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What Does Rotating Schedule Mean?

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Many types of work schedules exist today—far more than the traditional 40-hour full-time schedule of 9 to 5 day for five weekdays. The type of schedule chosen by each employer depends on the kind of work they do and the work environment. Along with rotating shifts and fixed work shifts, there are also full-time and part-time jobs available, letting you choose how much time to spend with your children and family, and when.

What Is a Rotating Schedule?

A rotating schedule is also called shift work. It’s when you work one set schedule and then change to another at some point in time that has usually been predetermined. Rotating schedules can be part of a part-time or full-time position, depending on how much work there is at a particular company.

Many different jobs use rotating shifts so workers are completing tasks 24/7, including manufacturing plants that want to keep production going as much as possible. Other professions with rotating schedules include roadwork crews, hospitals and utility company repair. In all of these scenarios, workers are needed around the clock to perform the services at all times of the day and night, no matter what the day of the week happens to be.

Rotating Eight-Hour Shifts

Rotating eight-hour shifts are used to cover the 24-hour period of each day and night, Monday through Friday. This type of shift is usually used by companies that are closed on weekends.

The first shift is the earliest of the day and it starts around 8 a.m.; you work eight hours a day with some breaks, including lunch. This is the preferred shift for parents who need to get their children to school or daycare in the mornings before work, pick them up afterward and sleep at night.

The second shift starts when the first shift ends, or overlaps, so there is no lag time between shifts. It usually starts at about 4 p.m. and lasts for eight hours with breaks included. Working this shift will have you leaving work around midnight, so night owls may prefer it.

The third shift generally starts at the end of the second shift, around midnight. It usually ends at about 8 a.m. and is also called a graveyard shift. Many employers offer an increased pay rate for this—the least desired shift among employees. It is hard to work this shift and take care of little ones without dependable help, and you may have little time for a social life due to the wake-sleep cycle.

How a 2-2-3 Shift Works

This type of shift has many variations, so the company can utilize four crews of workers with two 12-hour shifts for 24/7 coverage in a company. It rotates the different crews through day shifts, night shifts and off-duty days.

For example, a 2-2-3 shift for one work crew may be working two day shifts, then two days off duty and then three day shifts consecutively. The next week, the crew would remain working the day shift in the same manner and then the following week change to the same sequence, but work the night shift for 12 hours a day. This will normally last for another week to make up a month’s work, or 28 days on the schedule. This is considered a slow rotation schedule, so it's easier to adapt to the changes than if the days and night rotate quickly.

This type of shift can be a bit hard to get used to, but you would work about 42 hours a week, including two hours of overtime pay. The sequence also gives you a three-day weekend twice a month; if you take two vacation days in a two-day work week, you get seven days off in a row. You also only work three consecutive days at the most at any time.

What Does Rotating Mean in a Job?

Other types of rotating shifts occur in the workplace. Traditional rotating schedules are when an employee changes from one shift to another each week. Slow-rotation shifts may have employees change to new shifts from two weeks to monthly or even yearly at the extreme.

Partial rotating shifts have only a portion of a crew rotating between shifts, leaving some of the crew staying on a fixed shift at all times. Oscillating shifts more commonly have two separate shifts that rotate back and forth between two schedules, while the third shift remains on a fixed schedule permanently.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rotating Shifts

When trying to decide if you want to accept a job with rotating shifts, you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages to see if it will fit into your schedule.

Advantages on a rotating schedule include the following:

  • All workers get equal exposure to the day shift, including managers, engineers and other office personal who may not be present for a night shift.
  • All workers get exposure to all shifts and have to cover the least desirable ones as well, such as weekends or nights. Senior workers are dispersed evenly in the crews to balance the skill level on all shifts.
  • There is no duplicate training when shift work is included, because all workers rotate through the day shift where they are likely trained by managers.
  • Equal exposure to all shifts gives all employees an equal amount of skill, so each crew performs more uniformly.

Disadvantages of a rotating schedule include the following:

  • Crews are not all identical, and some shifts require more products to be produced or may have unbalanced workloads, placing stress on some workers.
  • It is hard for the body to acclimate to changing schedules, especially if the rotation schedule is quick, such as weekly.