2-2-3 and 2-3-2 Work Schedules: Everything You Need to Know

As a small business owner, providing consistent service with limited staff can feel impossible. 

Shift work is key for 24/7 diners, stores, and gas stations, late-night coffee shops, and round-the-clock healthcare providers. But crafting optimal schedules is a constant struggle. 

Fixed 8-hour shifts may leave you relying on unscheduled overtime or overstaffing to fill in gaps — which will rapidly eat into your margins. A fixed schedule of 12-hour day or night shifts can lead to team fatigue and high turnover. 

That’s where rotating 2-2-3 and 2-3-2 work schedules come in. With strategic, staggered shifts, you can get full team coverage and give your people the time off and work-life balance they need. 

This guide will take you through exactly how these schedules work and how you can start using them in your business — today. Your team, and your bottom line, will thank you. 

The 2-2-3 schedule explained 

Let’s start by looking at how the 2-2-3 work schedule, also known as the Panama schedule, helps solve employee scheduling challenges.

How the 2-2-3 schedule works

The 2-2-3 schedule involves assigning different teams to 28-day-long, repeating shift cycles. 

Shifts are often 12 hours long, but they can be shortened to adapt to your business and its needs.

Usually, you’ll assign four different teams to a 2-2-3 schedule so there are no gaps.  

Each team of employees works in this pattern:

  • 2 consecutive work shifts
  • 2 days off
  • 3 consecutive work shifts
  • 2 days off
  • 2 consecutive work shifts 
  • 3 days off 

Repeat

You’ll stagger different teams to start on different days to make sure you’re covered. For example, Team 1 (day shift) will work Monday and Tuesday, then take Wednesday and Thursday off. Team 2 (day shift) will take Monday and Tuesday off, then work Wednesday and Thursday. Then, Team 1 works Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, while Team 2 takes these three days off. Teams 3 and 4 will work the same pattern but with night shifts.

Businesses that require full 24/7 coverage will usually assign some teams to day shifts and others to night shifts, switching them over every two weeks.

In a round-the-clock health clinic, for example, you could have your day teams working 7 am–7 pm and your night teams relieving them with a 7 pm–7 am shift. After 14 days, the day and night teams will flip.

Businesses that don’t operate 24 hours can overlap team shifts to ensure extra staff at busy times. 

For example, a restaurant that opens 10 am–12 am could have two teams on 10 am–10 pm shifts and two teams on 1 pm–1 am shifts. This would make sure you have extra coverage between 1 pm and 10 pm, during peak lunch and dinner hours. 

If you’re thinking of switching to this kind of schedule, start by using tools like Homebase’s time clock to see where you currently have gaps or unplanned overtime. This might be an indication that you need overlapping or rotating shift schedules.

Benefits of the 2-2-3 schedule for small businesses 

With planning, 2-2-3 schedules can provide optimized staffing for any company’s operating hours.

Here are the main advantages: 

  • The schedule repeats every 28 days, so employees know when they’ll be working in advance and can plan their time. 
  • Shorter alternating two- and three-day blocks reduce burnout.
  • Employees get at least two days off at once.
  • Teams have some light or rest weeks, where they only work two days. 
  • Staggering teams can help prevent overstaffing or understaffing. 
  • 3-day weekend for staff every two weeks.

The 2-3-2 schedule explained

The 2-3-2 work schedule (or the Pitman schedule) is a slight adaptation of the 2-2-3 work schedule.

How the 2-3-2 schedule works

Generally, 2-3-2 shift work involves four teams but follows a 14-day pattern. 

Each of the teams follows a cycle like this:

Week 1:

  • 2 consecutive work shifts
  • 3 days off
  • 2 consecutive work shifts

Week 2: 

  • 2 days off
  • 3 consecutive work shifts
  • 2 days off 

There are fixed Pitman schedules, where the same teams always work days, and the same teams always work nights.

In rotating Pitman schedules, the teams alternate, switching from day to night shift every 14 days. 

So in a rotating schedule, Team 1 (days) works Monday and Tuesday, then takes Wednesday and Thursday off. Team 2 (days) takes Monday and Tuesday off, then works Wednesday and Thursday. Then, Team 1 works Friday, Saturday, and Sunday daytime, while Team 2 takes these three days off. 

Teams 3 and 4 work the same pattern on night shifts. 

After the 14 days, Teams 1 and 2 switch to night shifts, and Teams 3 and 4 switch to working during the day. 

Benefits of the 2-3-2 schedule for small businesses 

Key plus points of the 2-3-2 schedule include: 

  • Like the 2-2-3 schedule, it repeats, which means employees can predict their time on and time off for greater work-life balance. 
  • You can schedule team overlaps at peak hours, preventing understaffing. 
  • Alternating team shifts gives you flexibility and helps with optimizing labor costs.
  • Employees also enjoy short work blocks and 2–3 days off to recover between shifts.
  • Work shifts are spread out more evenly across a 2-week period than with the 2-2-3 schedule.

Choosing and implementing a shift schedule

Choosing the right shift schedule for your business depends on your team’s preferences, your operating hours, and your labor budget.

The 2-2-3 and 2-3-2 work schedules both offer teams fewer working days overall — each employee gets around 15 days off per month, while they’d only get eight if they were working standard 8-hour days. There are other perks for teams, too — not getting stuck in traffic during standard nine-to-five hours, for one! 

Both 2-2-3 and 2-3-2 patterns repeat, which means your team knows in advance when they’ll be working. Both schedules also make sure your people have 2–3 days to recover in between work blocks, preventing burnout.

For small businesses, both schedule types are efficient ways to maximize your teams’ working hours so you can save on employee hiring costs. 

With the 2-2-3 schedule, teams will work just two days one week, followed by five days the next. 

This one might be popular with teams who like alternating heavy work weeks with very light weeks. It also guarantees a three-day weekend every two weeks, which is often appreciated by staff. 

Other employees prefer a more even rota. In this case, the 2-3-2 schedule may work best since teams work three days one week, and four days the next.

You’ll also want to take your own labor costs into account. Most employees, including shift workers, are entitled to overtime if they work over 40 hours in any given week. 

Since the 2-2-3 schedule often involves employees working five 12-hour days in a single week, it may require extra overtime pay. In the 2-3-2 schedule, there’s less built-in overtime — but teams working a four-day week of 12-hour shifts would still work eight hours more than the standard 40 hours. 

Take a look at our full guide to shift work laws to make sure you’re on top of the relevant overtime and time-off requirements. Remember, Homebase gives you access to compliance tools and real HR experts — and our payroll function will automatically calculate overtime, so you can avoid mistakes and feel confident you’re compliant.

Tips for implementing 2-2-3 and 2-3-2 shift schedules

Rolling out fresh shift rotation schedules requires careful planning to support employees and avoid confusion or inconsistent staffing. 

Use these tips for a smooth transition:

  • Clearly present the new shift pattern and its advantages to your employees before you get started. Make sure team leaders or managers are confident on how to explain it to staff and answer questions.
  • Set the schedule well in advance. Give employees at least 4–6 weeks notice to adjust their personal routines.
  • Use color-coded schedules to make the rotating pattern clear at a glance.
  • Make sure your payroll and HR systems are set up for shift-based wage calculations and attendance marking.
  • Ask for feedback from employees in the first few months after switching, and make tweaks where possible based on their opinions.

Optimize your shift schedules

Rotating 2-2-3 or 2-3-2 shift schedules can create lots of flexibility and help you prioritize staff coverage and work-life balance in your small business. 

However, effectively managing non-traditional complex schedules takes serious coordination. 

Homebase’s all-in-one tools for small businesses make the process simple. 

The scheduling feature lets you quickly and easily build customized schedules based on staff availability. You can also adjust schedules on the go, and let your team pick up and trade shifts without stressing to find cover. 

Best of all, Homebase scheduling integrates with time clocks, payroll, and our communication app, which means less paperwork and more time spent taking your team and business to the next level.

Use our tools to build out 2-2-3 or 2-3-2 rosters and give your team flexible shift schedules, without the chaos of coordinating.

FAQs about 2-2-3 and 2-3-2 work schedules

How do you transition an existing shift schedule to 2-2-3 or 2-3-2?

Transitioning your existing schedule to the 2-2-3 or 2-3-2 model requires a gradual, phased approach that will minimize disruptions. 

First, trial run the new schedule with one team and gather employee feedback to address concerns. Then, slowly roll out the change across all staff over several weeks. 

You may need to adjust staffing levels, budgets, handoffs between shifts, and weekend coverage mapping to make the new model work. Make sure your communication is strong throughout. Listen to your team and stay open to adapting the schedule to fit their needs. Give your people time to get used to the change.

 Patience and transparency will ease the transition for both employees and managers.

Is the 2-2-3 or 2-3-2 schedule easier for managers to roll out?

The 2-3-2 schedule tends to be easier for managers to roll out because it has a consistent rotation cycle.

The 2-2-3 schedule requires more active scheduling changes and communication, since it uses a longer 28-day cycle and work days are spread out less evenly across each fortnight (teams generally work around five days one week, two days the next). However, some managers prefer the versatility of the 2-2-3 model even though it takes a bit more planning. 

What are the most common 12-hour shift-work schedules?

Some of the most common 12-hour shift patterns include:

2-2-3 — 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on. Repeat.

2-3-2 — 2 days on, 3 days off, 2 days on. Repeat.

4-4 — 4 days on, 4 days off. Repeat. 

5-5-4 – 5 days on, 5 days off, 4 days on. Repeat.

DuPont — A fixed, four-week cycle involving: 

  • One week of 4 night shifts, 3 days off
  • One week of 3 day shifts, 1 day off, 3 night shifts 
  • One week of 3 days off, 4 day shifts
  • One week fully off. 

To choose the right shift schedule for your business, weigh up the options carefully against your teams’ preferences, your operating hours, and your labor budget. Aim to strike a balance between giving your people enough time off and making sure you have consistent cover.  

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