Night shifts are a common shift pattern for industries that need to have staff 24/7 like in healthcare and manufacturing.
There’s no way a workplace can run without staff being there around the clock.
But, it comes with scheduling challenges that HR and people management teams need to deal with.
Luckily, there are various different night shift schedules that you can use to guide your choices for your team, each with a different set of pros and cons.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through a variety of the night shift schedules available, highlighting considerations around employee engagement, health and safety, plus tips on optimizing your workforce and shift management.
Let’s jump straight in!
Table of Contents
What is a Night Shift?
A night shift is a work schedule where an employee works hours that are classified as being during the night.
Typically, this ranges from anywhere between 10 pm to 6 am, however, the exact hours can vary.
There are various different night shift hours and schedules that teams can follow, and we’ll look at those in the next section.
Types of Night Shift Schedules
1. 2 2 3 schedule
What is a 2 2 3 work schedule?
A 2 2 3 work schedule, sometimes known as a Panama schedule, is where employees work 12-hour shifts for two days, then have two days off, followed by three more days on shift.
In most cases, a 2 2 3 work schedule will have four teams and they’ll rotate the days and hours between each team to ensure all employees get their allocated time off.
All employees get 180 days off per year, which is good for work-life balance.
Regular breaks from night shift can help reduce the chances of burnout.
Every shift that employees work is 12-hours long, which can lead to your team being tired by the end of the shift pattern.
Takes time for employees to become acclimated to this shift pattern when you’re starting out with it.
2. 4 on 4 off schedule
What is a 4 on 4 off shift pattern?
A 4 on 4 off shift pattern is where employees work for four days on, then four days off, then four nights on, and four nights off.
Teams following this shift pattern will usually be required to work both day and night shifts, but it can be altered and involve teams only working night shifts, or only working day shifts. To run it properly, you’ll need four teams of employees if you want 24/7 coverage.
Good for industries like manufacturing or healthcare as you can have 24/7, 365 coverage.
Employees get four days off in a row, which is more than most other shift patterns offer and is good for work-life balance.
Working four 12-hour day or night shifts in a row can be exhausting for some employees.
Employees need to work on weekends and flexibility around time-off can be limited.
3. Dupont shift schedule
What is a Dupont shift schedule?
A Dupont shift schedule involves a four-week shift cycle with four teams.
Each team will work for 42 hours per week, and have a shift typically consisting of: four nights on, three days off, three days on shift, one day off, three more night shifts, three days off, four more day shifts, and then seven days off.
A seven-day break each cycle means employees are able to spend more time with family or take holidays on a regular schedule, even without using their paid vacation days.
Have staff on-site 24/7, 365 days per year, so it works well for healthcare and manufacturing.
Employees don’t have much of a break for most of the shift cycle, which can be tiring and risk burning out some individuals.
Employees will often need to work weekends .
4. Pitman schedule (2-3-2)
What is a Pitman shift schedule?
A pitman schedule – also known as a 2-3-2 shift pattern, involves four teams each working:
Two days on
Two days off
Three days on
Two days off
Two days on
Three days off
The pattern runs for four-weeks, and then resets.
It’s often seen in manufacturing schedules because it ensures a company can keep operations running without interruption, and ensures skilled employees are always available.
Employees get regular time off.
Ensures everything is running 24/7 without needing days off.
Some parts of the month can become tiring as the two-day breaks often aren’t enough to compensate for multiple 12-hour shifts in a row.
5. 5 5 4 shift rotation
What is a 5-5-4 shift rotation?
A 5-5-4 shift rotation involves teams working:
Five 10-hour days on
Three days off
Five 10-hour shifts
Four days off
Five 10-hour shifts
Three days off
The cycle then repeats every 25 days.
It does require employees working long hours each week, however, they do get regular long weekends and there’s never a 12-hour shift required, which is often required in the other shift patterns.
Employees get regular long weekends and time-off which can be motivating.
No 12-hour shifts which makes multi-day shifts in a row more manageable.
In some areas, employees can be eligible for full-time benefits vs. just being shift workers
Each shift will be at a different time of day (first, second, third shift) so it can be hard to create a regular work-life balance.
10-hour shifts for five days in a row is tiring for your team and can risk burnout without systems in place to manage it.
How to Manage Night Shifts and Labor Compliance
Managing a team of employees working night shifts can be a tricky field to navigate due to labor laws and balancing the needs of your team with operational requirements and output targets.
Here are some pratical tips to get you started:
1. Ensure your employees take breaks
The first best practice to follow when it comes to night shifts and labor compliance is making sure your team takes regular breaks.
The first place you should look is your local government labor laws.
For example, in Canada, employees are entitled to an unpaid 30-minute break during every period of five consecutive hours of work.
If you ask the employees to work during their breaks, they need to be compensated for it.
On the other hand, the US Department of Labor outlines that federal law doesn’t require employees to have paid breaks during their shifts.
This also applies to having multiple days off between shifts.
Most of the night shift schedule examples we’ve already looked at let teams have multiple days off, but if your structure is different, consider using a platform like Voilà!, which lets managers set mandatory rest periods for employees between shifts.
This ensures they get the rest they need to avoid burnout and always come back to work and perform at their best.
2. Avoid scheduling employees for overtime during a night shift
As a general rule, night shifts should never exceed 8 hours per 24 hours – in some countries, such as the UK, this is written law.
In other places, such as the US, the shift patterns are left up to the employer and employee to agree on.
Regardless of laws, there can be negative effects on your team if they work too many night shifts, such as:
Poor sleep patterns which lead to reduced focus and energy.
Lower productivity during parts of each shift.
Higher number of workplace incidents due to fatigue.
When building your night shift schedule, always consider the effects on your team and if your choice of night shift schedule is sustainable for the long term.
3. When assigning night shift hours, take their health risk into account
It’s well documented that shift work can take a toll on your employees’ health and well-being, and this needs to be considered when you’re assigning your overnight shifts.
When you’re assigning employees to night shift, always consider their health risks and personal situation.
You also need to keep a close eye on how much overtime your night shift teams are working.
If they’re constantly putting in extra hours and not getting enough rest, they’ll be increasing their health risks, and have a higher chance of making mistakes at work that could harm their own health.
7 ways to optimize your employees’ schedules for the night shift
As a HR manager, it’s your responsibility to help optimize your employee’s schedules and help them perform at their best during their night shifts, and avoid common downsides of working nights such as higher stress levels and difficulties with work-life balance.
1. Avoid workplace burnout by eliminating split shifts
One of the best ways to help reduce burnout is to eliminate split shifts.
These types of shifts don’t allow for recovery time and that can quickly increase the risks of burnout and be harmful to the health of your team.
If a shift worker is on split shifts, it’s also going to disrupt their circadian rhythm which results in an irregular sleeping pattern.
Overtime, this will have harmful effects as well and negatively impact their workplace performance.
For example, requiring a certain number of hours between shifts for your team is a simple but effective way to reduce the risks of someone working too many hours, too close together.
2. Avoid having early morning shifts that start before 6 am
Morning shifts that start before 6 am can be difficult for your team, and CUPE even highlights that these early morning shifts increase the health risks to workers more than regular night shift work does.
Part of the reason for this is that it’s hard to get into a consistent sleep cycle and rotate from an early morning shift to a night shift later that week.
Most of the popular night shift schedule examples we’ve looked at, like the 2 2 3 schedule, 4 on 4 off, all typically avoid including shifts that start after midnight and before 6 am, so you should not encounter this problem if you follow those.
The hours between 3 am and 6 am are also typically some of the worst hours for people in terms of alertness, and this is exacerbated if someone has been struggling with their sleep schedule or is tired after already working several shifts in the week.
3. Eliminate split shifts and consider a rapid shift rotation
Split shifts – where someone is required to work two separate shifts during the same working day are near impossible to work into a good night shift schedule.
Your team won’t have time to properly sleep or adjust their body clock to the shift and it’s going to lead to low performance and a lack of motivation at work.
When creating your night shift schedule, ensure that all of your team members have long enough periods between their shifts to recover and recuperate.
A simple way to ensure this is the case is to use Voilà!’s smart scheduling tool, which allows you to build custom scheduling rules including mandatory breaks between shifts.
As you’re building your shift schedule, you can request shifts to employees who can approve or deny it, giving your team more control over their work-life balance.
4. Boost engagement by offering premiums to qualified employees
To improve employee engagement, don’t force employees to work the night shift if they don’t want to.
For example, someone could receive 1.5x normal pay if they work certain hours of the night or work an early morning shift.
If employees want to take these shifts, they’ll be fairly compensated, and you can use smart scheduling rules to ensure people aren’t working excessive amounts of night shifts and have breaks in between.
5. Stay connected with your employees
An often overlooked part of managing your team on the night shift is maintaining an open line of communication with them.
By talking to them and getting feedback you can learn:
How they’re coping with the night shift schedule.
Whether the hours make sense for different individuals.
Whether there are skill gaps in the shifts leading to mistakes or difficulties.
Encouraging an open-door policy is going to help improve your employees’ feeling of emotional safety and help them be more honest and open. In turn, you can then offer resources and make changes to shift schedules or processes to improve the work environment for them.
A simple way to improve your communication is to use a messaging platform like Voilà! that lets you create group chats or one-to-one message channels.
Making it easy for employees to share feedback and know that their concerns or questions are being heard by you.
6. Avoid scheduling employees alternating working days and days off & build recurring schedules instead
Night shifts are difficult to get used to, especially if employees are on a flexible shift pattern without consistency.
CUPE recommends using a forward rotation, starting with morning, to evening, to night shift. This strategy helps people slowly acclimatize to working night shifts and reduces the impact on the circadian rhythm and helps build a routine.
To help build consistent schedules for your team, you can use recurring schedule templates in Voilà!
By keeping your shifts consistent, your team can easily plan ahead. Doing so helps to improve their work-life balance and avoid them feeling like shifts are being forced on them, which can build resentment towards work and hurt their motivation.
7. Simplify replacement management through automation
When an employee scheduled to work a night shift calls in and lets you know they’re unable to be at work, you’ll need to find a replacement.
This is important in industries like manufacturing or healthcare where you need a team on the floor at all times.
In the past, you’d have to call through a list of employees, with no guarantee that they’ll even pick up the phone or be available to stand in.
When the available shift comes up, you can automatically see which employees have the skills or qualifications required to be a replacement.
If they’re a match, they’ll get a notification on their phone and be made aware that there’s an available shift and the details around it, such as whether there’s a premium on it.
If they’re available, they can instantly accept the shift from their phone and you can approve it.
Which meets the end goal of streamlining the process and making it a whole lot easier for everyone involved.
Tips for Employees on Preparing for Overnight Shifts
Your employees will have their own preparation processes, but you can advise them on how to prepare for overnight shifts to help improve their well-being, as well as work performance.
1. Adjust your sleep schedule in advance
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s best if your team adjusts their sleep schedule in advance.
Otherwise, they’ll wake up at a regular time on a day they’re expected to go in and work nights and will end up exhausted by the halfway point of their shift.
You can encourage your team or share resources on tapering sleep. Tapering sleep is the process of continually moving the time you go to bed later until it mimics the night shift schedule.
This takes time to do properly and isn’t ideal if your team is on a rotating shift where they need to quickly alternate between day and night shifts.
However, if employees have a couple of days off in between shifts, even that is enough to start sleep tapering and make the first night shift easier to manage.
2. Make light work in your favor
A major problem night shift workers face is that they’re not exposed to daily sunlight, which can quickly affect circadian rhythm, mood, and motivation.
Research has found that exposing night shift workers to bright light during their shift can help keep them alert, and reducing light exposure on the way home by limiting the use of TVs or phones can help them fall asleep faster.
You can also use these findings to adjust the lighting at your workplace. For example, you can ensure the rooms that night shift workers use are well-lit to help them stay alert.
3. Don’t drink too much caffeine
Caffeine is an excellent tool to help people stay alert, and a large number of people incorporate caffeinated drinks into their routine, usually in the form of coffee or tea.
Studies have found that shift workers can increase alertness with small doses of caffeine, but more frequently, can increase alertness and reduce the number of accidental naps.
However, your team also needs to consider that consuming too much caffeine within six hours of their shift ending, it risks affecting their sleep and that can then worsen their energy levels for the next shift.
As an employer or HR manager, you can’t control how your team uses caffeine, but you can share research and offer suggestions that they can then consider implementing themselves.
4. Take power naps when possible
In general, sleeping on shift is a no-go.
However, if your team gets scheduled breaks during their shift, then they can consider taking power naps for 20-30 minutes. These can help re-energize people if they’re tired and improve their alertness for the remainder of the night shift.
However, it’s important to note that if the power nap is longer than 30 minutes the effects can have the opposite effect and the person risks waking up feeling more tired than they were before.
If people on your team want to power nap, you can consider offering free earplugs or alarm clocks to those on the job.
5. Eat small portions throughout a shift
The food your team eats on shift can affect their alertness and fatigue levels.
A recommended best practice is to focus on eating small portions throughout the shift rather than eating one large meal before or during the night shift.
If you eat a large portion at once, your body is going to require more energy to digest it which then leads to increased levels of tiredness.
Like with caffeine, you shouldn’t be trying to control what your team eats, but you can share resources and let them make their own decisions.
The night shift schedule examples we’ve looked at are all good options when creating your shift pattern, and the best one for your company will depend on things like your industry, team size, and output needs.
It’s essential that you always consider the health and well-being of your employees who are working night shifts.
These shifts can have a negative health impact, making it a priority to optimize your team’s schedules and support them wherever possible.
As well as that, keep an open line of communication and be open to feedback from your team.
If you can build a night shift schedule that works for everyone, you’ll know that your team is able to perform at their best without taking a negative hit to their health or work-life balance.
When you’re ready to start optimizing your scheduling workflow, you can schedule your free demo of Voilà! to see how it can help with your night shift scheduling needs today.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many 12-hour shifts can I work in a row?
The answer to this depends on where you’re located. It’s usually tied to the maximum number of allowed work hours per week.
For example, in Canada, most jobs have a maximum of 48 hours of work per week, which would mean you’re only allowed to work four 12-hour shifts in a row.
In addition to this, there are industries where different rules may apply.
Whether you’re an employee or employer, you should always verify that you’re not working more than the allowed number of hours per week and breaking any labor laws.
What does a NOC shift mean?
A NOC shift stands for a nocturnal shift, and it’s often used as a synonym for night shift, particularly in the nursing industry.
NOC shifts can follow similar patterns to the night shift schedule examples we’ve looked at in this guide and comes with a similar set of challenges as well like managing employee wellbeing and ensuring you always have skilled staff available at work when they’re needed.
To manage these challenges, you need to carefully build your shift schedules to match the unique needs of both your workplace and your team.
Make sure that you always have key staff members available on each shift, and have shift patterns that give all of your employees enough time off between shifts so they can rest, recuperate, and avoid burnout.