A rotating shift gives employees a turn on all shifts and sometimes involves cross-training to enable rotating job responsibilities too. In this article, we explain the pros and cons of rotating shifts and share tips for implementing them at your business.
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Scheduling is a craft, and as a manager, you have to juggle everything from employee preferences to payroll logistics to create schedules that support both your workers and your business’s needs.
Shift work scheduling can be especially challenging. One solution that many 24/7 and on-call businesses have adopted is the rotating shift.
While rotating shifts aren’t for everyone, in the right business, they can be the perfect solution.
Below, we explain what rotating shifts are, what they could mean for your business, and how you can implement them with your team.
- Rotating shifts give employees turns on varying shifts, like the night and day shifts, and/or varying days.
- While rotating shifts can be beneficial for both you and your employees, there are some drawbacks you should keep in mind.
- Many rotating shifts include rotating job responsibilities, which can present additional benefits and challenges.
- An all-in-one app like Connecteam can be a great way to implement both rotating shifts and rotating job responsibilities.
What Is a Rotating Shift?
A rotating shift involves an employee working different shifts on a repeating basis.
The easiest way to understand a rotating shift is by thinking of its opposite: a fixed shift.
A fixed shift operates on a weekly basis, and the employee clocks in and out at the same times and has the same days off every week. A rotating shift, on the other hand, has employees cycle through working all possible shifts with varying days off.
An example of a rotating shift is a manufacturing employee who works an assembly line that operates 24 hours with 2 shifts: day and night. Their rotating shift might be 3 day shifts, 2 days off, 3 night shifts, and 2 days off before the rotation begins again with 3 day shifts.
Businesses and industries that use rotating shifts include healthcare and first responders, where 24/7 coverage is needed. These 2 industries also often use longer shift times, like 12 or 24-hour shifts to minimize disruptions due to shift change and ensure continuity of care for patients.
Rotating shifts are also common in retail, manufacturing, and call centers. Support services, like IT or cleaning companies, that work with 24/7 businesses often use rotating or on-call shifts as well.
But really, any business open beyond a simple 9-5 schedule 5 days a week can use a rotating shift.
How Does a Rotating Shift Work?
Rotating shifts work best in businesses that have multiple shifts in a day.
Businesses open more than 8 hours a day often split the workday into multiple shifts, like day and night. This doesn’t always have to mean overnights like in the example above. The business may be open from 7 am to 11 pm, and shifts might be 7 am to 3 pm, and 3 pm to 11 pm. This creates 2 8-hour shifts.
There could even be a swing shift that overlaps the 2 shifts to account for an extra busy time, like the dinner rush at a restaurant.
Then, once the shifts are set in stone, the rotation is created by splitting workers into teams that will take turns covering the different shifts. This way, no one is stuck on a “bad” shift, and everyone gets routine “good” shifts. In our restaurant example, this could mean going back and forth between less-busy lunch shifts and higher-tipping dinner shifts.
Depending on the hours of business operation, most rotating shifts are 8 to 12 hours. Shifts over 8 hours mean that the average of 40 hours a week is met in fewer days. This allows for more full days off in the rotation.
Consecutive days off are a cornerstone of rotating shifts. They help with balancing out sleep schedules for those switching between nights and days. They also provide an added incentive for workers who may otherwise be wary of a non-standard schedule.
These consecutive days off can be achieved by working 10 or 12-hour shifts in succession, and by ensuring workers are split into enough teams to cover when another team is off.
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What Are The Benefits of a Rotating Shift?
This flexibility benefits both you and your workers.
Rotating schedules often give employees time off both on traditional weekends and during weekdays. This allows them some flexibility with commitments and appointments that they might otherwise have to ask off for.
A rotating shift can offer your business flexibility in its hours of operation. These shifts often make it easier to have a night or “unpopular” shift, and the rotation ensures proper coverage.
Reduced burnout, increased satisfaction and engagement
Changing shifts introduces variety that can help prevent boredom and even burnout, especially for employees on less desirable shifts. This makes work more interesting overall, which can help increase job satisfaction and engagement.
In turn, this leads to a lower risk of turnover. Employees who report being bored are twice as likely to leave their jobs in the next 6 months. Changing up workers’ shifts—and even job duties—can combat that.
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Improved work-life balance (for some)
Rotating shifts can present a double-edged sword when it comes to work-life balance.
For some individuals, rotating shifts improve work-life balance by allowing for more consecutive days off to handle household tasks, spend time with friends and family, or even travel.
We’ll talk about the downside in the next section.
In many types of rotating shifts, employees overlap and mix in ways they might not have before. This can lead to more camaraderie and helps workers empathize with one another. It also helps employees feel more like team players instead of siloed, individual contributors.
Increased job skills and business versatility
In some cases, rotating shifts also mean rotating job duties.
Even if it’s just a lunch shift versus a dinner shift, there are different prep and closing procedures for each. In other businesses, a night shift might have a wholly different job type than a day shift—for example, a manufacturing business where days are spent assembling the product and nights are spent loading it for distribution and restocking for the next day of assembling.
Upskilling is a common tool for increasing employee engagement. It’s another way to stave off boredom, and it helps workers move in their careers without having to pursue opportunities outside of work, like certification programs or classes.
It’s a benefit for your business, too. You have a broader pool of available talent when it’s time to backfill promotions or open roles. Plus, when all workers can do all jobs at your business, it’s easier to find coverage in emergencies or when workers are taking paid time off (PTO) or another type of leave.
What Are Some Challenges of a Rotating Shift?
Negative impacts on sleep patterns and overall health
Rotating schedules and shift work have proven to have a negative impact on worker health over time.
The change between night and day shifts disrupts workers’ circadian rhythms. It also often leads to other problems, including gastrointestinal issues and cardiovascular disorders.
You can help ease these issues by ensuring employees have ample time off to recover between shift types. In addition, be sure to provide employees with resources on how to best manage their sleep schedules and overall health.
💡 Pro Tip:
Consider adding additional health and wellness benefits to your company’s benefits package if you introduce rotating shifts. These could include company-covered gym memberships, yoga classes, or subsidized mental health services.
Depending on the industry, rotating shifts can either increase or decrease output and productivity. Employees may lose steam over time, and physical jobs may simply be too hard to do for extended periods of time.
Businesses can still implement rotating schedules with 8-hour shifts, but they usually use 10- or 12-hour shifts in a rotation to maximize continuity and group more days off.
These longer shifts can lead to carelessness and even safety issues if employees become fatigued.
Reduced work-life balance (for some)
Some employees see rotating shifts as a perk. But, many may feel they’re losing out by switching shifts.
The nature of rotating shifts makes it difficult to set personal daily or weekly routines. These shifts also make working with most childcare schedules very difficult.
Also, working evenings, nights, and weekends means that time off doesn’t usually align with typical social commitments happening at those times. Missing out on family and social events can wear on employees who might be a better fit for a more traditional fixed schedule.
Common Types of Rotating Shifts & What They’re Best For
There are various types of rotating shifts out there, and there are important things you should consider before picking—or creating—one for your team members.
Below, we share some questions and common types of rotating shifts to get you thinking.
Who will be on a rotating shift?
Typically, the idea of a rotating shift creating fairness assumes that every single employee is rotating. However, that isn’t plausible for every business. Having some employees stay on a fixed schedule and some rotate may make more sense.
Here are some ways to make it work for you and your team.
A partial rotation is a shift pattern with most workers on a fixed schedule and only part of the team on a rotating shift.
This could be useful for a call center where the frontline team is on a fixed schedule, and a smaller team of higher-level employees rotates to be on call to handle escalated issues.
Best for: When only a portion of the team can be cross-trained to swap shifts, or when 1 shift is customer-facing and support roles can be interchangeable.
Two-shift (oscillating) rotation
The 2-shift rotation, sometimes called an oscillating rotation, is slightly misleading. There are actually 3 shifts, but only 2 of them rotate.
This differs from a partial rotation, where the fixed shift overlaps with the rotating shifts. In a 2-shift rotation, 1 whole shift works consistently alone.
The most common iteration of this is where the third shift stays the same and the first and second swap.
An example of this would be in hospitality environments with 2 shifts of customer-facing roles that can rotate and a third shift that comes in overnight. The third shift works when the business is closed to customers to clean and stock in preparation for the next day.
Best for: Businesses where a portion of your workforce would quit if they had to work nights, or businesses where 1 shift does a specific job that other workers can’t easily be trained to do.
This is the basis for most rotating shifts. Unlike partial or oscillating shift rotations, an all-shift rotation ensures every employee works every available shift.
It can also mean every employee works every available job role or is at least trained to if needed.
Best for: Businesses with a turnover issue on a particular shift that could be helped by making everything fair. Additionally, it’s good for companies with types of jobs that can be cross-trained. This means jobs that don’t require specialized certifications or training the company isn’t willing or able to provide.
How often will the shift rotate?
The length of the rotation will set the groundwork for your shifts. Think about your business: What hours are you open? When are you the busiest? What would work best for your employees’ work-life balance?
The most traditional rotating shift rotates through shift times on a weekly basis.
This could be a 4-3 schedule, or even something as simple as 5 consecutive 8-hour shifts. Either way, the employee changes shift times weekly.
For example, they might work the day shift 1 week and the night shift the next. (And then the third shift in the third week if there’s a third shift.)
All shifts are covered in the full rotation, which is the number of weeks it takes to cover them, usually 2 or 3. With the weekly schedule, it may be easier for the employer to track overtime and for the employee to manage their personal lives.
Best for: Companies introducing a rotating shift for the first time, or when you need to keep overtime to a minimum.
🧠 Did You Know?
Connecteam makes it easy to set custom overtime rules and track employees’ overtime hours. Our platform will automatically notify you when an employee is about to enter unscheduled overtime so you can quickly intervene.
A slow rotation doesn’t change shift times often. Workers in this rotation may change shifts only once per month or less.
This is how most rotating shifts operate, taking at least a few weeks to work through each shift time while including sufficient days off.
A rotation could be set up in weeks or fall on an odd number of days, thereby introducing even more variety in days worked.
An example of a very slow rotation is a seasonal business requiring more staff in certain months. During that time, the schedule or shifts may change to have more staff during peak hours, then return to shorter shifts or fixed schedules during the off-season.
Best for: A few different scenarios:
- Slow rotations of a few weeks with days off changing each week are best for most businesses trying to implement a variety of days worked and days off that don’t repeat weekly.
- Very slow rotations of more than a month are better suited to businesses with a seasonal peak. They’re also good for businesses with workers who want longer-term predictability and consistent personal and professional routines.
How will the team transition between shift time changes?
To best support your workers, you must acknowledge the difficulty rotating shifts can create for them.
However, there are things you can do to ensure your workers are having the best experience possible while still keeping the doors open or production moving.
On a 3-shift schedule, a forward rotation means a rotation that gradually moves through the shifts in a chronological pattern.
For example, a forward rotation could be 1 week on first shift, 1 week on second shift, and then 1 week on third shift, with days off within each rotation.
The benefit of a forward rotation is that it gradually moves an employee’s work time, so there should be less shock to their sleep schedules.
Best for: Businesses with 3 shifts.
Rotations with consecutive days off
Having consecutive days off isn’t just a perk that gets employees excited about rotating shifts. It’s also a smart move for employee health.
Having a full day or more off between changing shifts helps employees catch up on sleep and reset their circadian rhythm. A study of more than 2,500 healthcare workers showed that having 8 days off a month and adequate sleep drastically decreased the likelihood of burnout.
Many rotating schedule types have consecutive days off built in. Some examples include the:
- 2-2-3 schedule: 1-week rotation. 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on.
- 4-3 schedule: 1-week rotation. 4 days on, 3 days off.
- Pitman (2-2 3-2 2-3) schedule: 2-week rotation. 2 days on and 2 days off, 3 days on and 2 days off, and 2 days on and 3 days off.
- DuPont schedule: 3-week rotation of 12-hour shifts. 4 night shifts, 3 days off, 3 day shifts, 1 day off, 3 night shifts, 7 days off.
Best for: Any rotating schedule with both overnight and day shifts.
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Tips for Rotating Shifts
Be upfront with employees
Let employees know the schedule will change as early as possible. Help employees understand why the change is happening and how it will benefit them—but don’t shy away from the difficult aspects either. You may have to educate them on how rotating shifts work and especially on how their personal schedules will change.
The more time and information you give them in advance, the more opportunity they have to plan around the new schedule, resulting in fewer call-ins and better attendance.
Ask for employees’ input
Rotating shifts can be a dramatic change, and you’ll need to have your employees onboard to ensure the transition goes smoothly.
Make an effort to pick or create a rotation that aligns with your team members’ needs. Speak with them face-to-face, send an email or group instant message, or even distribute a survey asking them about their availability and preferences.
The old adage says that “those who help plan the battle won’t battle the plan,” and it applies here. Employees who feel like their voice is heard and their requests are accommodated—or at least taken seriously—are more likely to be enthusiastic about change.
Ensure fair distribution of work
The more fair the distribution of work, the more positive impact the new schedule will have on your culture. Rotating schedules can mean everyone gets a turn on every shift or every job duty, and holding to that ideal is important.
If one worker is constantly swapping shifts to avoid unpopular shifts, other employees may see manager approvals of the swaps as favoritism. This can have a negative impact on your team, as even perceived unfairness is a detriment to employee engagement and satisfaction.
Give enough notice of new and updated schedules
Since rotations can be extended periods of time, you’ll want to ensure they’re published well in advance. It may seem like the shift will just repeat perfectly forever (after all, that is the goal of most rotations). But in the real world, employees take PTO, go on leave, and quit without backups in place.
Even slight changes to the schedule need to be communicated with plenty of notice. You should have a strong time off request policy. Encourage employees to submit their requests as soon as possible, and be sure to review and approve or deny them immediately. This way, you and your employees can plan accordingly and there will be no gaps in the schedule.
Offer flexibility, support, and resources
Recognizing the way the new schedule will impact employees’ personal lives and helping them prepare for the downsides can go a long way for culture and engagement. Where you can, empathize with employees and offer flexibility.
Provide resources to employees—for example, information on best practices for getting adequate sleep if you’re introducing a night shift to workers who haven’t worked one before.
For employees who rely on childcare during the day, see if your employee assistance program (EAP) can help find a center with flexible hours. Highlight the benefits you offer that support mental health and wellbeing, and give employees time to access them.
Keep an eye on employees’ productivity and stress levels
With your new schedule, stress levels could rise. Watch out for red flags and empower employees to take a step back when needed to avoid burnout and disengagement. You could even add an extra day off or adjust the schedule to give more rest time.
On the flip side, keep an eye on productivity. Maybe you went from an 8-hour shift to a 10-hour shift and were nervous that people would call out more often. Instead, everyone’s on time and having fun but production is declining. Take a look at the shifts and see if there’s a way to rebalance shifts or teams to maximize both production and engagement.
Decide if rotating shifts with rotating job schedules are right for you
One way to optimize your rotating shift even further is by rotating job responsibilities. When all employees can take on various job roles, it’s easier to fill gaps when someone is out on PTO or calls in sick.
In fact, some businesses use the theory of rotating schedules to rotate job responsibilities, with or without changing shifts. For example, a retail employee may always work 8-5 Monday to Friday, but maybe one week they’re a cashier and the next week they’re on the floor assisting customers.
Some benefits of rotating job responsibilities include improved employee engagement, a stronger talent pool for succession planning, and better teamwork across the board as employees learn to empathize with each other.
Job duty rotation isn’t a cure-all, though. It can be expensive and time-consuming to implement and can actually harm morale in some teams. It may not even be feasible if much of your workforce has special certifications or advanced training. Your company may not be able to provide the necessary training, and thus, it’s likely a job rotation isn’t a good fit.
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Use Connecteam to Streamline the Process
Rotating shifts may seem complicated, but they don’t have to be difficult.
Connecteam streamlines creating and implementing schedules and helps you keep your team going strong.
Connecteam’s all-in-one scheduler is the ultimate tool for rotating shifts. In minutes, you can create the shift schedule, assign employees to shifts, and set it to repeat as often as needed.
Within the shifts, there’s even more useful functionality. Connecteam’s shifts include “job” as a standard field, so you can easily see who’s scheduled to do what. You can even color-code the shifts to drill down further. For example, you can identify who’s supporting which section of a restaurant, and whether they’re serving, bussing, or food-running.
You can also attach checklists to each shift. Include a full task list for the shift or just a few short reminders for commonly missed duties. This can help people who aren’t on the shift consistently make sure they get everything done.
When you publish a schedule with Connecteam, it’s sent directly to employees no matter where they are. They can access Connecteam on their mobile devices or through the platform’s web version.
Having a digital schedule in an app not only makes it impossible to lose but also gives workers the option to set alarms and reminders. Plus, employees can even sync their work schedules to their personal calendars on their phones.
Connecteam isn’t just great for creating and sharing rotating schedules. It can also help you with training if you decide to implement rotating job responsibilities.
You can create fully customized training materials and courses using templates or from scratch right within the app. Or, you can upload existing training materials—in video, image, audio, PDF, and other file formats—and courses if you have them.
Courses can include quizzes to make training more engaging and to test employees’ knowledge retention.
Connecteam sends workers automated notifications when they have a new training course to complete, and you can track employee training progress from the central admin dashboard. Progress is reflected in employees’ timelines, and you can add scheduled training sessions to shifts.
Rotating shifts could be a good fit for your workforce if your business has multiple shifts and team members are getting burnt out working the same ones repeatedly. There are pros and cons, but when implemented correctly in the right environment, they can increase engagement and reduce turnover.
Connecteam’s all-in-one scheduler can help you get your rotating shifts created quickly. The app includes reusable templates, drag-and-drop employee assignments, and the ability to repeat schedules. There are also powerful training features you can use to cross-skill your employees if you use rotating shifts with rotating job responsibilities.
Ready to take the next step to get your team on rotating shifts?
What is considered a rotating shift?
A rotating shift is part of a scheduling system that isn’t fixed—i.e., not the same times and days each week. With a rotating shift, employees work different shifts rather than staying on just one. Employees rotate through shifts over time, with consecutive days off in between.
Rotating shift schedules are most common in 24/7 businesses or those with multiple shifts in a day, like a day shift and a night shift. For example, an employee might work 4 day shifts, be off for 3 days, work 4 night shifts, be off for 3 days, then work 4 day shifts to begin the rotation again.
Is a rotating shift good?
Rotating shifts are good for some businesses and some workers. They aren’t one-size-fits-all, but they could be an option to ensure fairness in scheduling for a 24-hour business. For employees, they can be a good fit for those who want consolidated time off and who don’t mind working longer shifts and varied shift times.