Every business must plan their employees working hours to suit their needs. But each company’s requirements may be different. For example, a business that specialises in customer support may require round-the-clock working. Whereas a company that has brick and mortar shops may need sufficient cover during busy times.

But shift patterns don’t just concern employers. Employees also worry about working hours as they can effect their day-to-day life. And it is no surprise that they often cite unfair shift patterns as a cause for unhappiness.

But what exactly is a shift pattern, how do employers create them, and what can they do to ensure they are satisfactory?

In this article, we will answer all these questions and more in our guide to shift patterns. Let’s get started.

What is a Shift Pattern?

The word shift pattern refers to a specific combination of workers, working hours, schedules, and infrastructure that meet a specific need.

The purpose of a shift pattern for any business is to ensure there are enough employees working at any given time. This can be from a coverage perspective or man-hours perspective. For example, a brick-and-mortar shop will require sufficient staffing at all times of the day. Whereas a factory may require more workers when they receive a large order.

Whatever the purpose, a shift pattern will have to meet the needs of the business while keeping staff happy.

What is the best shift pattern?

The answer to this will differ from person to person. At the end of the day, the best shift pattern is the one that an employee enjoys. Some people prefer to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Others prefer 4 on and 4 off shifts. Others may even prefer to work evenings or nights.

If you are an employer looking for the best shift pattern for your business, ask your staff. You may know what you need to keep your company running but it won’t work if your staff don’t like it.

What Are Examples of Shift Patterns?

There are several types of shift patterns that a business can employ. Let’s have a look at a few in closer detail:

  • 2 shift. The 2 shift pattern is a typical Monday to Friday pattern of mornings (06:00-14:00) and afternoons (14:00-22:00). Often staff in this pattern will rotate, usually once a week.
  • Night shifts. Despite the unsociable hours, some staff members prefer this option. Night shifts typically offer a slight increase in pay over standard hours. Often businesses will rotate staff between day shifts and night shifts.
  • 4 on 4 off shift. One of the most popular patterns for businesses that need round-the-clock cover. The 4 on, 4 off shift pattern relies on employees working four 12-hour days consecutively. Their hard work is then rewarded with four days off. The timing of shifts generally varies between days and evenings. Emergency services often use this pattern to provide comprehensive cover.
  • Rotating shifts. A rotational model covers a wide range of schedules over different times of the day. It’s a good option for scheduling work where an employer’s needs changes from week to week.

Which Shift Patterns Are Popular?

The most popular shift pattern still tends to be the Monday to Friday full-time shift. But this could vary from business to business.

If you have a young team, you might find them preferring a full-time compressed shift. In this type of shift pattern, employees work full time hours over a shorter period of days (often 4). This gives them an extra day off to do whatever they like.

Other popular shifts typically include the school shift, from 9:30am to 2:30pm, and the student shifts, from 5:30pm to late. These shifts obviously appeal to a specific demographic of employee. In some sectors long 4 on, 4 off (or similar) shift patterns may be suitable.

Our advice for employers is to engage with your team to find out what they would prefer.

What are the different approaches to creating a shift pattern?

As mentioned above, there are many models for creating a shift pattern. How a business goes about it will depend on their needs and those of their staff.

Many businesses employ software to make the task easier. Not only will this help them meet their needs, but it will also take significantly less time to arrange shifts.

What laws govern shift patterns?

There isn’t one specific law that addresses shift patterns, but several do influence it. Perhaps the most important of these is the Working Time Regulations 1998. This states that no employee can work over 48 hours a week on average. However, an employee can choose to work more, if they wish, by opting out of the 48-hour week.

shift pattern explained by Papershift

Can an employer change a shift pattern without notice?

The quick answer is no. An employer must notify its employees of any changes to shift patterns in good time to avoid confusion. The laws are a little unclear on what good time means and the time can vary from business to business.

What if I have a fixed hours contract? Can I change it?

As an employer, changing employee shift patterns is your decision and perfectly reasonable if working hours aren’t fixed into contracts. Changes do, however, have to be reasonable.

If the employee’s contract states fixed hours, however, the story is very different. In these situations, the employee must agree to any change. Failure to get consent before changing shift patterns can be a breach contract and may lead to legal proceedings.

What if I decide my current shift pattern isn’t working for me? Can I change it?

While many businesses will allow staff to switch shift patterns, it is generally done at their discretion. This is because employees write shift patterns into contracts of employment. If you currently work a shift pattern you do not enjoy, try speaking to your line manager. Explain to them why you are unhappy and request a change. Just remember, any changes are entirely down to the business and their needs.

In Conclusion

Shift patterns can be delicate things. Balancing the needs of a business with those of the staff is never easy. 

We hope you found this guide useful. Please feel free to browse the rest of our site for more helpful advice.

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 🙂

Illustration by Natasha Remarchuk from Ouch!