Last Updated On April 16, 2021 / Written By Lauren Christiansen

A How-To-Guide to Shift Schedules

What are Shift Schedules?

A shift schedule occurs when a company divides each day into shifts and picks employees to work at certain times. There may be a rotating shift schedule, or one change per week, or a new schedule every day.

Fixed shifts are set in stone. Employees must work the same day shifts or night shifts unless business needs evolve. Employees may be part time, full time, or temporary. Their scheduling needs will change if their employment status changes.

Employee scheduling is a critical component of any organization that generates work schedules and offers shift work. It helps to minimize labor costs, improve morale, optimize productivity, and cut costs.

Companies create and maintain a work schedule to optimize resource management, minimize inefficiencies, and generate more profit.

7 Most Common Types of Shift Schedules

Organizations have many different types of schedules to choose from before they create a work schedule. A schedule choice depends on the size and scope of the company, along with any critical business requirements.

Here are the most common types of shift schedules.

1. Fixed Shift Schedules

A fixed shift assigns employees to the same work hours on the same day(s) each week. This can either be in the morning or the evening, depending on the hours of operations.

A fixed schedule may be anything from a two-hour shift to an eight-hour shift. For example, a restaurant may schedule a server to work every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A fixed schedule enables workers to make plans in advance and depend on a set number of hours for pay. Because of these reasons, many employees prefer a fixed shift schedule.

2. Split Shift Schedules

In a split shift schedule, employees agree to a set number of hours divided into two shifts or slots per day. To illustrate, an employee may work from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then go on break for 3 hours. He would then come back from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., for a total of 6 hours per day.

A regular lunch break is not included in a split shift. The HR team needs to make sure that an employee who works a split shift complies with labor laws.

3. Overtime Shift Schedules

Some companies allow employees to work overtime hours. According to state and federal law, overtime includes any hours worked over the eight-hour per day time frame. It can also include any work done past 44 hours per week.

Because most states pay time and a half for overtime hours, many business owners prefer to minimize it. Companies can reward high-performing workers with overtime hours, or offer them during the busy season. The HR team must ensure the company maintains compliance with state/federal labor laws.

  • 21% of restaurant workers clock in overtime hours each year
  • 30% of landscaping workers clock in overtime hours each year
  • 30% of retail employees clock in overtime hours each year
  • 49% of workers in manufacturing clock in overtime hours each year

4. Rotating Shift Schedules

Rotating shifts enables employees to switch shifts that are typically on a regular work schedule. To illustrate, workers may alternate between the night shift and the day shift every two weeks or every two months.

A rotating shift allows an organization to distribute hours evenly to employees to ensure they receive enough work time. However, many workers don't enjoy this type of schedule because it's less flexible. Businesses should ask workers whether they are willing to rotate shifts before scheduling an employee for shift work.

5. On-Call Shift Schedules

Some industries employ on-call employees. These workers are available to come in at any time, as required. If an employee calls in sick or takes a vacation day, a supervisor may contact an on-call worker to take his/her shift.

Pay for on-call employees is higher because they must be available at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, the worker never really has a set off day. For these reasons, most businesses rotate the employees for on-call shifts, rather than contact the same team members each time.

6. Swing Shift Schedules

Swing shifts encompass the late afternoon until the end of the day. In the restaurant industry, supervisors schedule high-performing employees for swing shifts to meet customer needs. In retail, a supervisor may put a less experienced worker on a swing shift as fewer customers come in at night.

Swing shifts enable an organization to bring in workers who are busy during the day and can only work at night. Some workers prefer to work during the day because family members tend to come home in the evening. Owners must ensure that employees are on board with a swing shift schedule before they assign one.

7. The No-Schedule Shift Schedule

There is no rhyme or reason to a no-schedule shift unless employees specifically say they cannot work during certain hours or work days. Employees get the hours they are assigned. The fast-food industry uses this type of schedule more than other businesses. Owners usually schedule employees every week and post it to a board (or online). Employees need to request shift swaps, which creates extra work for the manager.

While this option is somewhat flexible for management, it's not easy for staff. It can also result in more last-minute call-ins or swaps, which can impact the quality of customer service.

The 9 Biggest Shift Schedule Issues to Avoid

How does a company choose the right type of shift schedule to align with business and employee needs? It all depends on the staff, season, industry, and number of workers.

Two businesses within the same industry may pick different shift schedules. For example, a restaurant that operates 24/7 will probably need a rotating shift, while a small coffee shop may benefit from a fixed schedule.

Regardless, even the best scheduling system can lead to problems that impact customer service and the bottom line. The most common scheduling issues include -

1. Low Availability for a Shift Schedule

Even the best schedule is problematic if employees are unavailable for the hours assigned to them. If low availability is a regular problem, there won't be enough workers per shift. Businesses will distribute hours unevenly and will need to let go of those with low availability. It will also impact the quality of customer service and the bottom line.

2. Over-Staffing a Shift Schedule

Some businesses schedule too many workers and then send them home early to keep labor costs low. This decreases morale and is frustrating to employees who plan events around their schedule. When there are too many workers on hand at one time, there is less work to do. This makes work less enjoyable and decreases the potential value team members should bring to an organization. It also results in a higher turnover rate.

  • Stop planning headcount only around averages
  • Stop backfilling attrition if still above minimum headcount
  • Find an agile source to get workers in-house as needed to respond to demand

3. Margin Cannibalization in a Shift Schedule

A lot of retailers over-schedule to boost sales and improve customer service, but this can backfire. All it does is increase labor costs and minimize any potential sales for that day. Business experts refer to this as the margin cannibalization effect.

4. Staff Shortages in a Shift Schedule

On the flip side, a business may not have enough shift workers to cover a time frame. This is particularly detrimental during the holiday season when it's critical to have extra help on hand. Staff shortages increase the workload for other employees, decrease morale, and hurts the quality of customer service. It can also decrease profits, as many customers are frustrated by long wait times and a lack of attention.

5. No Call-No Show for a Shift Schedule

When employees don't show up or call in for a shift, it is referred to as no call-no show. They have either moved on from the job, or they may have figured out that there won't be any consequences for this behavior. Regardless, frequent no-calls-no-shows are bad for morale, hurt customer service, and increase the turnover rate. This is a waste of resources, time, and energy.

5. No Call-No Show for a Shift Schedule

When employees don't show up or call in for a shift, it is referred to as no call-no show. They have either moved on from the job, or they may have figured out that there won't be any consequences for this behavior. Regardless, frequent no-calls-no-shows are bad for morale, hurt customer service, and increase the turnover rate. This is a waste of resources, time, and energy.

6. Too Much Training Impacts Shift Schedule

When there are high turnover rates, employers need to train new hires more often. This impacts the efficiency of the supply chain, wastes time, and hurts customer service. Furthermore, the costs associated with continuous training eat into profits. As a result, it's difficult for managers to streamline scheduling and harness human capital to its fullest potential.

7. Poorly Trained Staff, Customer Service, and Shift Schedules

Poorly trained staff or new hires offer a lower quality of customer service. Regular turnover means there are always new hires on the schedule who aren't fully up to speed. New hires or poorly trained workers also are less apt to handle complaints and communicate effectively. This decreases sales and hurts employee work life balance, which further impacts the turnover rate.

  • 73% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good customer service
  • 65% expect customer service to be better now than it was 5 years ago
  • 96% of customers no longer trust brands or advertising
  • 51% of customers will not do business again with a company they had a bad experience

8. Poor Communication Impacts Shift Schedule

Regular shift swaps, frequent call-ins, or no-shows negatively impact scheduling. It costs money and time to make up for employees who aren't where they should be. It hurts the morale of workers who are there for consecutive days, or who work hard and show up on time.

It also puts more burden on supervisors and seasoned employees to perform well or compensate for absent workers. Every organization needs to prioritize communication when it comes to scheduling to avoid these issues.

9. Non-Compliance and Shift Schedules

When owners don't streamline scheduling, there's a high likelihood of non-compliance. Regulatory audits will show when employees are overworked or covering too many shifts without a break. This threatens the company's reputation and very survival. Businesses must prioritize scheduling to eliminate any compliance concerns.

How to Pick the Right Shift Schedule Method

Scheduling methods vary from simple to more complex, depending on the type of technology and process the owner uses. Every method should align with the preferred scheduling style of the industry.

While no method is better than another, certain ones are better for employee and company needs. An owner should consider how much flexibility and efficiency are required to keep employees happy, optimize customer service, and increase profits.

Different methods include -

  • Casual - No formal method of scheduling. Highly flexible, but less efficient and more prone to error.

  • Traditional - Manual method that is somewhat flexible and somewhat efficient. Prone to more human error.

  • Functional - Use of excel spreadsheets and Microsoft office to create work schedules. This option is less flexible but much more efficient.

  • Innovative - Requires scheduling software. This method is highly flexible, efficient, and functional. It can also be more expensive.
Other factors to consider include the size and scope of the business, any previous scheduling problems, compliance issues, and budgetary concerns. For example, a small business may have used the casual method in the past with few problems, but now have more employees to accommodate.

Larger companies should probably opt for scheduling software to maintain compliance and accommodate different schedules. Owners should also consider seasonal factors and how many temporary or teenage workers will be on staff. There are special requirements for these types of employees, and scheduling errors can lead to non-compliance.

Pros and Cons of 4 Main Shift Schedule Methods

While companies may claim that one method is better than another, only the owner can decide what's best for the company. For example, a small company of 10 will probably not need scheduling software, but that can change as time progresses. The owner should study the benefits and downsides of each method before he/she decides. Some of these include -

1. No Formal Method for Shift Schedules

This method is better for small companies with fewer employees. It is also preferable for organizations that don't need extra assistance to create, monitor and maintain shift schedules.

While it is inexpensive, it's harder for owners to handle last-minute changes or accommodate requests. The no formal method doesn't scale well for growing businesses that frequently add new employees.

2. Traditional Method for Shift Schedules

Some companies still use pen and paper to create schedules. They place the new schedule each week up on a board so everyone can see it. It's simple, straightforward, and doesn't require a computer system.
However, manual changes are time-consuming and prone to error. It's also harder to optimize labor-related decision-making, as there's no real way to generate labor reports.

3. Functional Method for Shift Schedules

A lot of businesses utilize spreadsheets to create shift schedules. Microsoft Office provides work templates that are easy to navigate and customize. With formulas and reporting features, a business can drill down into labor data to make better decisions.

Excel is less expensive than scheduling software, but the owner will still need to purchase a Microsoft Office license. This method is faster than pen and paper but is still more tedious and prone to error than scheduling software.

4. Employee Scheduling Software for Shift Schedules

Thankfully, new technologies enable owners to quickly create and monitor schedules. They can do so from mobile phones, laptops, or their iPads.

An employee can put in a last-minute request to swap a night shift or ask for fewer hours per week, and an alert is immediately sent to management. Real-time updates enable everyone to see any changes.

This streamlines the entire scheduling process and improves employee morale. It also holds everyone accountable. Software solutions can be pricey, but the return on investment is worth it.

Scheduling software is fairly easy to operate, though there may be a slight learning curve at first. This option is best for growing businesses that don't want to waste time and money on scheduling bottlenecks.

  • Intuitive easy to use
  • Ability to access data from any device
  • Reporting features
  • Good reviews
  • Online support and customer service

How to Build an Employee Shift Schedule

There are so many factors to consider in scheduling that it can be overwhelming. New business owners have different responsibilities and objectives to meet each day. The last thing a company needs is to worry about the work schedule.

Unfortunately, many owners don't take scheduling seriously and aren't sure how to build a schedule properly. This results in non-compliance, poor customer service, and a high turnover rate. While software performs some of the work automatically, it still helps to know how to build a good schedule. This is particularly true if the organization uses one of the other 3 scheduling methods. Here are the 9 steps to create an employee shift schedule.

1. Create Work Standards for Shift Schedule

Determine how much each worker needs to complete in a given time frame. This measurement will depend on the type of business and the role of the employee. The owner should outline all of the job requirements for this role, and then repeat this process for every single other worker.

2. Analyze Activity Levels to Create Shift Schedule

How busy is the company? The answer to this question will determine how many employees are required per shift. Owners shouldn't use intuition, but review sales and labor reports to ensure accuracy. Effective scheduling software can perform this step automatically, which will optimize future scheduling and minimize any bottlenecks.

3. Predict Activity Levels to Create Shift Schedule

Owners should review the historical data in step 2 to predict future scheduling needs. It's best to pinpoint the busy and slow times for each day, month, and year. Holidays and seasonal factors are also important for accurate predictions.

4. Calculate Required Employees for Shift Schedule

The owner should divide the production standards by the number of customers to estimate how many employees are required per shift. To illustrate, a hostess can seat roughly 20 tables in four hours. Historical data shows there is an average of 60 tables during this time. The owner divided 60 by 20 to determine that the restaurant needs 3 hostesses for that shift.

5. Consider Worker Needs for Shift Schedules

The owner should now consider employee availability, flexibility concerns, rotation, and compliance. It's important to factor in potential absenteeism, overtime, and other extenuating circumstances. A lot of managers forget time-off requests or other requirements when they make schedules. This hurts morale and leads to more no-shows.

6. Choose the Method for Shift Schedules

Now it's time to pick between the casual method, traditional method, functional method, and innovative method. Some methods will save more time and money, which optimizes future scheduling.

7. Get Approval for Shift Schedule

If a supervisor creates the schedule, he/she will need to approve it with management. This step is critical as the owner may have other requirements that impact scheduling needs. Both individuals should evaluate the quality of the schedule and consider labor expenses, worker needs, and company requirements.

8. Share Shift Schedule with Staff

The supervisor should post or give out the schedule to employees ahead of time. If using Excel, the company can send schedules through email. Some managers tack the schedule on a bulletin board where everyone can see it. Scheduling apps enable owners to automatically communicate updates so employees don't need to make a change request in person.

9. Regularly Review Shift Schedule

The first schedule is only the first step. For fast-food chains or retailers, new schedules are typically required each week. Even if the schedule is fixed, supervisors will still need to track, monitor, and update it for optimization purposes.


The company should also look out for any regular problems and work with team members to improve future scheduling. The company may need to consider a new method as business needs change.

Key Takeaways of Shift Schedules

In conclusion, here is what to know about shift schedules -

  • The most common types of shift schedules include split shift schedules, fixed shift schedules, overtime shift schedules, rotating shift schedules, on-call shifts, swing shift schedules, and no-schedule shifts.
  • The 9 biggest schedules schedule avoid include low availability, overstaffing, margin cannibalization, staff shortages, no call-no shows, excessive training, poor customer service, bad communication, and compliance issues.
  • The four main scheduling methods include casual, traditional, functional, and innovative. The type of scheduling method an organization picks depends on business size, scope, and worker needs.
  • To generate a schedule, owners should create work standards, assess current activity, determine how many workers are required per shift, consider employee needs, choose scheduling method, get approval, share schedule, and regularly review and optimize the schedule.