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What Is a Rotating Schedule & Who Is It Good For?

Pros and cons of rotational scheduling

Woman working at a coffee shop

By Abbey Slattery

What is a rotating schedule?

There are generally two kinds of work schedules: 

  • A fixed schedule, which means you go in at the same time or for the shifts every week (for example: 4 p.m. to 12 a.m, Monday–Friday)

  • A rotating schedule, which means you work shifts on a rotating basis (for example, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. for one week, then 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. the following week)

How common are rotating schedules?

Rotating schedules are common in industries like healthcare and hospitals; protective services like police, fire, and emergency medical services; hospitality services like hotels and food service; and transportation services like trucking and airlines. 

Rotational schedules are ideal for any business or organization that needs workers beyond the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In hospitality and food service, where employees earn tips, a manager might use a rotating schedule in order to keep work hours as fair as possible—giving employees an equal shot at working the coveted dinner shifts where bills are higher and therefore tips are higher too.

Read more: The 20 Best Companies for Flexible Work Hours

Types of rotating schedules

There are several variations to the rotational schedule besides the night-and-day switch. A few other common rotation schedules include:

The Pitman shift schedule

This form of rotational schedule means employees get every other weekend off, typically composed of 12-hour shifts in the pattern of two shifts on then two days off, three shifts on then two days off, and two shifts on then three days off. 

DuPont shift schedule

A 12-hour shift in the pattern of four shifts on then three days off, three shifts on then one day off, three shifts on then three days off, and four shifts on then seven days off.

The 2-2-3-2 2-3 rotating shift schedule

A variation of the Pitman schedule, uses 12-hour shifts with the pattern of two shifts on then two shifts off, three shifts on then two shifts off, and two shifts on and three shifts off, and so on. After the cycle is complete, workers switch from day to night and vice versa. 

Read more: What Flextime Is & Why You Should Have It

The pros of a rotational schedule

  • Can make it easier to schedule child care and family care services or other household duties because employees know which shifts they will be responsible for in advance.

  • For workers who rely on tips, a rotating schedule ensures that they’ll get an equal share of shifts during the busiest hours, ensuring more tips.

  • By working different times during the day and doing different tasks, employees gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of the job and can fulfill training requirements.

  • It shares the load of rush hours so workers don’t get overloaded and can have some weekends off.

The cons of a rotating schedule

  • Some employees may prefer a consistent schedule instead of one that rotates all the time. 

  • Rotating schedules can make it hard to attend school or other educational training that operates on a fixed schedule.

  • Working long, 12-hour shifts can exhaust or overwhelm workers, affecting safety and productivity. 

  • Employees on rotational schedules often get fewer hours of sleep than workers on a fixed schedule. 

  • Long work hours can increase your risk of obesity, injuries, and chronic diseases.

Read more: What Are Part-Time Hours in the U.S.?

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