What You Need to Know About 12-Hour Shift Schedules As a Small Business

Sorry, Dolly Parton! Working ‘9 to 5’ isn’t everyone’s reality. And it doesn’t need to be for your small business if you need employees for longer shifts. 

For small business owners, hospitality workers, medical staff, and other workers in a variety of industries, shifts are often creatively scheduled and the hours tend to be much longer. There are a lot of small businesses that use a 12-hour shift schedule for their employees. 

Of course, there are a lot of benefits of the 12-hour shift schedule, along with some valid concerns solved through labor regulations around scheduling. These longer shifts can help streamline operations, decrease employee absenteeism, and keep a sense of continuity. 

Let’s dig into what a 12-hour shift schedule is, which industries it shows up the most in, and some key considerations before getting started with it. 

What is a 12-hour shift schedule? 

A 12-hour shift schedule is exactly what it sounds like: an employee is scheduled to work for 12 hours in a row. This type of shift means an employee starts at a particular time. For example, if an employee starts at 7AM, and their end time is 12 hours later, they’d work a full 7AM – 7PM shift.

The traditional office job hours of 9-5, five days a week, aren’t common for every worker. Twelve hour shifts are sometimes necessary for those working in other industries to provide continuity of care, or for workers like long-haul truckers, where you’re trying to maximize your working hours.

Common 12-hour shift jobs and industries

You’ve very likely come across someone in your day-to-day who’s working during their 12-hour shift. Ever spoken to a nurse in an emergency room, waved to the driver of an 18-wheel truck, or talked to someone at 911? These folks are all commonly 12-hour shift workers. 

Below is a list of common 12-hour shift jobs and their industries. 


Doctors, nurses, and many medical staff work a 12-hour shift. Nurses, for example, can work two back-to-back shifts from morning to evening or evening to morning with a day or two off in-between. 

The medical industry is the most common one to have the 12-hour shift schedule because patient care isn’t fixed. There needs to be total coverage in a 24 hour period at medical places like hospitals or urgent care. 

Public safety

A common industry that uses a 12-hour shift schedule is public safety. This can include police officers, paramedics, firefighters, or emergency medical technicians. Public safety may also include correctional officers for prisons or jails, as well as security guards or officers wherever security needs to be. This may include condos, retail spaces, or museum. 


For the most part, traditional hospitality workers work shorter, more intense shifts, but it’s possible for small businesses—particularly those just starting up and in need of shift coverage—to use a 12-hour shift schedule.

Some of those roles may include servers, bartenders, back of the house staff like cooks or dishwashers, and front of the house associates like managers of a restaurant or hotel.


Those who work in manufacturing or in a warehouse often have 12-hour shift schedules, too. This can include workers at product factories, or working in a warehouse to pack up goods to be delivered to our homes. In some cases, particularly in bigger production roles like automotive, these shifts may be regulated by union rules. 

Why would a small business use a 12-hour shift schedule? 

There’s merit in adopting a 12-hour shift schedule rather than sticking to the usual shift management your small business may be used to. The 12-hour shift isn’t without its considerations and possible disadvantages, which we’ll get to, but a 12-hour shift schedule may lead to better productivity and output, and an increase in employee morale.

Let’s get into the benefits of a 12-hour shift schedule. 

Business continuity and increased productivity

When you’ve got at least one person working a 12-hour shift schedule, that employee should be able to work toward or complete their tasks within that time frame without having to pass it off and explain what’s going to someone else. With a total of two shift turnovers per day, there’s also the possibility for a lot less miscommunication between workers about what needs to be done and less work or productivity disruptions. 

Decrease in employee absenteeism

Twelve hours is a lot of time with a lot of (potential) money. If your employees are scheduled for shorter shifts, they may feel compelled to take those days off and not worry about losing four hours of pay. A 12-hour shift schedule could be more compelling for your employees to show up. After all, if they’re getting paid $15/hour, a four hour shift is $60; a 12-hour shift would be $180 in their pocket. More hours, yes, but that’s an enticing paycheck.

The downside? A 12-hour shift is more detrimental if your employee decides to not show up. And, it could be a lot harder to find last-minute coverage.

Easier, faster scheduling

Twelve hour shifts allow for easier scheduling for employees. Later on, we’ll dig into the common schedule types for 12-hour shifts, but for now, know that shift coverage doesn’t need to be broken up for multiple employees. Instead, there are typically just one or two shifts each day.

Scheduling tip: A fast and easy way to automate your scheduling is to use Homebase. Homebase’s scheduling can use templates and auto-scheduling, which is perfect for set 12-hour shift schedules over the course of a couple of weeks or a month. 

Lowered turnover 

Because the 12-hour shift schedule requires more days off in-between, particularly for full-time hours, employees have longer weekends, and—no kidding!—better work/life balance because days off actually mean days off. There’s an incentive to remain at a job that, while on paper may seem harder because of a longer shift, encourages and promotes time off when it’s scheduled. 

Better employee morale 

Having more days off is a key way to improve employee morale, which is what the 12-hour shift allows. The 12-hour shift schedule delineates work and home time in a much more direct way.

There are even benefits even while working. Getting to start and complete a full task on the same shift isn’t just gratifying for your team, it can also produce better results. Plus, employees who work 12-hour shift schedules often work fewer overall shifts per year than those working regular 8-hour shifts. More happiness at work often leads to happier home lives, and who doesn’t love that?

Elimination of double shifts

Double shifts are a hospitality industry mainstay. Often, servers work a brunch or lunch shift, wait a few hours, and return to work a dinner shift. With a 12-hour shift schedule, you can eliminate double shifts by having an employee there for the peak hours. This helps cut down on additional scheduling and shift swapping, which can be a headache come payroll if you’re not using the right software. It also may reduce employee travel time to and from work—or having to remain because there’s often no point going home in-between shifts. 

What are some 12-hour shift schedule examples? 

Not all 12-hour shifts are scheduled the same way. They can be scheduled differently based on method or industry. In some cases, there are rotating shifts that can last for about two weeks before another schedule is put into place that has different shift days and times. 

Below are a few common 12-hour shift schedule examples to help your small business form the schedule that works best for you. 

4 on, 4 off 

This schedule has the most consecutive time off for regular recuperation from the long shifts. This type of schedule doesn’t necessarily need to follow a 28 day period or longer, and can just be the set schedule. Teams, usually in two shifts, work for four days or nights. Then, they enjoy four days or nights off from work. 


The DuPont shift schedule allows for employees working a 12-hour shift to have seven consecutive days off in a 28 day schedule. Teams work for four successive night shifts, followed by three days off. After that, there are three more consecutive day shifts, followed by one day off. Finally, three more night shifts, three days off, and you end the month with four days shifts and a full week off.


The 2-2-3 schedule gives every other weekend off, making it a popular one. Employees work two days on, two days off, and then three work days on, followed by two days off, before their full weekend off. With this scheduling method, employees know their maximum working days are three and no more. 

5-5-2-2 or 5-2-2-5

The 5-5-2-2 or 5-2-2-5 is a good one to help employees make the most of their time off, giving up to five days off in a row. Workers are scheduled for five days on, five off, two on, two off, etc. Five days off can help workers who have kids to care for, like to travel, or just value consecutive days off.

A snag here is that workers need to work for five full 12-hour days before getting anytime off.

Key considerations with scheduling 12-hour shifts

12-hour shifts have a lot of benefits, both for your business and your employees. 

However, there are a number of considerations that employees and employers need to be aware. Keep the below in mind when you’re implementing and executing on a 12-hour shift schedule. 

12-hour shift schedule concerns

  • Nutrition. Long shifts mean packing enough food for multiple meals, plus a few snacks. Make sure your team has enough time during breaks to fuel up. You might consider meal plans, or stocking the break room or vehicles with healthy snacks. Offer a variety of fresh produce and protein-packed options so they’re getting a boost of energy.
  • Sleep schedule. If you’re rotating your employees on day and night schedules, sleep is going to be a factor. If the rotation of 12-hour shifts between day and night is too much, that can impact their overall performance. 
  • Scheduling meetings or training. With employees on such different schedules, booking training or meetings can be tricky. You may need to offer multiple training days so everyone can be present and alert.
  • Employee fatigue. The 12-hour shift definitely needs getting used to, especially for workers who are new to it. Consider how fatigued your employees are. Ask if they’re getting enough rest on shift, have enough days off, or want more shifts. 
  • Day shift vs. night shift. Switching between day and night shifts can be difficult physically and mentally. Talk to your employees to see what they prefer, and give ample recovery time in between shifts whenever possible.
  • Physical demands. Long shifts usually mean a longer time doing a task. If your team’s doing physical work, try to incorporate break times, and think about how to help during off-hours. This could mean free gym memberships or massage benefits.
  • Shift coverage. How many employees do you require for shift coverage? What happens if someone calls in sick, or they’re on PTO or vacation? Consider the human element to ensure you’re getting proper coverage and not asking for—or paying for—overtime where it’s not needed.

Don’t forget about labor laws for 12-hour shifts 

For the most part, no federal or state law caps the amount of hours an employee can work. That means employees can work up to 24 hours. 

There are, however, course some exceptions:

  • Employees under 16 can only work a maximum of eight hours per days
  • Some regulated industries, like long haul trucking 
  • Unionized and subject to collective bargaining
  • The Fair Labor Standards Acts (FLSA) requires non-exempt employees to overtime pay if they’ve worked too many hours. However, there’s no cap to how many hours they can work in one day

Easily schedule 12-hour shifts with Homebase 

Scheduling shifts doesn’t need to be a headache. Homebase takes the complexities out of scheduling employee shifts for you by automating through optimizations like shift templates, auto-scheduling, and scheduling based on sales or trend forecasts

You’ll be able to share the schedules as you go, with text or in-app reminders to your employees.

With 12-hour shift scheduling, a small business needs to plan ahead. Homebase helps you set rules and keep your team’s availability requests, so you’ll have coverage where you need it. Get started for free today.

12 hour shift schedule FAQ

How do 12 hour shifts work?

A 12 hour shift is when an employee works from a set time to a full 12 hours later, often broken up into day and night shifts. A day shift might consist of a 7 a.m. start time that ends at 7 p.m., whereas a night shift might be the reverse. 

What is a typical 12 hour shift schedule?

A typical 12 hour shift schedule is a 2-2-3 schedule. This type of shift schedule is popular because employees are guaranteed every other weekend off. Employees will have two work days on, two days off, and then three work days on, followed by two days off, before their full weekend off.

Are 12 hour shift schedules legal?

Yes, 12 hour shift schedules are legal. There are no federal or state law caps on the amount of hours an employee can work, which means employees can work up to 24 hours. However, there are restrictions around age, collective bargaining agreements, and regulated industries.

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