Choosing Between 4-On 4 Off Shifts or Continental

Organizations or teams manage their shift based on their needs and requirements. Teams could choose from the conventional 2 pattern shifts, alternate shifts, night shifts or adopt the continuous shift patterns like 3 shift or semi-continuous, 4-on 4 off shifts and continental shifts. When teams need continuous business presence, they are likely to choose a 3 shift or 4-on 4 off shift pattern to ensure business continuity and workforce presence.

What is a 4-on 4 off Shift Pattern?

4-on 4 off is a continuous shift pattern that gives 24/7 coverage 365 days of the year. The example below is based on 4 teams of employees working 12 hour day and night shifts, plus their rest days off in blocks of 4:

  • 4 consecutive days on
  • 4 consecutive days off
  • 4 consecutive nights on
  • 4 consecutive days off

This pattern of shift working can be varied to operate on a day or night shift basis only. The four stages are then repeated with the only variable being that at the end of each cycle the start day moves forward by one day. This means that the overall cycle is 16 weeks long, this being the point at which the pattern returns to the original start day.

A drawback of this pattern is that employees will inevitably work weekends. However, it is a popular way of working for employees as weekend working is offset by enjoying quality time off across a block of four days.

4-on 4 off or continental shift pattern?

The continental shift pattern is another pattern commonly used by shift planners. Using 4 teams, it is structured with shorter 8-hour shifts across three blocks of shifts a week. The shifts start either in the morning, afternoon (swing shift) or at night. A typical continental pattern is reproduced below. The pattern repeats on a 4-week cycle. Note that the continental shift pattern starts with 7 days consecutive working:

  • 2 day shifts, 3 swing shifts, 2 night shifts
  • 2 days off, 3 day shifts, 2 swing shifts
  • 2 night shifts, 3 days off, 2 day shifts
  • 2 swing shifts, 3 night shifts, 2 days off

So which pattern is better? It depends on the business. The 12-hour pattern has fewer shift changes which can lead to greater productivity overall. Employees also benefit from 4 consecutive days off work which is good for wellbeing and overall. The advantage of the continental shift patterns is they provide the employer with more flexibility to meet fluctuating demands by offering overtime.

Deciding on the right 4-on 4 off shift pattern

Deciding which pattern is the best fit for a business can be challenging for shift planners. It is a complex task to schedule the workforce shifts, particularly when holidays and other absences need factoring in. Different patterns will suit different workplaces and the industry sector. 

Bring your shift planning online & involve your employees

Papershift shift planning software allows you to take employee leave requests into account when planning, to make changes to the shift plan online and to share this live with staff via the app. You can also set different rolling shift patterns so you never need to copy and paste again!