Shift patterns at work

5 min read  |   12 May, 2022   By Aimee Brougham-Chandler

A woman is working at a coffee shop and is taking two customers orders. She is holding a notepad and a pen.

What different shift patterns are possible in the workplace?

If you’re creating a new rota, you may be unsure how to organise your staff in a way that works for them and your workplace. At Breathe we know an effective rota helps ensure your staff are fresh, motivated and happy.

To help you create the perfect rota, we explore the different shift patterns available, and help you identify which style will suit the staff in your workplace.

Two-shift pattern

Four on, four off shift pattern

Staggered day shift pattern

Weekend work

Night shifts

Twilight and evening work

What is a continental shift pattern?

What is a Panama shift pattern?

How to work out shift patterns with ease

Two-shift pattern

One of the most common shift patterns, the two-shift pattern will rotate two members of staff between:

  • 6am-2pm
  • 2pm-10pm

One will work the morning shift, while the other will work the evening. You can rotate this once a week, but depending on what best suits your staff, they might only want to change once a month or even a quarter.

How to implement a successful two-shift pattern

It is always best to discuss with staff what suits them. This will help keep their shift rotation as routine as possible and encourage staff to develop a healthy work-life balance.

For instance, an employee may enjoy working evening shifts because they better suit their lifestyle. In this case it would be beneficial to schedule them alongside someone who would prefer morning shifts.

By balancing the needs of your employees in such a way you can create a strong work culture, encouraging the very best out of your staff. 

Four on, four off shift pattern 

In industries like healthcare and hospitality, the four on, four off shift pattern may suit the needs of the workplace, while also providing ample recovery time for employees. 

It works by asking staff members to work four 12-hour shifts in a row, followed by a four-day break before their next “on” period. Following the rest period, they can then work four 12-hour night shifts in a row again. A four on, three off shift pattern uses essentially the same approach, but with less rest days in between the four days working.

Similar to that of the two-shift pattern, with a four on, four off shift pattern it’s key to ask staff if they have a preference for night or day shifts. Although it is always best to provide a balance, by partnering a night owl with someone who prefers to work days, a happy compromise can be made.

Staggered day shift pattern

Working best as part of a two or three-week cycle, a staggered day shift pattern consists of five eight-hour days over the course of a week. Days off are then set differently for members of staff. 

This ensures there is always weekend cover—making it a particularly useful shift pattern for those working in retail.

Communication is key with staggered day shifts

Due to the nature of a staggered day shift pattern, it’s vital you communicate shifts well ahead of time. This then gives staff ample opportunity to plan how to best use their rest periods. 

A predictive scheduling system is the simplest way to manage a staggered day shift pattern. This puts the onus on the employer to make sure all staff know their shift patterns at least two-weeks ahead of schedule. 

Weekend work

If a staggered shift pattern is not enough to match how busy your workplace is at the weekend, a dedicated weekend shift pattern can be implemented instead. 

A weekend rota pattern assigns a 12-hour shift to an employee over the course of a weekend. In this situation the employee will only work on weekends. This can be used in combination with a weekly shift rotation to give Monday to Friday workers a full weekend off.

Night shifts

Ideal for some, but not for everyone, a night shift is often employed in industries where there is still demand for their service at night. 

Night shifts sometimes come with extra pay due to the unsociable hours but can suit some staff members' lifestyles. They usually follow a Monday to Friday pattern, with a typical night shift starting at 10pm and finishing at 6am the next day.

This can be supplemented with dedicated weekend night staff to give the weekday employees time off. 

Twilight and evening work

Some industries require afternoon and evening opening hours, with evening shifts usually set between 5pm-10pm or close. This is standard in hospitality and service, where bars and restaurants can open until late.

It is essential to communicate rotas ahead of schedule with an evening shift pattern, as finding a last-minute replacement staff member for an evening can be difficult. Understandably, staff not pencilled in to work could already be using the evenings to relax or be out socialising. 

Taking advantage of rota scheduling software can help you avoid this kind of issue. For example, Breathe's Rota, Time & Attendance tool allows schedulers to plan weeks in advance and easily communicate any shift changes amongst employees in moments.

What is a continental shift pattern?

Although the continental shift pattern can apply to most continuous shift pattern styles, it specifically refers to a system which employs a set of consecutive shifts. This can include seven eight-hour shifts or four twelve-hour shifts. 

The pattern of shifts starts with mornings, moves through to afternoons, and finishes with night shifts. This allows fluid rotation between other members of staff. A continental shift will then be followed by two or three days’ rest, which will provide suitable recovery time for your employees. 

What is a Panama shift pattern?

The Panama shift pattern is a slow rotation style, using four teams across two twelve-hour shifts. This shift pattern provides complete coverage over a 24-hour period, seven days a week. 

A great shift style for the healthcare industry, the working and non-working days include: 

  • Two days on
  • Two days off
  • Three days on
  • Two days off 
  • Two days on 
  • Three days off

Each team will work the same rotation for 28 days before switching over with another team. One will work days, the other nights, then will switch. 

Work out shift patterns with ease

If you’re looking to create a rota to help manage your workplace shift patterns, why not try Breathe's Rota, Time & Attendance tool? Choose the shift pattern style you want and plan shifts weeks in advance.

Thanks to easy edit access, staff notifications and many more useful features, Rota, Time & Attendance makes it easy to create shift patterns that work for everyone.

simple rota software for SMEs cta image



Author: Aimee Brougham-Chandler

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues & helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

Back to listing

Sign up to get the latest HR and people management insights straight to your inbox