Open Shifts

An open shift is already offered to the employees but it is yet to be accepted by any however, an empty shift is yet to be offered to anyone at all. Read on more here.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 5, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
open shifts in a shift schedule

As a manager, setting up a shift pattern that suits the needs of your business whilst keeping staff happy can be tricky. Making sure that cover is good at all times is essential in the modern era. This is especially true in utility and emergency sectors. But with staffing stretched over 24 hours in many cases, keeping everybody happy and the company running is never easy. This is where open shifts come in.

Open shift patterns are one of several ways to deal with staff rotation and for many companies can help them fill unsociable or short notice shifts. But what are open shifts and how are they implemented. Read on to find out more.

What are Open Shifts?

An open shift is a shift that is approved by a member of management but has not been assigned to an employee yet. Employees are then allowed to ‘claim’ or ‘request’ to work the shift if the shift time is suitable for them.

When an open shift is set up employees will often be able to view them in timesheet software. They may also receive a notification that a new open shift is available.

Open shifts can be set up to allow all staff members to apply for a shift. They may also be set up for a select team or group of employees to view and ‘claim’.

Are Open Shifts Legal?

The short answer is yes. For many years overtime has been given to staff in an open shift pattern fashion, with shifts advertised to staff for them to state if they wish to work them. The new modern open shift method takes this one step further by making all or most shifts in a workplace open for ‘claiming’.

There are a few laws, however, that apply to all shift patterns that it are important to understand. The standard maximum weekly working hours rule applies to all shift work as set out in the European Worktime Directive. This means that unless an employee elects otherwise, the maximum number of hours they can work in a week is 48.

The Working Time Directive also states that workers have the right to 11 hours of rest between working days. For example, if a shift finishes at 9 pm then the next shift should not start before 8am the next day.

On top of this, there are additional rules for night shifts. The law states that night workers should not work more than an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period. The average is calculated over a period of seventeen weeks. If both the employee and employer agree, they can extend this period up to 52 weeks.

Who are open shifts aimed at?

The concept of open shifts is aimed at medium or large companies whose workforce works through hourly rotation. Factories, retail, security companies, hospitals, fire stations, police services, call centre and cleaning services can all benefit from open shifts.

The flexible nature of open shifts allows companies to fill shift patterns at short notice while adapting to the constantly shifting nature of their business.

How do open shifts work in practice?

Open shift patterns are often facilitated in the Workforce Management software a business employs. Available shift vacancies are published for all employees, or a specific group, depending on the needs of the business. As soon as a bid for the shift is generated, it is subsequently ‘posted’ out to all eligible staff. This allows them to see and select the shift. Once ‘claimed’ the software can automatically allocate the shift or flag it for a manager to select an appropriate worker.

The open shift concept also makes it possible to create schedules of availability based on the necessary qualifications required at each time. This can help ensure that the correct skills are available at all times.

What defines a qualified employee when sending out an open shift pattern notification?

When sending out an open shift pattern notification, the manager through the workforce management software, will set the criteria for the shift. For example, in a supermarket, a shift pattern to work on the fresh meat counter will only be sent out to those with the correct skills and qualifications to handle fresh meat. This defines who will see and be able to claim the open shift.

Being able to target shift vacancies to a specific group of workers can help guarantee that productivity is maintained at all times.

What are the Benefits of Using Open Shifts for employees?

The fact that open shifts give greater employee involvement in managing their own schedules already makes the Open Shift concept a win-win for many businesses. At the same time – from the employee’s point of view – they are granted greater initiative in the decision-making process. Other benefits to employees are:

  1. More proactivity with shift management. Employees using an open shift platform have more choice of when they work. This can allow them to be more proactive with planning their time.
  2. Greater flexibility. This comes hand in hand with being more proactive. Open shifts allow employees to pick and choose the hours they work. This can allow them to work flexibly and can even allow those who would otherwise struggle to work (e.g., those with childcare issues) to find shifts that suit them.
  3. Increased productivity. If an employee works at times of the day that suit them, they are likely to be more productive.

What are the Benefits of Using Open Shifts for employers?

For companies, in general, adhering to the practice of Open Shifts is a winning solution. Using open shifts allows them to:

  • Reduce time creating and scheduling rotas. 
  • Reduce the number of errors created when scheduling staff. It will also allow them to prevent the need to keep rewriting rotas when errors occur. 
  • Decreased absenteeism from staff. Staff who are engaged in selecting their own shift patterns are more likely to attend work.
  • Full coverage. Open shifts allow businesses to ensure they have cover at all the times they operate.
  • Costs reduction. With less time scheduling staff, HR teams can tackle other tasks reducing the hours they work and costs incurred.

What is the difference between an Open Shift and an Empty Shift?

An Open Shift is a shift in a schedule that currently has no team member allocated to it but is available for every employee, or a select group of team members, to accept for work.

An Empty Shift is a shift in a schedule that has no team member allocated to it and has not yet been offered to any team members to claim.

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Photo by Dynamic Wang on Unsplash



Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)