Table of contents
  1. How to Create a Work Schedule
  2. Common Employee Scheduling Challenges
  3. Types of Work Schedules
  4. Types of Shifts
  5. Which Shifts and Schedules are Right for Your Business?
  6. Should I Allow Employees to Swap Shifts?
  7. Key Scheduling Labor Laws
  8. Build Flawless Employee Schedules With Connecteam
  9. Plus much more

Employee scheduling is a critical process for businesses with shift workers. It ensures you have the right number of employees with the necessary skills working at the right times. 

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The ripple effects of well-made team schedules include enhanced customer service, controlled labor costs, and improved operational efficiency and profitability, plus positive employee morale.

In this article, we’ll cover all of the essential elements of employee scheduling, including challenges, schedule creation, types of shifts and schedules, the legal landscape, and the best scheduling tools on the market.

How to Create a Work Schedule

Let’s talk about the schedule creation process. Creating employee schedules all starts with knowing your team.  

Understanding your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, working preferences, and availability is crucial for making functional schedules that keep your team happy (and your business running smoothly).

But at the same time, you need to avoid scheduling errors and labor law issues like over- or under-scheduling, employee overtime, assigning unqualified employees, and double-booking. 


Follow these simple steps to create and distribute a work schedule that’ll keep your team happy and your business running smoothly

  1. Evaluate employee availability: Document employee availability in a centralized place so you know who’s available to work and when. Respect your staff’s scheduling preferences when creating the schedule to maintain morale.
  2. Decide what type of shifts and schedules you’ll use. There are several types of schedules and shifts, such as rotating schedules, compressed workweeks, and split shifts. You’ll need to figure out which system works best for your business and your employees.
  3. Implement a reliable communication system: This is useful for many reasons. One, it allows you to involve your team in the scheduling process. You can ask them questions and get immediate feedback on scheduling-related processes. You can also share the schedule with your team instantly, and they can view it right from their mobile devices.
  4. Use employee scheduling software. An online employee scheduler is the most efficient way to create optimal team schedules by speeding up the process and reducing or eliminating errors. Look for software with error-flagging, auto-scheduling, time off management, and shift templates to make the process as seamless as possible.
  5. Publish the schedule in advance: I recommend 1-2 weeks to allow your team to find replacements if they can’t work. It also gives them time to communicate conflicts, better estimate income, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

📚  Keep Reading:

Read our article on how to create the perfect work schedule to learn more about creating team schedules that optimize workplace productivity and employee satisfaction. 

Common Employee Scheduling Challenges

If you are or have ever been responsible for creating employee schedules, then you know how time-consuming and challenging it can be.

Typically, staff scheduling is not something you do only once per week and check off your list; it’s a continual process that you constantly have to manage.

Employees may ask to swap shifts, and last-minute changes are pretty much guaranteed, which means you’ll most likely need to update the schedule even after you send it out. 

Employee scheduling challenges can create headaches for managers struggling to fill shifts and meet business needs while also frustrating employees who deal with unfair schedules, lack of flexibility, and work-life imbalance.

You’ve likely encountered some of these common scheduling issues:

  1. Keeping track of employee availability: Crafting schedules gets tricky when juggling employee availabilities that change week-to-week or aren’t documented in a central, easily accessible location.
  2. Staff shortages: With limited staff, creating the schedule becomes a puzzle, forcing you to stretch thin existing employees or leave gaps that could impact customer service or productivity.
  3. Last-minute call-outs and no-call no-shows: Both of these throw a wrench into meticulously crafted schedules, leaving you scrambling to find replacements and potentially creating gaps in coverage.
  4. Scheduling errors: Scheduling errors, like double-booking employees or forgetting about upcoming absences, create a domino effect, forcing managers to rework the entire schedule to plug the holes.
  5. Balancing employee skill mix and coverage needs: Striking a balance between having enough staff scheduled and assigning employees with the right skill sets for specific tasks is incredibly challenging.
  6. Unequal shift distribution: Accommodating employee preferences while also ensuring a fair distribution of desirable shifts and less popular ones can get complicated quickly.
  7. Messy shift swapping: Messy shift swapping is difficult for both managers and employees, as managers struggle to keep track of changes and ensure proper coverage, while employees navigate uncertainty about the final schedule.
  8. Scheduling communication: Even after the schedule is built, ensuring clear and timely communication to all employees regarding their shifts isn’t easy, and keeping track of the ever-changing schedule can be frustrating for employees.
  9. Labor law compliance: Factoring in all applicable labor laws, like minimum rest periods and maximum working hours, adds another layer of complexity to creating employee schedules.

📚  Keep Reading:

If you feel overwhelmed by creating the schedule, you can rest easy. There are ways to alleviate these chalenges so your business doesn’t suffer. To learn more, check out this article on common scheduling challenges and their solutions.

Types of Work Schedules

The type of schedule you choose for your business will depend on your company’s specific demands and operational needs.

In the next section, we’ll go over some of the most common types of work schedules

Rotating schedules

Rotating schedules are ideal for businesses with multiple shifts, like day shifts and night shifts. In this shift model, employees don’t work regular shifts. Instead, they alternate between working available shift times. 

With rotating shifts and schedules, the schedule operates around a set rotation in which each lasts a specified number of days.

Which industries can benefit from rotating schedules?

Industries needing constant coverage, like hospitals and factories, benefit from rotating schedules to ensure 24/7 operations. These schedules can also be helpful in customer service or hospitality to distribute day and night shifts more fairly.

📚  Keep Reading:

Interested in learning more? Check out this complete article on rotating schedules.

Fixed schedules

A fixed schedule is when a work schedule follows a consistent pattern, where employees work the same hours and days each week. Usually, eight-hour shifts for five days, totaling 40 hours. Traditional 9-5 schedules are a prime example of fixed scheduling.

Which industries can benefit from fixed schedules?

Fixed schedules work well for businesses with predictable customer demand and tasks. This includes traditional office jobs, retail stores with set operating hours, and schools that follow a regular schedule.

📚  Keep Reading:

Check out our complete schedule on fixed schedules to learn more. 

Flexible schedules

Employee demand for flexible scheduling is high, particularly amongst Millennials and Gen Z workers. And it turns out, flex schedules are also good for business. In fact, employees with flexible schedules are 22% less likely to experience burnout symptoms, according to a study by Atlassian.

As the name suggests, this scheduling method doesn’t require employees to adhere to strict schedules. Instead, they get to choose shifts or time slots that fit them the most throughout the day (or night).

Which industries can benefit from flexible schedules?

Technology and IT, creative industries, consulting and finance, healthcare, education and training, marketing and sales, freelance and gig economy.

📚  Keep Reading:

Want to learn more? Read our complete article on flexible schedules

On-call schedules

On-call schedules are backup plans in case someone calls out last minute or commits the dreaded no-call no-show. When an employee is on call, they’ll typically need to respond to a request to work on short notice. 

Keep in mind that you may not need an on-call schedule for every shift. In fact, some managers may only create on-call schedules for the busiest shifts or the ones with the highest customer demand. So, before creating on-call schedules, it’s important to determine your coverage needs and on-call budget. 

Which industries can benefit from on-call schedules?

On-call scheduling benefits industries that require immediate attention for emergencies or unexpected situations. Restaurants, retail stores, healthcare, emergency responders, and locksmiths are all examples. 

📚  Keep Reading:

Check out our article on how to create an effective on-call schedule for more expert tips.

Compressed workweeks

A compressed workweek is a type of alternative work arrangement where the standard workweek is condensed into fewer days than the typical five-day workweek. Under this schedule, employees still work the same total number of hours as they would in a normal workweek, but they do so over fewer days.

In the construction industry, for example, work can vary depending on project phases and deadlines. A compressed workweek allows staff to have more days off, which can be especially valuable during slower periods.

Examples of compressed workweeks: 4/10 schedules, 9/80 schedules, 3 12-hour shifts

Which industries can benefit from compressed workweeks?

Seasonal schedules are ideal for businesses only open during specific seasons, such as water parks in the summer or Halloween stores in the fall.

They’re also ideal for retail stores and hospitality businesses, like hotels, that see a spike in business during specific times of year, such as the winter holidays or in the summer.

Seasonal schedules

If you experience a sharp increase in business during certain seasons, you can accommodate this with seasonal work schedules. This way, you can ensure you have enough coverage during every shift.

Which industries can benefit from seasonal schedules?

Seasonal schedules are ideal for businesses only open during specific seasons, such as water parks in the summer or Halloween stores in the fall.

They’re also ideal for retail stores and hospitality businesses, like hotels, that see a spike in business during specific times of year, such as the winter holidays or in the summer.

Alternate schedules

Alternate schedules imply different working different than what’s considered standard for your industry or business. Oftentimes, these schedules are used to accommodate specific employees experiencing a unique set of circumstances.

For example, if you have a valuable worker who suddenly needs to take care of a sick parent or comes down with an illness, an alternate schedule can be a great way to accommodate their needs without letting them go.

Part-time vs. full-time work schedules

The difference between part-time and full-time employees is a bit more complicated than just the number of hours your workers are on the clock.

Different government offices define full-time work differently. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics sets the bar for full-time work at a minimum of 35 hours a week, the IRS set the standard for full-time at 30 hours per week.

This means that employers have the flexibility to define full-time within a range (usually 30-40 hours) for purposes like offering benefits.

In any case, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that any worker putting in more than 40 hours a week must be paid overtime for those extra hours by law.

There’s also no clear-cut answer to how many hours are considered “part-time.” However, as a rough general guide, employees who work between 20 and 29 hours per week are often considered part-time.

Scheduling part and full-time employees

When hiring full-time staff, you’ll most likely require them to work 40 hours a week, plus possible overtime. If you hire both part and full-time employees, you may find yourself using different types of schedules for each group.

For example, full-time schedules usually ensure consistent coverage during core business hours, so you may decide to use a fixed scheduling system. On the other hand, some businesses might require additional staff during peak hours, which part-time workers can effectively fill with flexible scheduling or on-call shifts.

Part-time workers often prefer schedules that fit around their studies, family commitments, or other jobs. Offering flexible schedules like evenings, weekends, or split shifts may work well and help you attract and retain valuable talent.

📚  Keep Reading:

Check out our guide on part-time and full-time work schedules for more details, including tax information and how to manage benefits for part-time and full-time workers.  

Types of Shifts

No matter what type of schedule you use, simply filling in hours isn’t enough. You need to decide which types of shifts to use that will maximize your manpower and work best for your business and industry.

Let’s explore different types of shifts to give you an idea of what might work best for your schedule.

🧠 Did You Know?

With Connecteam, you can customize employee schedules to fit your business needs. Use whatever type of schedule you need plus multiple shift types to boost operational efficiency.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

First, second, and third shifts

These shifts are used for businesses that operate 24 hours a day to make sure all hours are covered.

Here’s a breakdown of each and how they might be structured:

First shift

Also known as the day shift, first shift starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon (ex. 8:00am-4:00pm).

Second shift

Also known as the afternoon shift or swing shift, the second shift usually starts in the late afternoon and ends at night (ex. 4:00pm-12:00am).

Third shift

Also known as the night shift or the graveyard shift, this starts late at night and ends in the early morning (ex. 12:00am-8:00am).

12-hour shifts

As the name suggests, 12-hour shifts involve employees working for 12 consecutive hours per shift. This schedule can offer benefits like more days off compared to traditional 8-hour schedules, sometimes with longer weekends, and fewer commutes needed.

However, the long workdays can be tiring and demanding. Additionally, if the shifts rotate between days, evenings, and nights, it can disrupt sleep patterns and impact health. These types of schedules are common in industries that require 24/7 operation, such as healthcare, security, and emergency services that need around-the-clock coverage.

Split shifts

Also referred to as broken shifts, schedules with split shifts divide working hours into separate blocks of time, typically with a significant break of several hours between shifts. 

This type of scheduling is common in industries such as hospitality, retail, and healthcare, where business demands can vary significantly throughout the day. 

📚  Keep Reading:

Read our in-depth guide on split shifts and why they might be a good idea for your business.

Double shifts

A double shift is when an employee works two shifts in a row to cover for absences or increased business demand.

In sectors like healthcare, emergency response, and law enforcement, for example, continuous coverage is critical. Double shifts may be necessary to ensure that there is no gap in service availability, especially during emergencies or crises.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Check out our article on the best healthcare staff scheduling software of 2024.

Swing shifts

Swing shifts fall outside the traditional day and night shift hours to ensure round-the-clock coverage. 

Because every business is different, swing shift hours can vary. Swing shifts may also overlap with the second shift in a business. But they can also be used exclusively to help cover peak hours, often called “rushes,” when there’s a greater demand on the business. 

For example, let’s say a retail store sees more foot traffic on Saturdays and Sundays between 12pm and 4pm. The manager may decide to assign a swing shift just for these hours to cover the rush.

📚  Keep Reading:

Read our in-depth guide on swing shifts, their benefits, drawbacks, and how to implement them correctly.

Which Shifts and Schedules are Right for Your Business?

With so many types of shifts and schedules, choosing the best one for your business isn’t always so clear-cut.

To get started, analyze your business needs:

  • Operating Hours: This is the foundation. When do your doors open and close for business? Do you need staff throughout the day and night, or just during specific operating hours? Knowing your coverage needs will determine the number of shifts required.
  • Customer Flow: Not all businesses experience consistent customer traffic. Analyze your customer patterns. Do you have peak hours where you need more staff on hand (think lunch rush at a restaurant)? Understanding these peaks and valleys will help you determine staffing levels for each shift.
  • Workload: Is the workload in your business constant, or does it come in waves? For example, a factory might have a steady production line, while a tax preparation service might see a surge in activity during tax season. Aligning your staffing with workload fluctuations helps ensure you have the right amount of people on hand to get the job done efficiently.

Consider Your Employees:

  • Skillsets: Not all tasks are created equal. Some positions might require specific expertise that’s only available during certain hours. Overnight security guards or IT support for international offices might necessitate night shift staffing.
  • Employee Preferences: A happy and engaged workforce is a productive one. While some employees might thrive on morning shifts, others might prefer evenings or weekends. Understanding these preferences when crafting the schedule can boost morale and potentially reduce turnover.
  • Work-Life Balance: Work-life balance is increasingly important for employees. Consider offering flexible scheduling options, like part-time roles or split shifts, to accommodate employees with childcare needs or those pursuing further education.

Balance Trade-Offs:

  • Cost: There are financial implications to consider. Longer shifts might require overtime pay, while offering more flexibility might impact your ability to have consistent staffing levels. Weighing the cost of each approach is crucial for your budget.
  • Productivity: How will your scheduling choices impact employee performance? Studies show that long hours and frequent shift changes can lead to fatigue and decreased productivity. Finding a balance between coverage needs and employee well-being is key.
  • Employee Satisfaction: The right schedule can be a powerful recruitment and retention tool. Offering schedules that cater to employee preferences can make your company more attractive to potential hires and help you retain your existing talent.

Should I Allow Employees to Swap Shifts?

A shift swap is when one employee swaps their current shift with another employee’s scheduled shift.

Allowing employees to do so is beneficial for both your team and you because it provides some flexibility within the schedule, allowing workers to trade shifts amongst themselves to accommodate their personal commitments. It also helps employees feel more in control of their work schedules so they have a better work-life balance.

📚  Keep Reading:

Read our in-depth guide on shift swapping before you implement a shift-swapping policy. Keep in mind that shift swapping might not be suitable in certain industries where specialized skills are critical, such as healthcare and security services.

Key Scheduling Labor Laws

As with anything in business, there are laws and regulations that you must adhere to when creating employee schedules. These laws aim to prevent unfair scheduling practices like last-minute changes and ‘clopening’ shifts (working closing and opening shifts back-to-back).

Therefore, it’s important to understand these laws and remain informed of any updates or changes.

📚  Keep Reading:

For a complete list of US states and their specific labor laws, check out our guide here.

Predictive scheduling laws

There are no federal predictive scheduling laws; all laws of this nature exist at the city and state level.

Their overall aim is to provide team members with a degree of certainty around their work schedules so they can maintain a better work-life balance. They keep employers from taking advantage of their staff. 

Not all predictive scheduling laws are the same, either. In Oregon, for example, employers must pay workers an extra hour of wages if they reschedule a shift. 

📚  Keep Reading:

Check out our complete article on predictive scheduling laws to find out which cities and states have them and if they apply to your business.

Scheduling laws in the UK

Several scheduling laws exist in the UK, such as The Working Time Regulations. This law sets the maximum working hours to 48 per week and stipulates that night workers may not work more than an average of 8 hours in 24 hours.

There’s no requirement that an employer must offer overtime hours or pay higher wages for overtime work, either. However, this only applies as long as the employee’s average pay doesn’t fall below the national minimum wage. 

📚  Keep Reading:

If you’re an employer in the UK, you may want to read our article about UK laws and best practices to learn more about specific regulations. 

Build Flawless Employee Schedules With Connecteam

The global market for employee scheduling software was valued at $307.1 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $1079.98 million by 2031. 

That’s a 251.67% increase in market value!

But it makes sense. Software like Connecteam’s employee scheduling app is an incredibly valuable tool for shift-based businesses. It comes with all the tools you need to create and manage team schedules with complete ease and efficiency, even while on the go.

Let’s take a look at some of the key features:

Intuitive drag-and-drop shift scheduler 

Connecteam comes with a drag-and-drop employee scheduler so you can create schedules by simply dragging employees’ names to them. You can automatically assign shifts based on employee qualifications, preferences, and availability.

You can also use scheduling templates to make the process even faster. Use Connecteam’s premade scheduling templates or customize your own however you need. You can also create and automatically assign recurring shifts. 

Additionally, Connecteam has automatic error flagging. This helps you reduce labor costs by avoiding double scheduling, assigning the wrong employee to a shift, or assigning an employee who’s scheduled for PTO.


Auto-scheduling to eliminate manual scheduling

With Connecteam’s auto-scheduling feature, you can literally make employee schedules in seconds. Predefine how many staff you need per shift as well as which roles, and the auto-scheduler will create the schedule for you, taking into consideration employee availability, preferences, skill sets, and business needs.

You can also easily make any changes manually if you need to, drastically speeding up the scheduling process.

Shift swapping for seamless coverage

If employees want to swap shifts, they can do so with the click of a button right from their mobile devices. Then, you can approve or deny the swap.

Once you approve a shift swap, this employee scheduling app will automatically update the schedule and send notifications to anyone whose hours or days have changed. 

Add tasks, forms, checklists, and descriptions to shifts

To ensure all employees have the information they need to do their jobs properly, you can include shift-specific digital forms, checklists, and images that employees see as soon as they clock in for their shifts.

That way, employees understand exactly what’s expected of them you can check in with their progress throughout their workdays.


Easily manage employee breaks and overtime

You can set this break management software to automatically alert employees when they need to take a break or when they’re about to go into overtime. This helps you manage overtime pay, reduces the amount you spend on payroll, and helps ensure compliance with labor laws. 

Request or approve PTO with a single click

Connecteam’s time off management tools allow you to view PTO allowance and leave requests right from within the app. See everyone’s time off, ensure you’re properly staffed when employees are away, and keep track of how much you’re spending on PTO.

Your team can easily request time off through the mobile app, too. Once you approve a request, Connecteam will automatically input PTO into your employee’s schedule.

Plus much more

Connecteam also comes with a GPS-enabled employee time clock, automated timesheets for payroll, multiple in-app communication channels, and many other features to simplify your workday.

Teams of up to 10 people can get Connecteam’s employee scheduling software free for life, and the platform’s paid plan starts at just $29/month for up to 30 users.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

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