A Manager's Guide to Rotating Schedules

by Katie Sawyer, 11 minutes read
HOME blog signs you should implement rotating schedules

The mode of work and staffing has significantly changed. Getting your scheduling right is critical, regardless of the business you operate. It boosts your productivity and helps you gain a competitive advantage.

So, where does a rotating schedule fit in?

A rotating schedule is when employees are scheduled to work on shifts whose timelines change from time to time. In rotating shifts, employees work on different time cycles, alternating with others.

For example, Group A works from 6 am to 2 pm, and Group B works from 2 pm to 10 pm. In a rotating schedule, Group A moves to 2 pm to 10 pm, with Group B checking in at 6 am. This cycle can change after either a day, weeks, or even months.

But is this a schedule you should adopt within your business?

Let’s review the different types of rotating schedules, their benefits, and how to set them up.

Benefits of rotating shifts

 Benefits of rotating shifts

Rotating shifts are common in hospitality and medical settings. It makes sense to use because it offers workers the option to share unfavorable hours. For instance, nightshifts and weekends are when most people want to be at home.

So instead of having one group of workers always on the night shift, everyone pitches in so others can have those days/times off.

Here’s a look at some of the other top benefits of rotating shifts:

  • Improved teamwork and morale: With rotating shifts, employees learn to work together and consider each other’s needs. This brings teams together and prevents hostility since no one’s stuck with the brunt of working a “bad shift.”

  • Improve training and development: In the retail industry, managers tend to work during the day. So to train and develop staff, they need them there during the day. Rotating shifts enables everyone to have a turn working daytime hours. In a retail environment, this means workers get to interact with suppliers, associates, customers, and business partners. This prepares them for promotion in a more expansive role in the company.

  • Distribute expertise and talent: In a clinical setting, employees have various levels of expertise. So on certain occasions, you may need key staff members on site to help with a task. By adopting a rotating schedule, you can switch around shifts to ensure the right people are there. For example, maybe two of your nurses are anesthesia experts. You have several patients this week who require this procedure. You can rotate the schedules, so those two nurses are available during those hours.

This isn’t a complete list of all the advantages rotating shifts offer. But it should give you ideas of how it may help your organization.

Types of rotating shifts

Types of rotating shifts

Now, there’s no one way to prepare a rotating schedule. It all depends on how you want to accommodate your business and employee needs. Here’s a look at some of the options:

  • Constant rotating shift: This type of schedule consists of a frequent rotation of shifts. In a restaurant, you may have a chef working in the evenings and then the next week, they work in the mornings. Some managers target specific days or weeks, making shifts more variable. So the chef may not work the night shift again for several weeks.

  • Slow rotating shift: For staff that prefers more stability, slow rotation schedules are ideal. This is when shifts change every two weeks or monthly. Some managers even rotate every few months. You may find this favorable if you work in a restaurant or retail store with seasonal business. So during the busier months, you’ll rotate the shifts once. And then after it’s over, you switch back to the old shift. This may mean only rotating shifts twice per year.

  • Weekend rotating shift: Not everyone can have the weekend off. But with a weekend rotating shift, they can. With this arrangement, employees rotate having weekends off. This is popular within smaller restaurants, since it’s more challenging to secure weekends off. It’s an ideal schedule for employees with family obligations. The remainder of the week can be fixed or also rotate, depending on your business needs.

Of course, these aren’t the only options for creating rotating schedules. You can always come up with your own ideas to accommodate your employees.

Fixed shifts vs. rotating shifts

Fixed shifts vs. rotating shifts

A fixed shift is a schedule that never changes. Employees come to work at the same time and on the same days each week. Everyone knows when to be at work without looking at the schedule because it doesn’t change, unless they request certain days/times off.

A rotating shift is a schedule that alternates every so often. However, these schedules are typically on a cycle, which makes them more predictable. For example, some alter on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or bi-annual basis.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of rotating schedules.

Pros of rotating shifts

You may find rotating schedules can help your workplace situation. This may be true if you’re looking for the following advantages:

  • Flexible scheduling: This is critical if you have seasons or employee situations that shift on a whim. Being able to accommodate these changes can make your workplace run more smoothly. Now, you just have to determine what type of rotating schedule best suits your business.

  • Share preferred shifts: Most people enjoy being home at night and on weekends. Unfortunately, not everyone can have this type of schedule. This is especially true in retail, healthcare, and hospitality. But with rotating shifts, everyone gets a chance to have preferred days and times off.

  • Improve team engagement: Traditionally, morning shift workers would rarely see or even speak to night shift staff. But that changes when you have rotating shifts. Employees now get an opportunity to work with different team members they otherwise wouldn’t have. It helps increase team engagement and enhance teamwork.

Cons of rotating shifts:

Rotating shifts may seem great at first glance, but there are possible disadvantages you can run into. Here are several:

  • Inconsistent schedules: Some workers like having a particular shift and don’t like the idea of rotating. For example, in a hotel, you may have front desk clerks who prefer the busy nature of morning shifts over slow evening shifts. Rotating shifts place them outside their comfort zone and could cause friction down the line. Others like to know when they’re working to plan for trips or childcare. If your rotating schedules have random cycles vs. set cycles, this will be an issue.

  • Decreased mental/physical health: This is particularly true if you’re working in a setting that requires overnight shifts. One study found the attention and speed of nurses were adversely affected by working the night shift. So it’s recommended that night shift employees have at least two days off in a row to recuperate.

  • Work-life balance issues: If you have students on staff, then during school time, then there are specific times they can’t work. The same may be true for workers with young children. So you’ll have to take this into consideration when rotating shifts. They may not be able to switch their shifts like everyone else, which complicates scheduling. In this case, you’d have to allow a mix of rotating and fixed schedules.

Rotating shift schedule examples

Rotating shift schedule examples

So how should you set up your rotating shift schedule? Here are a few examples to consider.

8-hour rotating schedule

Manage a restaurant or hotel that’s open 24 hours a day? Or maybe it’s only open 16 hours per day. Either way, an 8-hour rotating schedule is a good potential pick. In this scenario, you’d break down each shift into two shifts (morning and night). Or four shifts (morning, afternoon, evening, overnight).

You can then rotate the schedules however often you like. But let’s say it rotates every three days. It would look something like this:

  • 6 am to 2 pm — 2 pm to 10 pm — 10 pm to 6 am

  • 7 am to 3 pm — 3 pm to 11 pm — 11 pm to 7 am

  • 8 am to 4 pm — 4 pm to 12 am — 12 am to 8 am

10-hour rotating schedule

Pitman rotating shift

Here’s a rotating schedule that accommodates 12-hour shifts. It’s similar to the DuPont shift schedule, which rotates from day to night shift on a four-week cycle. Pitman rotates four teams via 12-hour shifts, with employees working no more than three days in a row.

  • It may look like this:

  • Two days on, two days off

  • Three days on, two days off

  • Two days on, two days off

After the cycle completes, daytime workers switch over to the night shift.

5 signs it’s time to switch to a rotating schedule

Why switch to a rotating schedule

As a manager, you want to create schedules that work for both your business and its employees. This way, everyone’s working on days and at times that work best for them. One way to achieve this is with rotating schedules.

How do you know if it’s the right move?

Rotating schedules may be a good option if you notice the following red flags in your business.

1. Reduced employee motivation

Your staff is the lifeblood of your business. And you need to be in tune with how they’re feeling. Have you recently noticed low drive or poor moods among your employees? If yes, rotating shift schedules can help boost that low motivation and create a fair working environment for your team.

  • Focus on your staff’s happiness: Not all workers fancy the 8-4 schedule. Your staff may need to help their kids with school or work shifts at another job. Rotating schedules allows them to work around their personal schedules.

  • Build team morale: Rotating shifts allow employees to know other team members, not just those on their shift.

  • Support equal opportunity for tips: Some people on your team are counting on tips to help pay their bills or pay for their extra food deliveries. Unequal shifts deny some employees the chance to get tips. If your business attracts tips, create rotating shift schedules to create equal opportunities.

2. Problems giving employees time off

How difficult is it to allocate off days? When everyone consistently works the same time, you might have issues when multiple people request leave.

Thankfully, rotating shift schedules can alleviate some of that pressure. Here are just a few ways that rotating schedules can help streamline leave management for your team.

  • Equal opportunity for off-work hours: Balancing work schedules allows all employees equal time to enjoy similar off-work hours with others. Now you’ll be able to manage all of your kitchen staff’s requests — and still have a full staff on hand.

  • Equal distribution of preferred shifts: Different employees have preferred working hours, as well as unsuitable ones. A rotating schedule provides a balance between favorite working hours and the least comfortable ones.

  • Give off during less demanding hours: A rotating schedule allows you to concentrate more effort and talent during peak hours. You can have fewer employees when there are fewer challenging tasks. By implementing a rotating shift schedule, allowing employees off days becomes an effortless task.

3. The word “flexibility” keeps coming up

As regulations continue to change, and your business tries to keep up, flexibility is more important than ever. Rotating shifts provide both you and your employees the flexibility to adjust to changing demands. Here’s how.

  • Fill open gaps in your workforce: When an employee needs time off, finding someone else to fill in becomes easy. Your employees can make room for other critical activities without interrupting workflow. You can even let your staff swap shifts with others in their group.

  • Make auto-scheduling easy: You can easily create templates, so you don’t have to manually create schedules. Rotating shifts, when templatized, are a breeze to coordinate.

  • Help support a healthy workplace: From face masks to sanitizing stations, businesses are upping their health protocols. Rotating schedules give you the flexibility to create a healthy working environment for both your staff and your customers.

4. Your newer staff can use a little extra help

Experienced employees are a powerful resource for any company. However, this experience should pass from one team to another to boost productivity and ensure skill continuity. Scheduling new employees alongside pros helps them gain valuable experience.

  • Spread your talent around: You can rotate employees to have diverse talents during each shift.

  • Onboard your staff easier: Rotating employees in shifts gives them the chance to understand how the company runs at all times. This is important for new employees who are yet to understand various operations.

  • Align your business operations: With a rotating shift schedule, your staff will have more insight into any updated processes or information.

5. You’ve seen productivity dip

In 2020, everyone was stretched thin. And at times, it’s still hard to stay motivated. Throw on top your teams being less productive than usual. If you’re experiencing low output and higher turnover, it’s time to think of rotating shifts. Rotational shifts encourage more accountability and focus.

  • Compare productivity between different groups: Unlike a single schedule, rotating shifts allow you to compare productivity among various teams. It’s easier to detect the best performers, demand signals, and areas that need improvement.

  • Support your around-the-clock operation: With rotating shifts, you can better manage always-on coverage. Those shifts eliminate the lags that come with fixed schedules.

  • Give employees more rest: Fatigue and lack of sleep can be detrimental to your employees’ performance. With rotating schedules, they can still work a regular schedule — and re-energize between shifts.

How to set up a rotating schedule

how to set up a rotating shift

Have an idea of how you want to set up your rotating schedule? Then you’ll find the following tips helpful for getting started:

  • Decide cycle length: How long should it take for your rotating schedule to repeat? It varies depending on your hours of operation. A one-week rotating is ideal if you don’t have overnight shifts. This may be too soon for night workers to get used to daytime hours and vice versa. Consider a longer cycle like four weeks or even every few months if your focus is on seasonality.

  • Create shifts: Decide the hours of each shift. Will it be 8, 10, or 12 hours? How many teams will you rotate? Use this to guide how you set up the shifts. The more teams you have, the more shift variations you can offer (and the longer your cycles will be).

  • Choose a scheduling tool: Once you have the shifts and cycle set up, it’s time to organize it. Scheduling software simplifies creating and sharing shifts with workers. It also helps to automate rotating, so you don’t mistakenly schedule someone’s rotation too soon (or late).

Deputy is a scheduling platform designed for busy managers and HR professionals. It streamlines creating and sharing schedules and even allows employees to request time off.

Enhancing your work schedule

We’re living in a new normal, which means being more flexible with your scheduling. You may find your employees prefer rotating shifts over fixed schedules. If that’s the case, you can use the above tips to set it up in a way that best suits your staff and business goals.

But don’t do it the old-fashioned way — use a scheduling tool to speed up workflows and offer better transparency for everyone.

Ready to get started with rotating schedules? Or maybe you prefer to stick with fixed shifts. Either way, you’ll find Deputy helpful. See for yourself — try Deputy for Free today.

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