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What are the different types of shift patterns?

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    What are the different types of shift patterns?

    Every business needs to have enough employees to cover them during operational hours. With many businesses operating around-the-clock, shift patterns improve overall productivity and get the most out of their workforce.

    Many people can't work the traditional 9-5 due to family commitments and studying, so shift work can also be highly beneficial for employees.

    If you're an employer or are responsible for scheduling shifts, you'll know that trying to meet each employee's needs and balancing those of the business is no easy feat.

    Luckily, you can make rota planning headache-free by knowing the most popular shift patterns and how to implement them in your workplace.

    The different shift pattern options

    There are so many shift patterns a business can incorporate into its schedule, including:

    • 5 over 7 shift pattern
    • 4 on 4 off shifts
    • Double days
    • Rotating shifts
    • Panama shift pattern
    • Split shifts
    • Earlies and lates
    • 12-hour shift patterns
    • Staggered day shift pattern
    • Continental shift pattern

    Every sector and business has different needs, so one pattern doesn't necessarily suit your needs. Next, we'll look at each of these shifts in more detail.

    5 over 7 shift pattern

    The 5 over 7 shift pattern is one of the most popular, as it mimics the typical working week. That means employees work five days out of seven, but those days aren't necessarily Monday to Friday.

    Instead, you could schedule someone to work Saturday and Sunday but give them Thursday and Friday off work.

    Employers usually rotate weekend shifts to ensure each worker can enjoy some weekends off work every month.

    4 on 4 off calendar

    Another popular shift pattern is the 4 on 4 off, which requires minimal planning and is also a favourite among employees. Each person works four 12-hour day shifts and then gets four days off. When they return to work, they'll do four 12-hour night shifts and switch back to days after.

    As the pattern is highly repetitive, workers can take advantage of established shift patterns, which make it easy to plan their lives around the job.

    Double day shifts

    Double-day shifts involve combining early and late working hours in one day. For example, someone could begin their shift from 7 am to 2 pm, then continue working from 2 pm to 10 pm.

    The shifts will alternate to give people rest days between double shifts, but hospitals, care homes and other 'always on' companies might require employees to work 16-hour shifts in one day.

    Rotating shifts

    Rotating shift work involves working different patterns on a cycle. For example, an employee might do two day shifts, then a night shift and then have two days off. However, the working hours can also change, from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour work days.

    These shift patterns are popular in health care, manufacturing, military and emergency service organisations because they allow for flexibility, should HR need to quickly adapt a schedule.

    As the shifts work on a cycle (for example, a three-week cycle), all employees work varying hours, allowing everyone to take advantage of the more flexible shifts while ensuring management treats all workers equally.

    Panama shifts

    Some businesses or organisations remain open 24/7, which means they must ensure workers can cover both day and night shifts. The Panama shift pattern is popular for paramedics, firefighters and the military.

    Four teams will cover a 24-hour shift for a set period, then switch shift patterns. For example, a team of paramedics might be scheduled to work night shifts, so they'll work between 7 pm to 7 am for two or three days, then get two days off.

    The cycle will continue for 28 days, but then the night shift workers will switch with the day shift workers for 28 days.

    The main benefits of Panama shift scheduling are it's easy for businesses to implement and it gives employees more stability.

    Split shifts

    Split shifts are ideal solutions for hospitality and social care companies because they allow employers to schedule shift working during busy periods. For example, an employee might work from 12 pm to 3 pm, then go home for four hours.

    Their late shift would start at 7 pm to 10 pm, so the person has worked a six-hour day, over 10 hours.

    Some people hate split shifts because they require more travel, but people with children might find splitting shift work easier to balance.

    Earlies and lates

    Earlies and lates are common shift patterns in factories and other manufacturing businesses. For example, a 7 am to 2 pm shift is classed as early, while the 2 pm to 10 pm shift will be late.

    The shift pattern will usually continue for a week; then, they switch. Someone could work evening shifts for one week, then switch to earlies.

    However, some employers are more flexible and allow people to keep early shift patterns if they suit them more.

    12-hour shift pattern

    Many people who work shift patterns have a four-on and four-off agreement, which is a constant cycle. For example, an employee might do four 12-hour day shifts and then have four days off. On their return, they'll work four 12-hour night shifts, and the cycle will continue.

    The great thing about this type of shift pattern is it gives people four days off at a time and is more predictable so employees can plan their lives around shifts.

    Staggered day shift pattern

    Staggered shift patterns are similar to the 5 over 7 shift patterns. However, employers use rotating shift patterns to ensure there's always weekend cover for the business.

    Each employee will get two different days off a week, whereas 5 over 7 patterns usually offer two consecutive days away from work.

    Continental shift work

    Continental shifts benefit businesses with ongoing needs, as they can split their employees into various eight-hour shifts. Each employee will work six consecutive shifts and receive two days off.

    For example, days one and two could be day shifts, then days three and four will be afternoon shifts, with two-night shifts after. Then the employee gets two days off before returning to the pattern.

    As they only work eight-hour shifts, employees have adequate rest in between, and most employers won't put someone on an early shift when they're just worked a late shift.

    Which shift pattern is best for your business?

    The most popular shift pattern will continue to be the traditional five days on and two days off - but this isn't always an option for some companies.

    A business that's operational 24/7 needs to ensure it plans rotas accordingly and finds the right balance between employee satisfaction and meeting consumer demand.

    Knowing how to handle shift changes helps you create a positive environment for your employees, and the model you choose will define the future success of your business.

    Let's look at some scenarios so you can choose the correct shift pattern.

    Do you operate essential services?

    Essential services can be anything from health care to emergency services and social care. Service users and patients require round-the-clock care, which means your team must be on duty during the night.

    Panama shifts are usually the best option because they allow workers to get time off between working hours while maintaining staffing consistency.

    High-stress jobs can become overwhelming, but regular days off after shifts can give your employees time to relax and focus on their personal lives.

    Do you have different service times?

    Hospitality businesses such as restaurants and bars and the hotel sector have various service times, meaning employees might only work for three hours at one time. Split shifts ensure workers get enough hours and give them a break between work, while ensuring a business isn’t overstaffed during off-peak times..

    Some people don't like these arrangements, but staff members that work in these industries know it's part of the job.

    What do your employees want?

    It's also essential to consider what your staff members prefer and try to incorporate that into the schedule. For example, some people genuinely prefer working night shifts, while others might have childcare commitments, meaning they can only work days.

    Giving your team more flexibility ensures higher retention levels and a more productive workforce. According to a study by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conducted in 2021, businesses with flexible work arrangements had an average employee retention rate of 85%, compared to 76% for companies without flexible work arrangements.

    How to schedule shifts properly

    Scheduling shifts doesn't need to be a headache, especially when you use an employee scheduling solution like Planday. Planday’s cloud-based software allows business owners, HR teams, and managers to spend less time on scheduling admin while ensuring they are always staffing the right people, at the right time. 

    With Planday, you can:

    • Get an overview of your shift schedules in one place.
    • Create and publish schedules.
    • Communicate scheduling with your team in real-time.
    • See employee availability for shift replacements and shift swaps. 
    • Easily handle contractor/agency worker shifts. 
    • Get immediate notifications about absences and holiday requests.
    • Comply with labour and union laws by receiving alerts if an employee goes above their working hours.
    • Monitor attendance and performance issues.
    • Get on-demand reports and statistics.

    If you'd like to see how Planday can help you, book a free trial or contact us to learn how we can uncomplicate your shift scheduling.

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