Rotating or Fixed Shifts


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Does the best shift schedule for your operation and workforce have fixed shifts or rotating shifts? This is a question as old as shiftwork itself. The answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Each type of configuration has its own advantages and disadvantages. To help you decide which is best for you, let’s look at what each configuration has to offer.

Rotating Shifts

There are several types of rotating shifts:

  • Traditional rotating schedules. Each crew changes from one shift to another weekly.
  • Slow rotation schedules. Schedules that rotate slowly may call for the crews to change to a new shift every month or even every year.
  • Oscillating schedules. These schedules usually have two shifts that rotate back and forth while the third shift remains fixed.
  • Partial rotation schedules. Only a portion of a crew rotates while the remainder stays on their fixed shift all of the time.

And the list goes on. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on traditional rotating schedule.

Advantages of Rotating Shifts

  • Skills are balanced on every shift. Since all crews take equal turns at covering the undesirable shifts (weekends and nights), there is no incentive for all of the senior, more skilled workers to pool together on a single crew.
  • All workers are given equal exposure to day shift. As crews rotate through their turn on day shift, they are exposed to managers, engineers, vendors and company support personnel.
  • Training assets can be consolidated. Since all employees rotate through day shifts, there is no need to duplicate training efforts on all shifts.
  • Product uniformity goes up. As result of equal training, equal exposure to support and management, and equal skills, all crews will perform in a much more uniform manner.

Disadvantages of Rotating Shifts

  • Employees prefer fixed shifts. About 90% of all shiftworkers prefer fixed shifts to rotating shifts.
  • Unbalanced workloads are difficult to manage with rotating shifts. If the work to be done on each shift differs greatly, there may be a problem with essentially identical crews being assigned to the work.
  • It is generally more difficult for the body to adjust to rotating shifts. Slowing down the rotation rate can mitigate this.

Fixed Shifts

On a fixed shift schedule, each crew comes into work at about the same time every day they are scheduled to work. Some variations include a rotation between days off during the week and varying shift lengths.

Advantages of Fixed Shifts

  • Employees prefer fixed shifts. The reasons for this vary. Senior people want to get (and stay) on day shift. Junior employees like the idea of eventually being able to get to a favorite shift. And most people simply want the stability of always knowing when they do not have to be at work — allowing them to better plan their family and social lives.
  • Unbalanced workloads can be more easily matched. If the workload is lighter on the night shift or if it requires different skills, it is a simple manner to create a crew that matches that specific condition.

Disadvantages of Fixed Shifts

  • Recruiting new employees becomes more difficult. After a brief training period, new hires are generally assigned to the least desirable shifts. Often it is many years before they can get to the shift they want.
  • Different shifts become different companies. As the disparities between the crews (skills, seniority, morale etc.) grow, the crews themselves will become more independent of each other. This can affect productivity, safety, quality, attrition and other performance measures.

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