How to make a shift schedule: everything you need to know

Shift schedules are tricky things. There are so many types of shift schedules, where’s a business owner to start?

In this article, we explain what a shift schedule is, give examples of the businesses who use them, share some statistics every business owner needs to know, and take a deep dive into the types, components, and steps of a shift schedule.

Let’s figure out what type of shift work schedule works best for your business.

What is a shift schedule?

A shift schedule––or a shift worker’s schedule––is just a way to schedule employees in different rotations. This means that your business has coverage for every hour it’s open.

A shift schedule helps you manage your resources, maintain good customer service, and increase efficiency in your business.

What businesses use shift schedules? 

There are lots of businesses that use shift schedules. The most common businesses are those with hours outside of ‘normal’ 9-5 hours. Let’s look at a list of businesses that typically use shift schedules.

1. Restaurants and bars

Depending on the type of restaurant, hours can vary greatly. Does your restaurant serve breakfast and brunch? You’ll need coverage for early morning shifts for cooks and servers. If your restaurant does late-night bottle service, you’ll need staff to stay until liquor service ends. Want to run a 24/7 diner-style restaurant? Yup—you’re going to need people to work those night shifts.

2. Hospitals and healthcare

A hospital needs to have staff on 24/7 to ensure all patients are being monitored. This means scheduling nurses, doctors, care attendants, techs––and many more employees––on rotation. But hospitals aren’t the only healthcare space that needs rotating schedules. Personal care workers in palliative care and retirement residences will work shift work. Healthcare’s one of the most common areas where you see shift work schedules.

3. Hotels

When your customers rely on hospitality staff to make their stay comfortable, you’re going to need employees on site. Whether it’s the front desk or housekeeping, a variety of employees will need to work shift work to keep the hotel running smoothly. This is a prime example of needing to schedule shift work for your employees in order to provide amazing customer service.

4. Salons

Salons need to have extended hours in order to serve their clients. Most people can’t take a day off work to get their hair done. Evenings and weekends are just par for the course for salon staff and hair stylists. Different shift work schedules will rule the salon floor for many salon managers. Making sure there’s as much coverage as possible during those busy hours will increase your profitability big time! 

5. Retail

The same rules apply for retail stores as salons; most people aren’t shopping in the middle of the day. They head to the mall or to their favorite store after a long day or week at work. You’ll need staff to cover those busy after-work hours for your shoppers. If you’re understaffed due to a bogus shift schedule, you’re asking to lose out on sales.

There are many other businesses that use different shift work schedules––transportation, call centers, security––but the reasons are always the same. Is your business covered when it needs to be, to the degree it needs to be? If not, you need to look into shift schedules.

Benefits of shift work schedules 

We’ve given a couple of reasons why shift work schedules are the way to go for businesses, but let’s really dig into the benefits of shift schedules––for employers and employees.

1. It gives your employees flexibility

If your workforce is made up mostly of students or parents, you’re going to have a huge hiring advantage because shift work equals flexibility. Students can work shifts around their school schedule, while parents can work around daycare or school hours. Parents can also work around busy after-school activities and birthday parties while students can work around time spent with friends and their passions outside of work. Being able to be present in their lives outside of work means happier employees. Happier employees can lead to higher profits.

Shift work flexibility really is a win/win for employees and employers.

Homebase offers a scheduling tool for employees to easily submit time off requests. Never accidentally book a shift work employee during their time off again.

2. Allows you to stay compliant––while increasing profits

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) has strict rules around scheduling. The FSLA regulates hours worked and overtime hours––something’s bound to happen if you don’t have rotating shift schedules. 

Let’s say you are a restaurant that serves brunch on Saturdays and stays open late until liquor service is over. This means you could be scheduling people from 6 am to 3 am. It would be illegal to have an employee work that entire shift––you need shift workers to split that up. 

Having a rotation of servers and cooks allows you to stay FSLA compliant. But it also allows you to stay open all of those hours to make more money.

3. Your employees can recover between shifts

Some jobs are just more physically demanding than others. Point blank. If you run a business where employees are on their feet all day, they may need more time between shifts to recover. Creating shift schedules where your employees work a 2-3-2 shift schedule gives them the opportunity to rest.

Let’s take hairdressers at salons for example. They’re on their feet all day, running back and forth, and––let’s be real––keeping their arms elevated for hours at a time. This can put a strain on their bodies. If they work 2 days and then have 2 days off, they can properly recover andbe at their best when they come back.

What’s in it for you? Less burnt out employees.

There are other bonus benefits of a shift work schedule for employees in particular––less traffic, fewer crowds for everyday errands, and sometimes a pay boost for overnight shifts––but as an employer, you can use these as selling points when it comes down to hiring.

Highlight all of the benefits of shift work schedules in those job postings

Shift work statistics to help your business

Let’s look at a couple of insightful shift work statistics to help you navigate shift work schedules. 

Advanced notice of their schedule is a top priority for shift workers

65% of survey respondents said that their top priority was getting their schedule in advance. This makes sense. If one of the major benefits of shift work is flexibility, but then your employees don’t receive their schedule with enough notice, it can counterbalance that benefit.

Did you know? Some cities and states have predictive scheduling laws. Make sure you are aware of the legal rights of your employees to advance notice of their schedule and scheduling changes. You can use shift scheduling software to help you give enough notice to your team for schedule changes.

Shift workers are worried about some key areas

According to the same survey, over 50% of shift workers are worried about some key areas related to shift work. 

  • Increased and accurate pay: without the benefit of a solid 9-5 structure, pay can fluctuate from week to week
  • Schedule transparency and flexibility: it’s not easy to receive your schedule the day before your next rotation. How can you plan for work/life balance?
  • Recognition and support: sometimes overlooked, shift workers can contribute significantly to a business’s productivity and profitability
  • Manager communication: working overnight or having 2-3 days off between shifts means communication can fall through the cracks
82% of shift workers want more manager communication. Make manager communication easy with the team communication tool from Homebase. Send important shift updates, shout outs for jobs well done, and shift check-ins all in one messenger app.

Health risks are higher for shift workers––especially night shifts

Getting off your circadian rhythm can really affect your health. If you’re working those closing shifts at restaurants––or the dreaded ‘clopen’––you can find yourself at greater risk of health issues.

And if you’re a night shift worker, that risk is even higher.

According to News Medical Life Sciences:

  • Up to 75% of overnight workers report digestive problems
  • On average, shift workers have a 40% increased risk for cardiovascular disease
  • They have a greater prevalence of metabolic syndromes like obesity and Type 2 diabetes

None of this information is meant to scare you. It just drives home the importance of picking the right shift work schedule for your employees. 

Work-life balance is at the top of mind for employees

A Gallup study found that 61% of employees valued work-life balance and personal well-being when it came to shift schedules. Employees are actually seeking employers whose schedules fit into their lives––not the other way around.

What does this mean for you? It means you’ve got to look at the people who typically work for you and what their lifestyles entail. Students may be willing to work overnight shifts, but parents are less so. 

How do shift schedules work?

Ok, but how do shift schedules actually work? For employers, it means picking a shift schedule that works for your particular business. Your shift schedule needs to ensure you’ve got coverage for every hour your doors are open––and that you aren’t burning out your employees by getting them to work extra long shifts.

For employees, it means being clear on what their shift schedule is. They need to know coming into their role what the hours look like and be completely on board. If they have to pick up their kid from daycare at 5 pm, but their serving shift starts at 4 pm 2 days a week, they need to manage that hour of overlap for their family.

Let’s start exploring the types of shift schedules you can implement.

Types of shift schedules 

There are so many options for types of shift schedules. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. We are going to help you out and break down the most common shift schedules with some examples.

1. Fixed shift

If you’ve got a fixed shift schedule, your employees work the same days and hours each week. The only exceptions being vacations or busy holiday seasons. This is a dream come true for the manager responsible for scheduling. Every week’s the same with some minor tweaks for employees who are taking time off.  

This can be great for employees if they have a school schedule or want to be able to plan their lives around work. But it does reduce the bonus of flexibility when it comes to shift work.

An easy example for a restaurant that wants a fixed shift schedule would be: Server #1 always works Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Server #2 always works Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Server #3 always works Saturdays and Sundays.  

Each server knows their weekly schedule isn’t going to change.

2. Split shift

A split shift schedule will literally split your employee’s hours over the span of a day. This is pretty common in gyms when personal trainers have clients with different appointment times. 

If a personal trainer has 3 clients booked in between 6 am and 9 am, before work, and then 4 clients booked in between 5 pm and 9 pm, you could schedule them on a split shift. They would get paid for the 3 morning hours, go home and do whatever they like for the afternoon, and then come back and get paid for the evening hours.

Many managers like this option if there isn’t much work to do in between the shifts.  It also allows a business owner to run on a smaller staff. As for employees? It can have its advantages and disadvantages. If they want their days free for classes or free time, they could love it. If it’s a physically demanding job, like teaching fitness classes, it can give the employee time to rest. But sometimes people can’t shut off from their job and feel like it isn’t much of a break if they have to go back to work later on.

3. Rotating shifts

A rotating shift schedule is when everyone’s schedule changes every week or month. This can mean working different days of the week, different times of day, or different amounts of hours per week.

If the needs of your business vary quite a bit from week to week, this may be the schedule for you. Rotating shift schedules allows you lots of flexibility as a business owner to schedule what you need, when you need it. Just make sure you are following any predictive scheduling laws in your state.

For employees who want more hours some weeks and fewer hours some weeks––let’s say students during exam times––rotating schedules can be a huge win. The negative for them is that it can be hard to schedule their life around constantly changing schedules.

Rotating schedules are pretty common for restaurants that may need more coverage if it’s a big game night or less coverage on slower nights. 

4. 24/7 rotating shifts

This shift schedule is an offshoot from rotating shifts. If you’ve got a business that’s open 24/7, you’re going to need rotating shifts to cover all hours of the day.

A great example of a business open 24/7 is a gas station. If your business caters to long-haul drivers or road trip families, you’re going to need someone on duty 24/7. Another example would be an all-night diner.

If you want to schedule workers for 8 hours each––maybe with some crossover for busier times––you’re going to need to schedule at least 3-4 employees every single day. Don’t forget to keep in mind rest and recovery time for your employees. This means your team can get pretty big, pretty quickly.

Being open 24/7 and needing to schedule people at all hours of the day can be great for people who want a second job or who want to work odd hours to accommodate their lives.

5. Graveyard Shift

If you do run a company that needs 24/7 coverage, you’ll need someone to work the ‘graveyard shift’. This is a nickname for the overnight shift. When everyone else is sleeping, these employees are working.

This type of shift schedule happens a lot in healthcare. Nurses are always on rotating schedules and often rotate into the graveyard shift.

Depending on the work, sometimes employees work all night shifts. This can be an advantage because they adjust their daily rhythms to working nights. It’s an advantage for a manager responsible for scheduling too, because they know they always have someone to work those tougher overnight shifts.

You can also create a rotating overnight shift schedule so that no one’s on nights all of the time. Being on nights can have some pretty big health consequences, so switching it up is good for employees and for you.

6. Overtime shifts

If the idea of hiring a big team is intimidating, you can work in overtime shift schedules. Having overtime as an option at your company is also great for times when you’re understaffed unexpectedly.

Overtime shifts involve hourly staff working over 40 hours per week. If one of your team members works more than 40 hours in a week, they’re entitled to 1.5x their pay for those hours.

Let’s say you run a retail store. One of your employees has a family emergency and can’t come in for the next two weeks. Now you are left with 3 sales associates instead of 4. Well, instead of trying to hire someone for only 2 weeks, you can ask your current employees if they’re able to pick up their co-workers’ shifts. This may mean that each of them works 48 hours a week. 

If they make $12 an hour, then here’s the overtime math:

40 hours x $12/ hour = $480

8 hours x ($12 x 1.5) = $144

Total pay for that week = $624

For employees, this can be an awesome perk! Who doesn’t want more money? For employers, this means not having to replace a valued member of your team. And getting coverage from experienced employees. Just remember that overtime might be taxed differently than regular shift work. 

There are federal regulations around overtime, so make sure you are up-to-date on the laws of overtime before choosing this shift schedule as an option—and be sure to watch out for accidental overtime

Keep track of overtime hours and pay with Homebase. Payroll software helps you accurately calculate and pay out overtime for hourly employees. Try it today!

7. On-call shifts

An on-call shift schedule is where your employees are sitting around waiting for you to call. Ok, there’s a little more to it than that. If your workplace has varying levels of busyness, it can be really hard to predict what your staffing needs will be.

On-call shifts are common in hospitality where you can get a rush of business all at once or go through an entire shift with nothing to do. As a business owner, you don’t want to overschedule. That’s when on-call shifts come into play.

For an on-call shift, employees are expected to be available by phone and able to come into work at a moment’s notice.

Again, in some cities and states, there are specific situations where being on-call without pay isn’t allowed. Definitely study up on what is and isn’t acceptable in your state for on-call shift schedules.

Components of a shift schedule 

After you’ve decided on the type of shift schedule that works best for you and your employees, now you’ve got to put it all together.

These are the basic components of a shift schedule.

Shift length

This one’s self-explanatory. How many hours are your employees going to work on any given day? Your shifts can be anywhere from 4 hours to 12 hours. 

Ask yourself:

  • Is a 4-hour shift too short for my team? Or is it perfect for flexibility?
  • Is an 8-hour shift just right? Or will it be harder to schedule due to the shift taking up their entire day?
  • Is a 12-hour shift great for coverage and for those who want to work fewer days of the week? Or is 12 hours going to lead to burnout for my team?

There’s no perfect recipe here. You have to do what works best for you and your team.

Schedule format

A schedule format is exactly what we were talking about above. Are you going to offer rotating shifts or fixed shifts? Do your employees want more reliability in their schedules? Or do they want more flexibility? In terms of management, are you able to take on the task of changing schedules every week? Do your needs fluctuate to the point where you have to schedule based on needs?

On-off work patterns

Everybody deserves a day off. But what does that look like for your company? Many businesses try to stick to an on-off work pattern to make things easier on themselves and on their employees.

Some options for work patterns are:

  • Weekends off: this is your standard work Monday to Friday and get Saturday and Sunday off. This isn’t realistic for most businesses whose busiest hours are on the weekends.
  • Consecutive days off: this on-off work pattern gives your employees some consecutive days off, just not on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Consecutive work days: this pattern would give your employees a day off after a certain amount of working days. For example, every 4 working days, they get 1 day off.

Take a look at your current scheduling needs before you decide what your on-off pattern should be.

Scheduling policies

Having clear scheduling policies helps keep everyone on the same page. Create a document and share it with your entire team

It should include:

  • Overtime rules and restrictions: are employees allowed to go into overtime?
  • Shift change rules: are employees allowed to swap shifts?
  • Call-in rules: if an employee’s sick, how do they call in and who do they notify?
  • Maximum consecutive workdays before time off is required: how many days can someone work before they have to take a day off?

A scheduling policy can help prevent miscommunications and disputes between managers and employees on shift scheduling expectations.

Steps for creating a shift schedule 

1. How many hours do you need covered?

The very first step to creating a schedule is to figure out how many hours you need to be covered. This can change from week to week. This step should take the longest because it could be the most important.

Grab a cup of coffee and a comfy chair and take a look at past trends for staffing needs or the busiest times of the week, month, and even year. 

Don’t be afraid to adjust on the fly if you can. And make sure to keep records for when you missed the mark so it doesn’t happen again.

2. How many team members do you need?

Now that you’ve got the number of hours, you need to assess how many people you need to fill those hours. This can get trickier with time-off requests and seasonal busy times. Again, take a look at what you have needed in the past to give you a head start.

Use your current employees as much as you can––and as much as they’re willing––before hiring new employees.  Slowly grow your team to fill any hours that need to be filled.

As a bonus, if you may need seasonal hires, don’t leave it to the last minute. Get ahead of the holiday season and hire early.

3. Know the laws and create your own internal scheduling rules

Sometimes rules are different from state to state, but sometimes they’re different from city to city. Make sure you are up-to-date on all scheduling laws in your city. Then put them down on paper for all to see.

Once you are clear on the legal requirements, it’s time to create your own policies. And then put them down on that same paper for all to see. 

If everybody has one document that tells them everything they need to know about federal, state, municipal, and internal scheduling policies, there’s no room for confusion or miscommunication.

It can also prevent pricey mistakes for you as a business owner or manager. Accidental overtime and breaking predictive scheduling laws can put you in financial hot water. Not fun.

4. Schedule those shifts

You know the hours needed, you know the people needed, and you know the rules, now it’s time to schedule! This is an elaborate puzzle you need to put together so take your time. 

There are a couple of ways to do this. You can do the lion’s share of the work and just assign shifts or you can get your staff to volunteer for certain shifts, taking a bit of the weight off your shoulders.

Make sure to take into account everyone’s specific strengths to give your customers the best experience possible.

5. Account for changes

Things change. People get sick, employees quit, schedules change. The more proactive you are, the easier it will be on your and your employees when––inevitably––schedules shift.

Having an easy way for your team to swap shifts––like a team communication app––can do half of the work for you. You could also have on-call employees scheduled for unpredictable busy times if it’s an option in your state.

Have a backup plan. And then have a backup plan to your backup plan. We promise it will cause less stress and headaches in the end.

Why use shift scheduling software like Homebase 

Ok, that was a lot of information. Scheduling’s one of the toughest parts of the job because so much relies on doing it well.

Luckily, we live in a digital age. 

If we take the Homebase scheduling software and team communication messenger as an example, here are all of the ways this technology can make scheduling easier on you:

  • Use templates or auto-scheduling based on pre-submitted information like team availability and labor targets
  • Share the schedule with the team and alert them of any changes to the schedule automatically
  • Send shift reminders and overtime warnings to keep your employees informed
  • Make shift swaps easier for everyone by allowing your team to communicate with each other before coming to you for approval

Scheduling software is specifically designed to make scheduling easier on business owners. So let it do its magic for you.

Want help with scheduling?

Homebase has scheduling software that can help you easily schedule your team. Start scheduling shifts today!

Shift schedule FAQS 

What is a shift schedule?

A shift schedule is a certain way to schedule your employees. They happen in rotations so you always have someone covering the hours that your business is open.

What are the different types of shift schedules? 

The most common types of shift schedules include:

  • Fixed shifts
  • Split shifts
  • Rotating shifts
  • 24/7 shifts
  • Graveyard shifts
  • Overtime shifts
  • On-call shifts

What are the steps to creating a shift schedule?

The steps to creating a shift schedule are:

  • Step 1 – Calculate how many hours you need covered.
  • Step 2 – Figure out how many team members you need to cover those hours.
  • Step 3 – Create a schedule policy that covers federal, state, municipal, and internal laws. Share that document with everyone and keep it accessible for reference.
  • Step 4 – Begin scheduling the shifts.
  • Step 5 – Preempt any changes that may need to happen.

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