full cycle of your shift pattern, then use it as a template to create future schedules more quickly. In addition, scheduling software can alert you if a shift is understaffed or overstaffed or if a non-exempt employee is scheduled to work excess overtime.

Scheduling software is especially important for managing employee absences. For instance, Connecteam enables employees to trade shifts with your approval or pick up open shifts with or without your approval—so they can easily fill in for one another when needed.  

Set up shift reminders

It’s a good idea to set up automated shift reminders for your employees, especially if your schedule requires employees to work different days or shifts each week. Reminders can reduce missed work and ensure you’re always fully staffed.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam can automatically send push notifications to employees’ phones to let them know they have a shift coming up. It also enables employees to quickly check their work schedule from any device.

Modify standard shift patterns

The shift schedules we highlighted are commonly used, but that doesn’t mean they’re set in stone. There are several ways you can consider modifying standard shift patterns to better suit your business:

  • Change how frequently employees rotate shifts: For example, instead of employees switching from day shifts to night shifts every week, they could rotate at the end of each shift pattern cycle. This gives employees more time to adjust to working nights.
  • Add more teams: Adding more teams gives you more flexibility to adjust to your business’s operational needs. For example, say your business is busiest during daytime hours but needs to provide 24/7 staffing. You could approach this by having 3 teams work on a 24/7 schedule and 1 team work on a standard 9-5 schedule. Employees could rotate between the 24/7 schedule and 9-5 schedule
  • Double your teams: You can increase flexibility and give employees a chance to work with different colleagues by creating twice as many teams as a shift pattern requires. For example, you could use the 4 on, 4 off shift pattern with 8 teams instead of 4. The rate at which teams rotate from day to night shifts could vary, so Team A would sometimes work with Team E and sometimes with Team F.

🧠 Did You Know?

Walmart is an example of a company that’s modified standard 24/7 schedules. It introduced what it calls “core hours.” Employees who have a core hours schedule work the same shift for at least 13 weeks, giving them greater ability to plan their personal lives. They can also easily swap shifts and self-schedule extra shifts for added flexibility.

Offer incentives for unpopular shifts

If you offer fixed shifts, consider offering higher pay for more difficult or less popular shifts. For example, say you run a manufacturing business with steady work across 3 shifts. In this case, the swing and night shifts are likely to be more of a burden on employees than day shifts, so you could offer a higher pay rate for employees working these shifts. 

This can make it easier to hire and retain employees for less popular shifts. Otherwise, you risk losing employees from your night shift anytime a job opens for a competitor’s day shift.

Higher pay for undesirable shifts also encourages your employees to fill in open shifts on nights and weekends. Without incentives, finding someone who’s willing to take an extra shift for an employee who calls in sick for a night shift can be difficult. 

Use data to evaluate your schedule

After you implement a new work schedule, be sure to track data so you can evaluate whether it’s effective. You can monitor productivity metrics as well as send out monthly employee satisfaction surveys. In your surveys, be sure to ask employees about their work-life balance, focus at work, and whether they feel sufficiently rested when they return to work after a break period.

You should also make a note of any changes in employee retention or your company’s ability to hire new employees. If you suspect that your schedule is encouraging employees to leave, ask about this in your exit interviews.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam offers in-depth reporting tools to help you monitor absences, overtime, breaks, and more. You can use this information to determine if your schedule is working for you and your team.

Conclusion

Building an effective 24/7 shift schedule can enable your business to operate around-the-clock while reducing the risk of employee burnout and limiting your overtime costs.

There are many different 24-hour work patterns to choose from with different shift lengths and configurations to meet the needs of different businesses. When deciding which one is right for your business, consult your employees and personalize your schedule to suit your business.

Once you choose a schedule, you can use Connecteam to put it into practice, send shift reminders to employees, and enable employees to pick up open shifts.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

FAQs

24-hour shift schedules are legal in most states. However, there are some industries, like trucking, that limit how many hours employees can work in a set period of time. In addition, California requires that employees approve alternative schedules requiring shifts longer than 10 hours. It’s a good idea to consult a labor attorney to ensure your schedule follows all applicable regulations.

Can employees work 24-hour shifts?

Employees are legally allowed to work 24-hour shifts in most industries. However, 24-hour shifts can be exhausting, so they’re best suited for jobs that require intermittent work or for employees who are on call. A 24 on, 48 off shift schedule is commonly used for emergency services.

What is the best 24-hour shift schedule for manufacturing?

There are many different 24-hour work schedules that manufacturing businesses can use. Some of the most common include 4 on 4 off, DuPont, and 2-2-3 shift patterns. These patterns don’t overlap shifts, which is nice since operational demands are very consistent at most manufacturing companies.

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