In a job that requires employees to work shifts, there are few resources more crucial than a shiftwork calendar. Simply put, shift work is any work outside of a typical 7am-6pm working day, so with the multiple possibilities and combinations of working hours this provides, organizing who is supposed to be where and when will make things much easier.
In this article, we’ll cover more information about shift work, different types of shift schedules, and how to go about creating a shiftwork calendar.
What is shift work?
In a nutshell, shift work is any period of work not typically attributed to a Mon-Fri, 9-5 job. The length of a shift can vary between 4, 8 and 12 hours, but there is no set standard by law.
It’s common in some industries more than others and certainly there are some that come to mind first when thinking of shift work, like hospitals and other healthcare roles. But any business that operates 24 hours a day, such as gas stations and hotels or law enforcement, employ a variety of shift workers. To keep things running smoothly, a shiftwork calendar is an essential tool regardless of industry.
As well as keeping track of who is working and when, a calendar will help forward plan for managing workloads of individual employees and serve as a useful tool for creating a backup plan for any unexpected absences or sick days that might crop up. It’s possible to keep one that is manually updated, or there are plenty of automated services out there. When we go through how to create a shiftwork calendar later in this article, we’ll also provide you with a handy downloadable template to save you some time!
Different types of shift schedules
Given how many hours there are in a day, the number of possibilities for dividing the day into shifts is pretty high. Depending on the demands of your industry, in theory you can split it any way you like. However, the types of work shifts are widely boiled down to just three categories. Within each category is more scope for deciding the hours in each shift.
The three main types of work shifts are fixed shifts, split shifts, and rotating shifts. Additionally, you can include workers who are on call as a fourth category. Within these, you have what are known as first, second, and third shifts. That’s a lot of shifts to contend with, we know, so let’s go through them one by one.
Also known as the day shift, employees who work the first shift will be working during the day and have evenings off. This does also apply to weekend work. Employees working the first shift are usually in roles such as bank teller, retail sales, and administrative services.
This is often referred to as a swing shift and is essentially the afternoon shift. It can sometimes overlap with the first and third shifts but generally swing shift workers will have mornings and evenings off. Waitstaff and call center workers usually have the option of a swing shift, as do retail workers.
The night shift or graveyard shift, employees on third shift work will be working evenings and nights, ending their working ‘day’ in the morning. Nurses, ER doctors and hospitality workers can usually expect to work a third shift within their roles.
Employees on a fixed shift agreement will work set, unchanging hours within a first, second, or third shift throughout the week. For example, someone in retail on a fixed shift may work 8am to 5pm on Mondays, 9am to 1pm on Tuesdays, 12pm to 5pm on Wednesdays and so on. They can work a variety of hours, but always the same combination from day to day.
It’s pretty much what it sounds like – the day is split into two separate shifts with a significant stretch in between. For example, a waiter may work the lunch rush from 11am to 3pm, have a few hours off and then return to work for the late dinner rush 7pm to 11pm.
The opposite to a fixed shift, as you might have guessed, a rotating shift is very changeable in its hours. From day to day and week to week, an employee will work a variety of hours or shifts which requires them to adjust their schedule each time. Rotating shifts are common in healthcare, the transportation industry, and hospitality.
There are some extra considerations to be made with rotating shifts, as the inconsistency in a schedule can impact on the family and social life of an employee, and in some cases lead to a sleep disorder.
Employees who are on call usually work fixed shifts as well and must be available outside those hours if they are needed. Again, this is common in the healthcare industry but also in customer service or maintenance.
Pros and cons of shift work
As with anything, there are benefits and disadvantages to doing shift work. Some of the advantages include:
With the variety of hours available, there is usually scope to be flexible about which hours an employee can take on. For example, a prior commitment such as childcare may necessitate a split shift for the daycare or school run in the morning and afternoon. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, there’s a shift to suit.
Depending on the time of the shift, there’s often the great benefit of not getting stuck in rush hour traffic or having to join a huge queue for the morning public transport links with everyone else starting their jobs at 9am.
This is not always the case because there is no legal obligation for employers to pay more for shift work, but there may be a higher wage for working certain shifts such as the graveyard shift.
As well as enjoying an easier commute, there are certain activities or hobbies that are less crowded and even cheaper when you’re able to go off peak. The gym will usually be less busy at certain times during the day, and some cinemas or attractions offer cheaper off-peak prices.
Equally, there are some disadvantages that come with shift work:
Adjusting a schedule around differing hours of work could end up confusing your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Sleeping and eating at different times to the norm can disturb your body’s habits, especially when the routine is so irregular as with rotating shifts where one week consists of day shifts, and the next is nights.
There is also some potential disruption to family life and social life from limited availability in normal times outside of typical working hours.
The circadian rhythm is a natural internal process in our bodies that regulates sleep patterns. It repeats roughly every 24 hours, and abnormal shift work can disrupt this natural flow.
Whilst the commute to and from work can be easier, there is also the risk that it’s more costly, particularly if an employee relies on public transport. Often the regularity of public transport reduces after certain times in the evening, which may mean an employee needs to pay for a taxi in order to get home or to get to work in the first place. This cost will inevitably mount up, and as such some businesses may organize transportation to and from work for such employees. This organized transport is also a good way to combat any safety concerns for employees who must travel at night or at odd hours.
As well as the disruption to the circadian rhythm, shift work can lead to developing a sleep disorder. Shift work disorder, as this is often known, shows two distinct and opposite sounding symptoms of insomnia and excessive sleepiness. The insomnia may often display as difficulty falling and remaining asleep during the day for night shift workers, causing them to lose up to 4 hours of sleep a night. Excessive tiredness can also affect an employee during the time they are working and cause lack of concentration and depleted performance.
Sleep disorders can lead to other health concerns if left untreated. Always consult a medical professional.
Making a shiftwork calendar
There is no one set way for creating a calendar for shift work – it all depends on the needs of your business and your employees, as well as what kind of shifts are being worked and by how many people.
Ideally, the calendar should be keeping things as simple as possible, not making them more complicated, so don’t discount the ease of color coding. It’s an obvious and arguably rudimentary system, but there’s a reason it’s used so often. Plus, it works well in Excel and doesn’t require lots of technical know-how or pesky Excel formulae.
If your business operates fixed hours for first, second, and third shifts, a simple Excel spreadsheet with color coding will work well. Assign a color each to the first, second, and third shifts, preferably colors that are very different from each other so they don’t get muddled up. Use the top row to denote dates, and the first column for employee names. Done!
Add as many more colors as you need to identify different hours within a shift, off days, sick days, or any other absence.
For more complicated and varied shifts and hours, there are also various shift work calendar apps and generators which can create schedules for you. When using a shift work schedule maker online, it’s always best to double check what comes out just in case anything is missing.
If you’re an employee who does shift work and you just want to have your own schedule at your fingertips, a shift work schedule generator such as this one offered by Firehouse allows you to input your fixed shift pattern and it will work out your days on and off between selected dates.
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