Rotating schedules, or rotating shift work, are often used in the manufacturing and labor sectors to cover various shifts to keep production continuous. Employees work a certain shift for a set period, then rotate to another. While rotating shifts can have benefits, like increased productivity and comprehensive training, it is important to schedule them effectively to keep your workers healthy.

What are Rotating Shifts?

Rotating shifts allow companies to run two to three shifts per day, seven days a week. Workers take turns working eight to 12 hours on all shifts. For example, employees work a certain shift, like first shift during the day, then rotate after a period of time to second shift in the evening. Workers may also rotate to work a third shift overnight. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.4% of workers who work a non-daytime schedule work a rotating shift. Industries that use this type of scheduling include healthcare, hospitality, transportation, construction and public administration.

Examples of Rotating Shifts

There are several different ways for companies to schedule their workers for rotating shifts. Each type of rotating shift has its pros and cons for the amount of time off workers receive and how easy it is to rest and recuperate between shifts.

DuPont Shift Schedule

The DuPont plan is a popular rotating shift named after the company where it originated. It features 12-hour rotating shifts, using four teams to ensure around-the-clock coverage. An example of an employee’s schedule looks like:

  • Four consecutive night shifts
  • Three days off
  • Three consecutive day shifts
  • One day off
  • Three consecutive night shifts
  • Three days off
  • Four consecutive day shifts
  • Seven consecutive days off

According to the Sleep Foundation, employees get one week of vacation built into every month. The downside is they only get a 24-hour break in the middle of the month, which might not give them enough time to rest before returning back to work. Also, consider that one week every month employees will end up working 72 hours, which can take some adjusting physically.

The Southern Swing

The Southern Swing schedule rotates four crews across three eight-hour shifts for 28 days. It looks like this:

  • Seven day shifts
  • Two days off
  • Seven swing shifts
  • Two days off
  • Seven night shifts
  • Three days off

A positive of the Southern Swing shift is employees only work eight-hour days but working seven days in a row can be tiring on the body.

Pitman Shift Schedule

The Pitman Shift Schedule or 2,3,2 schedule, works by having four crews work two, 12-hour shifts per day on two-week cycles. Each crew is given the night or day shift. It is also known as the every-other-weekend off shift. It looks like:

  • Two night or day shifts
  • Two days off
  • Three night or day shifts
  • Two days off
  • Two night or day shifts
  • Three days off

While employees get to have every other weekend off to spend with family and friends, the 12-hour shifts can be long, especially at night.

2-2 3-2 2-3 Rotating Shift Schedule

This shift is a variation on the Pitman shift schedule where the crews split the shifts between days and nights over a four-week cycle.

  • Two days off
  • Three day shifts
  • Two days off
  • Two day shifts
  • Three days off
  • Two night shifts
  • Two days off
  • Three night shifts
  • Two days off
  • Two night shifts
  • Three days off

According to the Sleep Foundation, the benefit of this schedule is your employee never has to work more than three days in a row and gets a three-day weekend every other weekend. The downfall of this schedule is an employee could work up to 62 hours in one week, impacting sleep issues.

Pros and Cons of Rotating Shifts

For companies, scheduling workers on rotating shifts allows for continuous operation, ultimately improving productivity. But there are other benefits as well.

  • Spread your talent around. Each of your workers has strengths and weaknesses. Scheduling your best workers to different shifts gives all your projects the benefit of their strong skill sets. For example, if you have multiple construction projects, moving an employee around with expertise in masonry or electrical work helps finish those projects on time.
  • Make all your workers happy. Not all work can be completed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Yet, if you only put one crew on nights, you may end up dividing your workforce as overnight shifts tend to be the least popular for workers. Rotating workers to cover all shifts can help create cohesiveness and build teamwork in your employees. It also gives workers the opportunity to get to know the entire team, not just those on their shift.
  • Provide more training opportunities. Different shifts come with different responsibilities. Consider the restaurant industry; evening shifts are often busier and workers make more tips compared to day shifts. Putting workers on rotating shifts allows them to experience and learn about every aspect of how your company works.

While rotating shifts provide benefits to companies, there are some downsides. Research going back decades shows rotating shifts can negatively impact a worker’s health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report that lists concerns starting from a disruption of biological circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycle and ending in several psychosomatic troubles and disorders, likely also including cancer, and extending to impairment of performance efficiency as well as family and social life.

Rotating shifts also have the potential to be a safety issue if your employees can’t get adequate rest between shifts. When workers are tired, they’re more prone to mistakes. According to the National Safety Council, 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue. To help workers get enough rest on rotating shifts, the Sleep Foundation suggests to:

  • Rotate shifts clockwise. A schedule that rotates clockwise is usually easier to adjust to. For example, it’s easier to go from a day to an evening and then an overnight shift, rather than the other way around.
  • Help workers prepare for a new shift. Advise your workers to adjust their sleep and wake times gradually. Employees should start delaying bedtime and wake time by an hour or two per night three days before the new schedule. Gradually changing sleep schedules will allow the change to go more smoothly.

Scheduling Your Employees for Rotating Shifts

Scheduling workers is difficult enough but figure in rotating shifts, and it is even harder. There are also several considerations to make when developing a rotating shift scheduling strategy to keep workers happy and reduce your workload.

You can ask employees to rate their shift preferences, schedule based on seniority or require everyone to work the same rotating shift schedule, like the DuPont Schedule. Keep in mind you might not be able to make all of your employees happy.

If you’re scheduling your workers on paper, you could set yourself up for mistakes like double-scheduling shifts, leaving shifts without enough workers and even rotating workers incorrectly. Using scheduling software like ExakTime makes the process go smoothly, is fast and reduces errors.

ExakTime’s Scheduling reduces time wasted scheduling employees. Workers can be scheduled days, weeks or months in advance. The software uses an easy drag-and-drop feature to quickly add employees to existing shifts. It sends alerts to employees reminding them of upcoming shifts, essential for rotating shifts. The Scheduling solution even alerts managers when an employee is late or doesn’t show up for a shift.