Rotating Schedules: How to Always Have Retail Employees Available

Employee checking out customer

A nine-to-five isn’t the preferred working schedule for most employees. And that's OK.

With a rotating schedule is a shift pattern, employees change their working hours over a given period. For example, retail staff on a rotating shift pattern might work three day shifts followed by two night shifts and one day off. The schedule then repeats itself. 

Research shows 2.5% of employees (an estimated 3.7 million people) across all sectors work rotating shifts. However, the retail industry trumps the average. Some 12% of retail or wholesale trade workers have rotating shifts, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute

Like many other working patterns, rotating schedules have their pros and cons. To help you decide whether you should offer them to your retail staff, we’ll share the things you should consider before creating your own rotating shift pattern. 

What is a rotating schedule?

A rotating schedule is an employee shift pattern that changes over time. 

They’re most often used in industries where employers always need staff available—such as those operating machines, providing emergency services, or working in hotels. 

In a retail environment, sales associates might work rotating shifts if your brick-and-mortar store is open 24/7. You could have one team member cover nights while another does days. Then, after one week, they rotate. Everyone gets their fair share of good (and bad) shifts.

Young workers aged 18 to 24 are most likely to work rotating shifts. A report from Harvard’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy found that three out of five young workers have a variable or rotating schedule. 

How does a rotating schedule work?

The first stage in creating a rotating schedule is to divide your workforce into teams. These groups will cover different shifts on alternating weeks.

Once you’ve divided your staff into teams, you’ll need to assign shifts to each one. There are several types of rotating schedules (listed below), but the general idea is that each team works a given number of shifts before taking time off. 

Types of rotating schedules

Now that you know how a rotating schedule works, let’s look at the specific formats. 

Here are eight popular rotating shift examples you could test in your retail store. 

Pitman shift schedule

The Pitman schedule is a good option if you need staff constantly available. It’s a shift pattern that divides the workforce into four teams. Each team works on a four-week schedule, rotating as such:

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

With the Pitman shift pattern, staff take a three-day weekend every other weekend. They also never work more than three days in a row. Plus, if you keep the schedule rolling, staff have some consistency in the four-week pattern. 

However, Pitman scheduling does have its downsides—mainly the fact employees work 12-hour shifts for three consecutive days.

Pitman schedule example

Dupont shift schedule

The Dupont shift schedule, named after the company that invented it, is used by retail businesses that are open all hours. 

The workforce is divided into four teams, each working 12-hour shifts on the following schedule: 

  • Four night shifts
  • Three days off
  • Three day shifts
  • One day off
  • Three night shifts
  • Three days off
  • Four day shifts
  • Seven days off 
The biggest advantage to the Dupont schedule is the fact staff get week-long breaks during each 28-day rotation.

However, staff may find it difficult to manage their sleep schedule when day and night shifts are positioned so closely together—like Day 10 of the four-week cycle, where staff only have a one-day break to recover from three day shifts before they start three night shifts. 

2-2, 3-2, 2-3 shift schedule

Here’s another retail shift pattern that gives brick-and-mortar stores 24/7 coverage. In this case, the workforce is divided into four teams. 

Each team works the following 12-hour shifts in a 28-day rotation:

  • Two day shifts
  • Two days off
  • Three days shifts
  • Two days off
  • Two day shifts 
  • Three days off 

The cycle repeats for night shifts before looping back to daytime hours.

What’s good about this rotating schedule is that employees have more than three consecutive working days. As an extra bonus, they get a long weekend every other week. There’s also plenty of time to adjust sleep patterns during the three-day break between day and night shifts. 

However, this rotating work schedule means staff can work many hours per week. On week one of the four-day cycle they’ll be working five 12-hour shifts (totaling 60 hours).

24-48 shift schedule

Also known as the ABC shift schedule, this pattern gives 24/7 coverage. It’s most often used by emergency health services and firefighters. 

Staff are divided into three teams, each working one 24-hour shift followed by two consecutive days off. 

The bonus of the 24-48 shift schedule is that employees never work a full weekend. They also only work a maximum of three days each week.

That said, this shift pattern is grueling. Working a 24-hour shift means staff have to concentrate for long periods of time. They also have to work their missed eight hours of sleep into their days off. 

4-3 shift schedule

If you have a larger team that doesn’t want to work extremely long hours, the 4-3 shift schedule is a good option. It divides employees into groups of six to give 24/7 coverage. 

Each team rotates the shift type they’re working. For example:

  • Four days on the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift
  • Three days off
  • Four days on the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift
  • Three days off
  • Four days on the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift
  • Three days off 

The biggest bonus of this shift schedule is that staff don’t work long hours. Depending on which week the cycle falls on, staff could be working 40 hours (which is closest to the 37.5 hours average for other full-time employees in the US). Each team also has plenty of time to adjust their sleeping schedule before their next shift starts. 

However, the 4-3 shift pattern is not the best option if employees don’t want to work many weekends. Depending on how the rotating schedule falls, teams will work three consecutive weekends before having one off. 

6-4 6-4 6-4 shift schedule

This type of rotating schedule is slightly longer than most other shift patterns—working on a 30-day cycle.

Staff are divided into five groups and rotate one of three 10-hour shifts, such as:

  • Six days on the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift
  • Four days off
  • Six days on the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift
  • Four days off
  • Six days on the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift
  • Four days off 

This rotating shift pattern is good because each team gets a longer-than-average break of four days. Staff also have two non-working weekends throughout each 30-day shift cycle. 

However, working six consecutive days can be tough for some employees—especially those with school children. They’ll likely need help with childcare because they work more days than school is open.

5-3 5-4 5-3 shift schedule

This rotating schedule divides your workforce into five teams, each working one of three shifts on a 25-day cycle. Here’s an example: 

  • Five days on the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift
  • Three days off
  • Five days on the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift
  • Four days off
  • Five days on the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift
  • Three days off 

The longer cycle means staff are more likely to get confused with which shifts they’re working, as it changes often. On the positive side, it does mean they get a longer break—four consecutive days off—during the middle of each cycle.

4-2 4-3 4-3 shift schedule

Here’s another option if you want 24/7 coverage on a shorter cycle. This rotating schedule repeats every 20 days. It requires five teams working 10-hour shifts in the following pattern: 

  • Four days on the first shift
  • Two days off
  • Four days on the second shift
  • Three days off
  • Four days on the third shift
  • Three days off 

The biggest benefit to this shift pattern is that employees get their fair share. Nobody has to bear the brunt of the graveyard shift. Everyone takes their turn at the best (and worst) working hours.

However, like most other rotational shift examples, there is no consistency. Staff don’t have a set day of the week where they’re working—it changes depending on the stage of each cycle. 

Fixed schedules vs. rotating schedules

If you’re not offering rotating schedules to staff, chances are you set fixed schedules. In this case, employees come to work at a specific time on specific days. 

We can see fixed schedules in action with most office jobs that follow a Monday to Friday nine-to-five. Retail associates can have similar patterns—like 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, instead of three days on and three off. 

Workers on rotating schedules also tend to work longer shifts. Businesses open 24/7 can have three rotations and break their shift patterns down into three eight-hour shifts. Others with just two teams can cover 24/7 with just two shifts of 12 hours each.

Either way, data shows a correlation between rotating shifts and mandatory overtime—bumping up the average shift time even further.

Those with fixed schedules, however, tend to have shorter working hours. They work the same hours each day, regardless of whether their co-workers are around or not. 

Benefits of rotating schedules

Despite the fact rotating schedules are less consistent than fixed schedules, something about them causes employees to stick around.

A report found 51% of workers with a rotation schedule have been at their current job for more than three years.

Amongst some of the reasons why employees like rotating work schedules include:

Avoiding burnout

Burnout happens when employees overwork and spend too long in a state of stress. 

Resistance to taking vacation time is one of the major causes of burnout. In fact, a study by Deloitte found one in four professionals never or rarely take all of their vacation days. 

Depending on how the schedule falls, employees with rotating shift patterns will have more days off in a given week than their fixed schedule counterparts. The Dupont schedule, for example, gives staff a seven-day break at the end of each 28-day cycle—like a mini-sabbatical.

Flexibility

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, office staff who worked nine-to-five schedules cried out for flexible working options. 

Shift workers on rotating schedules don’t have as many time constraints as those in fixed schedules. They likely work outside of “normal” working hours. That gives them flexibility for making out-of-work arrangements—like booking a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day when most people are working a fixed nine-to-five. 

For this reason, two-thirds of shift workers say flexibility is the number one benefit. Small percentages also say rotating shift patterns allow time for school or another job and offer better arrangements for their family.

Reasons for working rotating shifts

Equal share of best shifts

With a rotating schedule, everyone gets their fair share of good (and bad) shifts. 

You don’t have to rely on certain team members to pick up the slack on weekends. Everyone takes their turn working weekends, peak hours, and slow early morning shifts. 

Plus, if you’re rotating schedules to make sure staff are available 24/7, nobody gets their uneven share of the graveyard shift—which runs from late hours of the night till early morning (like 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.).

Experience with different shifts

Staff with similar roles and responsibilities will likely have different tasks to complete depending on the time of their shift.

If a retail associate takes the morning shift before the store opens, they’ll be taking stock and unloading deliveries. Staff on the evening shift after the store closes will be tidying up and doing the end-of-day cash register report. 

A rotating schedule gives everyone the opportunity to work different shifts. They can build new skills and vary their day-to-day tasks. 

Disadvantages of rotating schedules

While rotating shifts have their advantages, data shows 60% of employees on weekly shift rotations say they would choose a different schedule if the option was available.

Let’s take a look at why rotating shifts aren’t always the best option for retail stores. 

Less consistency in scheduling

The biggest downside to a rotating shift schedule is the fact that it’s not consistent. If they’re working three days on and two off, employees might struggle with the idea of not working set days (or hours) per week. 

Disruption to circadian rhythm 

People spend a third of their life sleeping—and for good reason.

According to Medical News Today, “Getting enough sleep is essential for helping a person maintain optimal health and well-being.”

However, rotating schedules disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm—also known as our internal body clock. Waking up at different times each day is tough on the body. It’s why the number of people who report mismatches between their sleep schedules and working hours is higher amongst those with rotating shifts. 

Research also found workers with rotating shift patterns for more than 15 days have a significantly higher chance of experiencing insomnia.

Health risks of shift work

Irregular shift patterns that throw off a person’s body clock can make them more injury prone. Some 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue.

There’s also correlations between rotating shift workers and serious health problems:

  • Staff with rotating shifts have a 42% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Police offices on afternoon and night shifts report more stressful days than those on morning shifts.
  • Digestive problems like stomach ache, heartburn, and indigestion are more common in rotating shift workers.

This increased health risk could have long-term detrimental impacts. A study into the health impact of shift work concluded:

“Women working rotating night shifts for ≥5 years have a modest increase in all-cause and CVD mortality; those working ≥15 years of rotating night shift work have a modest increase in lung cancer mortality.”

Work-life balance issues

The benefit of rotational shift work means everyone gets their fair share of good shifts, but it’s a double-edged sword. Depending on how the schedule falls, employees’ work-life balance will suffer.

The Pitman rotating schedule, for example, means staff can be working 12-hour shifts for three days in a row. That doesn’t give much time to spend time with family, have a social life, or run personal errands. 

It’s why 19% of rotating shift workers report regular work/family conflict (compared to just 11% of workers with fixed schedules).

Long shifts decrease productivity

Rotating shifts are associated with longer working hours. Employees on a rotational schedule can be working 10- to 12-hour shifts at a time, which further screws up our body clocks. 

Natural circadian rhythms reach their peak just after the workday begins, hence why most people are most productive in the morning. They begin to drop off after eating, and gradually slope back up toward the end of the day. 

Staff working rotating shifts don’t have their workday aligned with their natural circadian rhythms. So, they could work longer hours but be less productive overall. 

How to create a rotating shift schedule

If you’ve decided that a rotating work schedule suits your business, here are the steps you can take to create one for employees. 

1. Divide staff into balanced teams

The first step in creating a rotating schedule is to divide your workforce into teams. These are the groups of people who will be working each shift.

It’s a smart idea to divide your workforce based on the following qualities:

  • Skills. Make sure each team has an equal set of skills to set them up for success throughout each shift. For example: if only five team members know how to do a stock check, spread them evenly throughout each team. 
  • Responsibilities. If certain tasks need doing throughout each shift (like customer service), make sure each team has a member of staff to handle it. 
  • Level of seniority. If you divide your three store managers into three teams, for example, there will always be one on hand to troubleshoot problems, regardless of how the shift pattern falls.

2. Use a rotating schedule template

Once you’ve divided your workforce into teams, plan out which staff will take which shifts.

A free and easy way to do this is through a spreadsheet. You’ll find tons of pre-made rotating shift templates online, including the following:

The only downside to managing rotational shifts in a spreadsheet is that staff might not always have the most recent version. It also puts more work on your plate as the store manager—you’ll have back-and-forth with staff to discuss their availability and communicate upcoming shift patterns with them. 

3. Rely on staff scheduling tools

Don’t feel like spending time organizing a spreadsheet? Find an employee scheduling software that integrates with your retail tech stack. 

Homebase, for example, integrates with Shopify POS. With it, you can divide your workforce into teams depending on the staff roles you’ve assigned to them. You’ll be able to keep on top of their working hours, see when employees clock in and out of their rotating shifts, and send the data straight to payroll.

Most resource management tools (like Float and Planday) also help retail store owners manage rotational shifts. It divides staff into teams so you can see when each team member is scheduled to work and proactively plan around scheduling gaps.

4. Give plenty of notice for shift changes

“Sorry, we’re short-staffed! Can you work tomorrow?” That’s a text nobody wants to be on the receiving end of.

A report on shift work found 65% of employees want advanced notice of schedules. Some 82% want more communication from their employer, and just over half want clear communication of available shifts.

Try to give as much notice as you can before you set your rotating schedule. Most retail employees know their work schedules at least two weeks in advance. That gives them enough time to arrange childcare (if they’re working parents) and make personal plans that won’t get in the way of work.

Industry affects unpredictable scheduling

Rotating schedules work great for some retailers

Despite the downsides that come with rotating schedules, alternating shifts can benefit store managers and their employees.

Staff work flexible hours, get to experience working opening and closing shifts, work with different teammates, and avoid burning out. Considering it costs on average $3,328 to find, hire, and train a replacement for a retail employee who makes $10 an hour, rotating schedules may be a viable option for increasing your staff’s quality of life and lowering turnover. 

If you’re still unsure on whether a rotational schedule would work for your brick-and-mortar store, test the water and get your staff’s feedback. Some of them may want a trial run of shift work, while others will prefer their fixed hours. 

There’s no reason why you couldn’t get the best of both worlds with a hybrid model.