Shift Schedules: Everything You Need to Know as a Supervisor

by Katie Sawyer, 9 minutes read
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Do you consider yourself an organized shift manager? If you're like some, you struggle with managing your employees' days (let alone scheduling tasks weeks in advance). Maybe you’re finding that your processes are slow or inefficient.

Or the type of schedule you use is no longer viable.

Whether you’re new to scheduling or you’ve been at it for years, you’ll want to pay attention. Continue reading for tips and best practices to improve schedules in your workplace.

What are shift schedules?

 What are shift schedules

A shift schedule is the list of times and days an employee works each week or month. In some organizations, it's a document pinned to the wall. And in others, it's a to-do list in a project management tool.

However you post it, your shift schedule includes a list of all your employees and their scheduled workdays. Most shift schedules are weekly, but can sometimes extend to a year.

Managers can use different types of shift schedules depending on the industry, company hours, and staff size.

Shift schedules help managers and employees prepare for what's ahead (especially during seasonal upticks in business).

The 10 most common types of shift work schedules every manager should know

common shift schedules

A work schedule that works in one business may not work in another. This is why you'll find various methods used across industries. But there’s a shift happening among companies, since the pandemic.

Eighty-seven percent of organizations changed how they write schedules. And flexible schedules are a top priority to attract talent.

Here’s a list of the various types of shifts you can use to make your workplace more enticing to workers.

1. Fixed shift schedules

In a fixed schedule, workers have set hours for their shifts. This type of schedule is effective if you need consistency (like in health and hospitality) throughout the day.

Fixed schedules also allow managers to make long-term plans and calculate labor costs.

However, don’t forget that this scheduling method doesn't account for unexpected events like weather conditions or employee absences. So if something happens during a shift, it may lead to staffing issues.

2. Split shift schedules

A split shift schedule is when an employee works two different shifts in one day. For instance, the worker may arrive at 9 a.m., leave at 3 p.m., and return at 10 p.m. until midnight.

This is a common type of work schedule for school bus drivers. It's ideal since the bus driver is only needed to drive students to and from school.

This may also work in other industries like retail, healthcare, and hospitality. And it's a good alternative to 12-hour shifts (if your workers prefer shorter hours).

Just make sure to abide by your state's regulations since some dictate the minimum amount of time in between shifts.

3. Overtime shift schedules

An overtime shift occurs when employees work over 40 hours in a workweek. You can schedule overtime using either straight or split shifts. Split shifts allow workers to have some flexibility while still getting paid for hours worked beyond 40.

If you want to avoid paying overtime, consider using a standard shift schedule instead.

4. Rotating shift schedules

With this schedule, you’re rotating workers’ shifts regularly. So one week, they may in the morning, and then evenings the next week. What makes rotating shifts attractive is that they allow employees to take turns getting weekends (and other favorable days or times) off.

5. On-call shifts

on-call shifts

This is similar to a rotating shift, except it only occurs on an as-needed basis. On-call shifts are helpful for when someone calls in sick and needs a replacement.

It can also work in a healthcare setting. For example, if you're running a health clinic, you can have several nurses on call in case of an emergency.

These shifts are typically short-term and last as long as the need exists. Some restaurants will have a mix of fixed and on-call shifts during holiday seasons.

They allow managers to have some control over staffing levels without bringing on full-time workers.

6. Standard shift

A standard shift has a set time for when employees arrive and leave the workplace. This type of schedule can also include lunch breaks, which are scheduled during the shift.

You can set it up as fixed, rotating, or other scheduling formats.

7. Unpredictable work schedule

Unpredictable work schedules are used in companies needing flexibility for workers. This schedule allows employees to come to work anytime during the day or evening.

The downside? It takes some planning and coordination between both parties before this type of schedule becomes effective. If there aren't enough resources available to accommodate unpredictable scheduling needs, then it won't work out.

8. Seasonal

seasonal work shift schedules

Seasonal workers typically work one season at a time. This includes farmers who grow crops year-round, landscapers who maintain gardens throughout the entire year, and seasonal retail stores like Christmas tree lots and pumpkin patches.

The main benefit of having a seasonal work schedule:

There’s less need for planning ahead since everything happens within a specific timeframe.

9. Flexible

Flexible work schedules offer some flexibility with work arrangements between the employee and employer. For example, you may have sales agents work from home several days out of the week. Or allow workers to switch the days they have off each week and month.

10. Compressed workweek

The compressed workweek schedule allows workers to reduce their total number of working days per pay period while still receiving full compensation. This type of schedule reduces the overall workload without lowering wages.

Scheduling issues to avoid

Scheduling mistakes can be costly.

If you're using outdated spreadsheets for scheduling instead of modern software, then you're likely feeling the pain already. The long hours spent preparing timesheets and ensuring everyone is notified of their shifts eat up the majority of your time.

But you can avoid this by upgrading to a scheduling software.

This is just one problem you may face now or in the future. Here are a few others to be aware of.

Sudden no-shows

No-shows hurt production levels, but there's no way to prevent them. Flu season kicks in, car accidents happen, and traffic can cause delays. What do you do about them?

The next best thing is to have a backup plan. Or better yet, backup employees who can fill in for others when they don't show. Consider the potential of something happening based on the time of year, the employee's home situation, and other factors outside of your control.

See who has more flexibility and availability to jump in when the need arises.


Patients are lined up. Customers are getting impatient. And it's all because your staffing levels are low. This is concerning, especially in medical facilities that rely on emergency personnel. When a hospital or clinic employs too few people, they end up working overtime without compensation. This can lead to burnout, stress, and increased turnover.

So at the first sign of understaffing, hire more full-time or part-time workers. In hospitality, retail, and restaurant industries, it's common to use staffing agencies to fill roles on a whim.

Fair shift distribution

fair shift distribution

You have your star employees who perform well under any circumstance. So you're inclined to put them on the schedule more often than you should. Doing this creates an unfair shift distribution, which can hurt employee loyalty.

Not only do you run the risk of overworking employees. There's a chance of losing workers who want more days and hours. So if someone works more than 8 hours a day 5 times a week, then it's time to cut back.

Simplify shift allocation

It happens more often than you'd like.

There's an influx of business and more hours to go around. But not everyone's up for the extra work. Since no one's volunteering, you'll have to allocate the time yourself.

Using scheduling software, it's easier to see everyone's availability and roles. This way, you can quickly assign days and times for each worker without disrupting their work-life balance.

Avoid making any assumptions about what kind of workloads your team members prefer. Ask them in advance and make a note for future reference.

What are the keys to effective scheduling?

Even if you're using a scheduling tool, there are best practices to follow. Here's an overview of how to make your process more effective.

Plan shifts based on peak times

The industry you're in will determine when peak times occur. Some are more predictable than others. For instance, in retail, there's always an uptick around the holidays. And the same goes for hotels and restaurants. They may also see an increase in guests during summer and spring when school is out.

But for hospitals and clinics, there's a mix—you have predictable and unpredictable moments. For example, flu season occurs around the same time each year. So you can expect an increase in office visits during this time.

Then there are scenarios like COVID-19, which came out of the blue and hammered the healthcare industry.

The idea is to make plans for potential increases in demands from patients, guests, and customers. This way, you're not caught off guard with inadequate employee shift schedules.

Arrange shifts around your best workers

It's not about favoring one group of employees over another. The goal is to recognize the skills each worker has and how to best use them. For instance, scheduling your fastest bussers for summer evenings when you're bombarded with guests.

Or giving certain employees night shift who don't have children or other obligations that prevent them from working at this time.

If you have an employee whose skills are well suited to certain tasks, make sure to schedule around them. This ensures their talents aren't wasted. Do your best to allocate shift times to keep employees happy with their workload.

Regularly reevaluate your schedule

shift schedules for work

Relying on the same type of schedule for years can work. But as your business grows and needs change, so should your scheduling. This is why we recommend reevaluating it regularly.

You'll notice it's time for a change if there are frequent issues regarding no-shows, burnout, or turnover.

So how often should you evaluate your employee schedule?

Every six months or whenever new hires come aboard. If you're hiring someone new, ask them what days and hours they'd like to work. Then check whether these preferences match up with your current schedule.

Be flexible with your scheduling

You never want to force employees to follow a rigid schedule they don't like. Not being flexible could cost you a few of your best talent (especially with more companies adopting flexible work schedules).

But how flexible should you be? It depends.

If remote work is out of the question, then consider allowing an on-call, split, or rotating shift schedule.

Publish your retail schedule with plenty of lead time

Don't wait until the last minute to put up your schedule. This prevents shift workers from making plans around their shift. It also makes it harder to determine availability, which means more no-shows and absentees.

Be early and be transparent. With the right software platform, you can automate scheduling, and everyone has access to it immediately.

Simplify your employee scheduling process

Scheduling work for employees shouldn't be dreadful. Nor should it eat up your productivity hours. By having an efficient process for creating schedules, you can spend more time managing your teams.

Give these tips a try to see which schedule types work best for your workers.

And if you need help organizing it all, then try Deputy for free today.

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