Best Practices
August 3, 2021
min read

A guide to rotating shift implementation

Mariya Ivanova
Digital Strategist, Soon

If you manage a team in an industry that keeps going outside of the 9-5, you should consider implementing a rotating shift system. It may seem like a daunting thing to implement, but with the right software - such as Soon - it couldn't be easier to do.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • What a rotating shift system is
  • The different types of rotating shift systems
  • The benefits of a rotating shift schedule
  • How to implement a rotating shift schedule at your workplace

What is a rotating shift?

In its simplest terms, a rotating shift schedule is one where an employee’s shifts change from month to month or even week to week. Instead of having a set weekly routine, staff members will do different hours each day, typically having different days off each week. This type of shift work is common in jobs that don’t have 9-5 hours.

Rotating shift vs fixed shift

The opposite of a rotating shift is a fixed shift. The best example of a fixed shift schedule is a typical 9-5 office job. Employees have the same hours every week, and their schedule only changes in exceptional circumstances.

Types of rotating shift

Rotating shift is an umbrella term that covers several different types of schedules. These are outlined below.

Frequent schedule

A frequent schedule is one whereby the shifts rotate frequently, usually week by week. This means that an employee taking more of the less desirable shifts one week - such as the night shift - can expect to have more favourable shifts the following week. Sharing the undesirable shifts equally helps to foster team cohesion and morale.

Slow schedule

This is similar to a frequent schedule, but the shifts rotate much less often. Instead, employees will stay on the same schedule for a period of weeks or months before their schedule changes. So, for example, an employee could have a month of night shifts, followed by a month of day shifts.

This has the benefit of sharing undesirable shifts while also allowing colleagues to have a degree of routine. Frequent schedules can be chaotic and do not allow employees to settle into a daily routine. There’s a certain level of predictability with a slow schedule that employees can appreciate.

Weekend schedule

If your employees frequently have to work weekends, it’s worth implementing a weekend schedule. This shares out all of the weekend shifts equally so that each of your employees get the same amount of weekends off.

Fixed & rotating schedule hybrid

Choosing your scheduling system isn’t a binary choice. Some workplaces choose to create a hybrid model, whereby some staff have the same fixed shifts every week and others are on a rotating shift schedule. Using Soon, this is something that the Dutch Chamber of Commerce have applied to coordinate their customer service and special advisory departments to regularly answer different types of queries businesses across the Netherlands have.

This could also be particularly useful if you have busy days - such as weekends in the hospitality industry - and you need extra cover on those days. Your full-time staff could be on a rotating schedule, while part-time staff could be on a fixed schedule to help cover the busier days.

Benefits of a rotating shift schedule

A rotating shift schedule has many benefits for staff and management alike. These are detailed below.

Keeps the business running 24/7

From a management point of view, this is by far the greatest benefit. If your company requires its staff to work unconventional hours - such as the night shift, or late evenings - a rotating shift schedule is an excellent way to achieve this. It means you can keep the lights on at all hours without staff having to either regularly work graveyard shifts every single week.

Staff learning & development

By implementing a rotating shift schedule, you can distribute your most talented employees’ shifts across the weekly schedule. This means that you can have at least one of your top performers working at any given time, while also keeping your business open at all hours.

On the other hand, this also means that your less experienced employees get to work with your top performers, helping them gain new experience and skills. Equally, ensuring that all staff are required to work different shifts throughout the week gives your staff more varied experience, which will help them develop into well-rounded professionals.

Staff morale and productivity

Sharing out the shifts fairly can also create a sense of camaraderie among your employees, which can further boost staff morale and consequently lead to improved productivity. 

How to implement a rotating shift schedule

#1. Define the workday in different sections

The first thing to do is to break the working day up into shift-sized chunks. So for example, if your company is open 24 hours a day, you could split up the shifts like so, and only expect a member of staff to work one shift a day maximum:

  • 10am - 6pm - Day Shift
  • 6pm - 2am - Evening Shift
  • 2am - 10am - Night Shift

Keep these splits consistent so that your staff instinctively know what hours you’re asking them to work if you say they’re on a day, evening, or night shift. Here’s an example of how you can do this using Soon.

A 3 shift rotating schedule setup as basis

#2. Follow a pattern

Next, you need to work out a shift pattern to follow. Here is an example, based on a company that has three employees, with only one required in at any given time:

Week one

  • Colleague A - Day Shifts
  • Colleague B - Evening Shifts
  • Colleague C - Night Shifts

Week two

  • Colleague  A - Night Shifts
  • Colleague B - Day Shifts
  • Colleague C - Evening Shifts

Week three

  • Colleague A - Evening Shifts
  • Colleague B - Night Shifts
  • Colleague C - Day Shifts

Week four

  • Repeat the cycle from week one

This is a very simple example, but you should be able to see how a rotating shift pattern works in practice. Across three weeks, colleagues A, B, and C all had to do the day shift, the evening shift, and the night shift.

Of course, this pattern will not work in practice for most companies. There are far too many variables at most businesses to make it practical. However, with a workforce management tool, you can follow shift patterns in an overview that shows how many people are working in a certain shift and which schedules overlap.

Create a week template to copy paste shifts from one week to another

There is also a variety of predefined patterns that you can look into, including:

  • The 2 shift model
  • Staggered shifts
  • 6-4 6-4 6-4 schedule
  • 4-3 ten hour schedule
  • 5-3 5-4 5-3 schedule

The pattern you choose will depend on the type of business you run, so it’s worth doing some research into different ones before making a decision.

With 3 different rotations you can have an effective rotating schedule

#3. Leave enough time between shifts for staff to rest

As a rule of thumb, if you’ve had a member of staff in for a shift, you shouldn’t be asking them to come back in until 24 hours after their last shift began. While it may be tempting to schedule staff in for a run of shifts with little time between them, this is a bad idea. Failing to follow this rule will result in tired, demotivated staff, and may even be illegal depending on where your business operates.

#4. Encourage shift swaps

The ever-changing nature of a rotating schedule means that staff can sometimes struggle to fit work and their personal life together. For example, they could have made plans before they got their rota, only to subsequently find out they can’t do them because they’re booked in to work. Actively encouraging shift swapping is a great way of avoiding this problem, helping to keep morale high, and allowing your staff a greater work-life balance.

If a lot of staff interaction revolves around shift management, then it’s worth investing in a workforce management tool that allows users to message each other. For instance, here’s how users can swap shifts using the messaging function on Soon.

#5. Schedule well in advance

Scheduling shifts in advance will allow your employees to plan around them. If you don’t plan in advance, you’ll end up with disgruntled employees that are burned out and frustrated by the fact that you’re assigning shifts at the last minute.

#6. Use specialist software

Many managers use spreadsheet software such as Excel or Sheets to manage their team’s shifts. However, this is a labour-intensive process. By using specialist employee scheduling software, you can save hours of time each week.

Soon is an employee scheduling software that allows managers to schedule shifts quickly and easily. It is updated in real time, so both staff and management can keep track of who is meant to be in and when at all times.

It also helps to declutter your inbox, keeping all discussions about shifts and leave in the in-app messaging system rather than your email inbox. Soon is trusted by leading Dutch corporations Lynx, Knab and the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK).

Implement a rotating shift schedule today with Soon

With Soon, you can have a rotating shift schedule ready to go in minutes. To start your free trial with Soon, click here.

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