What Is a Rotating Shift? (With Benefits and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 25, 2022 | Published January 3, 2022

Updated September 25, 2022

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Employers and employees also refer to rotating shifts as swing shifts, with both terms used interchangeably. Companies use swing shifts to optimize their operation and improve efficiency. Those considering a working arrangement with this scheduling typically look to understand what the term means, and how this type of employment relationship is likely to affect other areas of their life. In this article, we discuss what swing shifts are, how they work, the industries that use them, common schedules, the benefits they offer, and tips to negotiate them.

What is a rotating shift?

A rotating shift is a work schedule where the hours and days the employees work change on a rotating basis. For example, an employee may work two morning shifts a week and two evening shifts a week, before having two days off. They're common in industries that require 24-hour or continuous operations. These companies may stop operations only for maintenance and replacement in manufacturing facilities.

Typically, employers aim to distribute shifts fairly among employees. To achieve this, they can use this method of scheduling. Different employers and industries use various swing shift schedules based on their operating hours and operational requirements. This means that most employees work each type of shift over a set period, such as a week or a month.

Related: What is a Night Shift? (With Definition and Tips)

How do they work?

Typically, these types of work schedules divide the hours that the employer requires operational cover into shifts, which the company distributes among employees on a rotating basis. For example, these schedules may result in employees working one night shift, two evening shifts, and two morning shifts, before having two days off or away from the workplace.

Some shifts have a tendency to be more popular than others, so this mechanism enables employers to distribute these shifts evenly among their employees. Schedules are often consistent across specific industries. Most healthcare organizations that require 24-hour or continuous operations, for example, use the same type of schedule.

Industries using this type of scheduling

Swing shifts may reflect the demands of a business, as they use them to plan and execute daily activities on time. Typically, these types of work schedules are common in the following industries:

  • Emergency services: Firefighters, police, and paramedics have rosters where they work a rotating schedule of shifts.

  • Healthcare: Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, midwives, surgeons, pharmacy technicians, and therapists working in support roles in hospitals or other medical care facilities, work on swing shifts.

  • Transportation: Those working as bus and truck drivers, aeroplane and boat pilots, air traffic controllers, and harbour masters work on this scheduling.

  • Manufacturing: Many manufacturers run a 24-hour production schedule that requires employees to cover their operations, such as pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

  • Travel and hospitality: These industries often remain operational 24 hours a day to meet the demands of customers, which affects those employees working at hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and airports.

  • Military: The defence forces work a rotating shift roster to ensure the nation remains safe and the borders secure.

  • Retail: Many retail outlets, such as gas stations and convenience stores, operate 24 hours to meet customer demand.

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Common schedules

There is a range of different schedules that employers use when rostering swing shifts. These schedules may include:

DuPont shift schedule

This shift schedule originated at DuPont. It divides employees into four teams that work 12-hour shifts to a four-week schedule. Each team works on the following schedule:

  • The employees work four consecutive night shifts, then they have three days off duty.

  • The employees work three consecutive days shifts, then they have one day off duty.

  • The employees work three consecutive night shifts, then they have three days off duty.

  • The employees work four consecutive days shifts, then they have seven days off duty.

One of the major advantages of the DuPont schedule is each employee has one period every eight weeks where they have three weekends off duty. The seven days off at the end of each four weeks period allows teams to rest and explore their interests outside of work. Employees may view this as a brief vacation. There can be some weeks when employers work longer than average hours. This scheduling is common in the chemical, power, and manufacturing industries.

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

This schedule first emerged during the 1960s and became popular in the 1980s. Companies saw it as an alternative to the DuPont schedule. It adopts the following pattern:

  • The employees work two consecutive days, then they have two days off duty.

  • The employees work three consecutive days, then they have two days off duty.

  • The employees work two consecutive days, then they have three days off duty.

There is a range of variations to this schedule that consider day and night shifts. It's the schedule that companies use in the oil industry. One of the major advantages of this schedule is that it gives employees a three-day weekend every 14-day cycle. Employees know this system as the EOWEO (each other weekend off) schedule.

Four on four off

This schedule has employees working four days or nights at the workplace and then four days or nights away from the company. The time a team stays on nights or days may vary. Some organizations adopt a 24-day cycle, while others choose an eight days cycle. Shifts are 12 hours long and, like the DuPont schedule, employees have three weekends in a row off duty, once every eight weeks.

The four-day recess is sufficient time for the employee to rest up while giving them time with families. It's important that employees record their days on and off duty, as the schedule is not in line with the seven days of the week.

Southern swing schedule

The southern swing schedule divides employees into four teams that the company organizes to work across three eight-hour shifts. Each team rotates through the following sequence over 28 days:

  • The employees work seven consecutive days shifts, then they have two days off duty.

  • The employees work seven consecutive afternoons or evening shifts, then they have two days off duty.

  • The employees work seven consecutive night shifts, then they have three days off duty.

The major advantage of this schedule is that employees work shorter eight-hour shifts, but it can require adjustments to the shorter eight-hour day if they're coming from a job that uses a 12-hour shift scheduling method. The trade-off for shorter shifts is fewer days away from the workplace.

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Benefits of swing shifts

Swing shifts can offer benefits to both employees and employers:

Employers

For employers, the use of swing shifts helps them ensure their operation can operate over a 24-hour period. The benefits of this scheduling may include:

  • increases efficiency and productivity through operating continuously and not having to shut down and restart every 24 hours

  • promotes fairness by employing an equal division of employee shifts

  • increases the employee's knowledge of how the organization operates

  • ensures that the necessary skill set is available on each shift

  • increases customer convenience

  • helps members of teams develop relationships with others on their team, which promotes a productive atmosphere and a friendly working environment

  • increases efficiency during the hours that customers are unlikely to be present

Employees

For employees, the benefits of working a swing shift schedule may include:

  • allows team members to meet the people on their team.

  • reduces commute times during peak traffic hours.

  • provides a fair mix and distribution of popular and less popular shifts.

  • helps develop the skills of the team members by having them perform different skills during different shifts.

  • provides extended periods of time off rather than the traditional weekend.

Tips associated with swing shifts

The following tips aim to assist employers and employees using this scheduling:

  • Employees may adjust easier to the changing shifts if the employer rotates them from day or evening to night shifts. The change can be harsher if employers rotate them from night to evening or day shifts.

  • Employees may adjust easier to the changing shifts if they receive plenty of advanced notice regarding their shift schedules.

  • Employees may benefit from information or education regarding how to transition between shifts successfully. This includes information relating to changing sleep patterns, sleeping during the day, and other factors that influence their ability to recuperate.

  • Employees may benefit from an improved work environment if employers are flexible and allow employees to swap shifts with coworkers. Although, it may be necessary to have guidelines in place to ensure that each shift maintains the required skill set.

  • Employees may benefit from a fair policy of shift assignment if the company enforces shift start times to ensure that shifts don't extend beyond the scheduled eight or 12 hours.

  • Employees may appreciate employers that consider their shift preferences when creating the work schedule. There are often employees who prefer to work the less popular shifts.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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