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What is a rotating roster? How rotating vs fixed rosters work

What is a rotating roster? 

A rotating roster is a work schedule that varies shifts over a week or month. Instead of working the same hours every day or week, employees work varying shifts that repeat across a set period. For example, an employee might work three morning shifts, have two days off and then work two night shifts. 

How does a rotating roster work? 

A rotating roster works by dividing each day into shifts and assigning those shifts to different employee groups in a pattern. The length of shifts vary depending on the business and its opening hours. A restaurant open from 8 am-12 am may have three overlapping 8-hour shifts each day, while a 24/7 hospital could use 12-hour shift patterns. 

Different types of rotating rosters distribute shifts based on the needs of the business and the employees' preferences. 

What are the different types of rotating rosters? 

The Dupont shift pattern, the Pitman shift pattern and the Panama plan are all types of rotating rosters. Each has its pros and cons, with varying patterns of shift distribution and number of work teams. The type of rotating roster that'll work best for your business depends on your industry, coverage needs and working methods. 

Dupont shift pattern 

The Dupont shift pattern is common in organisations that need round-the-clock staffing, like hospitals and other emergency services, call centres and factories. Using the Dupont method, four employee groups will work 12-hour shifts in an 8-part monthly cycle.

Benefits – employees get a week-long break every month, which many people enjoy.

Disadvantages – employees must work a 72-hour week once a month and only get one day off outside their longer break. Some employees find it difficult to adjust to irregular night shifts. 

Pitman shift pattern

With a Pitman shift pattern, you have 12-hour shifts, four work teams and two-week shift cycles. Over 28 days, teams have two weeks of day shifts, then two weeks of night shifts, getting an equal number of night shifts, days off and total hours. Sometimes called a 2-3-2 schedule, the Pitman roster is common in workplaces that don’t have a traditional 9-5 timetable.

Benefits – because the shift pattern is relatively simple, this kind of roster can be more straightforward for employees to understand and plan for. It gives employees a consistent number of hours — 42 each week — and they’ll never be rostered for more than three days in a row. 

Disadvantages – 12-hour shifts can be exhausting, and the two-week cycles that include multiple night shifts can be difficult for some employees. 

The Panama Plan or 2–2–3  shift pattern

The Panama Plan, also called the 2-2-3 shift pattern, is similar to the Pitman schedule in that it uses four teams and 12-hour shifts. However, the Panama plan works on a four-week cycle, with a two-two-three shift pattern each week. 

Benefits – this type of roster includes three consecutive days off every other week, with no more than three days or nights of work in a row. 

Disadvantages – unlike the Pitman schedule, the Panama requires employees to work up to 62 hours in some weeks, which can be difficult for employees. 

What industries use rotating rosters the most? 

The industries that use rotating rosters most often are retail, hospitality, IT services, call centres, aviation and emergency services — including firefighters, police, ambulances and hospitals.

Essentially, organisations that are open long hours tend to use rotating shifts to ensure they've always got the staff they need. Instead of employees having to work only night shifts or only day shifts, they get a mix of both, along with longer periods off. In industries with long hours and exhausting work, this can help relieve pressure on employees. 

Difference between rotating rosters and fixed rosters 

The main difference between rotating rosters and fixed rosters is that fixed rosters are the same week-by-week while rotating rosters vary across a set period. A fixed roster could have one group of employees on day shifts all the time, another on evening shifts and a third on overnight. Rotating rosters cycle through shift patterns, so every employee does some night shifts and some day shifts. 

What are the advantages of a rotating roster? 

The main advantages of a rotating roster are flexibility for employees and continuous coverage for employers. It's often seen as a fairer rostering method because it distributes less desirable night shifts among all staff.   

Flexible shift patterns 

Rotating rosters include a variety of day shifts, night shifts and days off. The greater flexibility means some days are available for employees to schedule appointments, care for children and do other life tasks, while some evenings are free for social events and family time. 

Improved workplace productivity and ability to extend open hours

When employees have a mix of different shift types and longer periods off, it can help keep them motivated and engaged, boosting productivity

Overlapping shifts and complementary work teams eliminate the delays and coverage gaps that can come with shift changes on fixed rosters, making it easier to maintain 24/7 coverage. 

Because every employee works on every type of shift, rotating rosters can help employees learn different roles on-site, increasing their knowledge. 

What are the disadvantages of a rotating roster? 

The main disadvantages of a rotating roster are a lack of consistency and increased scheduling complexity. 

Inconsistency for employees 

While some employees prefer rotating schedules, some struggle to get used to life without a set routine. Shifting between days on and days off, as well as night shifts and consecutive 12-hour days, can be draining for employees. Some people struggle to manage social events and life admin with a rotating schedule, as they don't have the same days off each week.   

Harder to manage

For employers, rotating shifts can seem more challenging to create and manage than traditional fixed rosters. However, with modern business management software and AI-driven automation, generating an accurate rotating roster is just a matter of a few clicks.  

Set up your timesheets and rotating rosters with MYOB templates 

Setting up timesheets and rosters can be a time-consuming, complicated task for managers and team leads. Rotating rosters can be particularly difficult to manage and maintain, as they may involve hundreds of staff, multiple workgroups and complex shift patterns over several weeks. The stakes are high — you don't want to risk rostering the wrong group or employee and miss coverage when you need it most. 

  • With MYOB templates, rostering, timesheets, and other staff management processes are simple. You can generate rotating rosters for large groups, automate schedule changes, record absences, and keep a complex rotating schedule humming with minimal effort. If you're looking for a way to streamline rostering and shift management in your business, it's the best place to start. 

Ready to change the way you roster? Sign up for your free trial now. 

Rotating roster FAQs

What is the best way to work and organise a rotating roster? 

The best way to work and organise a rotating roster depends on your industry, business size, operating hours and staff preferences. To set up a rotating roster system, it’s essential to use rostering software for implementation and management. Managing a rotating roster with manual processes is complex and time-consuming. 

What is the best rotating shift schedule? 

The best rotating shift schedule depends on the needs of your business and employees. However, research shows that rotating schedules should include no more than three consecutive night shifts, with three days of recovery time afterwards for employee health and well-being. The results also show that 8-hour shifts are better than 12-hour shifts — although this may not be realistic for your industry. 

How many hours is a normal rotating shift? 

The number of hours in a typical rotating shift depends on the shift pattern. Dupont, Pitman and Panama systems all tend to use 12-hour shifts, but some businesses choose to roster people for 8-hour blocks instead. 

Simple, intelligent and flexible employee management with MYOB

With MYOB's business management platform, you can keep track of and manage all things to do with your employees from one system, including contact information, timesheets, rosters, leave and payroll. Start your free trial today.

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