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Shift Work Scheduling: Fundamentals, Challenges, and Benefits

Thinking about how to structure employment for your new employees? Consider using shift work scheduling. We explain more in this piece.

shift-work-scheduling-fundamentals

Finding ways to improve efficiency? While we can’t cover shifts for your team, we can help in other ways. Try Circuit for Teams.

An important part of managing a team of workers is setting and monitoring their schedules. 

After all, you pay for their time, so it’s only logical to keep track of it. 

A shift work schedule helps businesses like yours manage workflows in the most efficient manner possible. 

But what exactly is a shift work schedule?

Simply put, a shift work schedule is a detailed work schedule that assigns employees work-hour blocks through a given workweek. 

A workweek is how long your business remains up and running during a normal week. 

Many businesses follow a 40-hour workweek

But if you own a unique business like an all-day pharmacy, your workers may have to burn the midnight oil. 

A shift work schedule helps you make sure all those hours are assigned to a worker so you always have help when needed.

I’ll explain the different types of work schedules, how shift schedules work, and the challenges and benefits.

Check out these work schedule templates to get started with employee scheduling. 

Circuit for Teams is a simple software for optimizing routes with multiple drivers. Click here to start your free 14-day trial.

Types of work schedules

There are several types of employee work schedules for your business depending on your typical office hours and the kind of employees you hire for your business (full-time or part-time employees, contract, or freelance). 

Here are a few. 

Fixed work schedule 

A fixed schedule is typically used by companies where employees work 35 to 40 hours a week. 

You can divide these 40 hours into five eight-hour workdays or another arrangement, such as six six-and-a-half-hour workdays. 

But the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) puts some limitations on the length of weekly schedules. 

It limits the duration of a workweek to 40 hours. 

This means that all your employees working more than 40 hours a week are entitled to overtime pay. 

A fixed work schedule typically spans five business days of the week and assigns specific clock-in and clock-out times to all employees.

Flexible work schedule 

A flexible work schedule is similar to a fixed work schedule. 

Like a fixed work schedule, a flexible schedule assigns specific work hours to employees divided evenly over a workweek. 

But unlike a fixed work schedule, this type of work schedule doesn’t need to stick to the typical 9-to-5 routine. 

You can have your employees scheduled to work from 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday, or 9 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday. 

Flexible work schedules are good for managing full-time employees because they allow managers to be flexible and adjust work hours depending on the best time to work. 

For example, a real estate business might want employees to take Monday and Tuesday off but work on the weekends since that’s when most people are free to attend open houses.

Shift work schedule 

So far, we’ve talked about businesses that work a limited number of hours each day. 

But what about restaurants, pharmacies, and other businesses that need to be open at odd hours? 

This is where you might benefit from a shift work schedule. 

A shift work schedule manages longer workdays by dividing them into three or more work shifts. 

  • The day shift can be from 7 am to 3 pm or 8 am to 4 pm. 
  • The evening shift can be from 3 pm or 4 pm to 10 pm or 11 pm. 
  • The night shift is when workers typically work overnight.

Shift work schedules are good for managing service-based workers like delivery drivers who may work based on demand or capacity.

shift-work-schedules

How do shift work schedules work?

Shift work schedules allow employees to work in timed blocks throughout a workweek.

The goal is to help businesses break down their work for each day among a team of employees. This helps make sure people are constantly working. 

A food delivery business, for instance, might have a batch of people deliver breakfast and lunch, another batch cover dinner, and the last batch take care of the wee hours.
Without shifts schedules, every team member might wake up wanting to deliver avocado toast. That wouldn’t work come dinnertime.

First shift 

The first shift (also called the day shift) is typically a 9-to-5 shift where workers start working in the morning and clock out by the afternoon. 

The first shift team typically comes into work before the third (last) shift has ended, and the team is supposed to pick up from where they left off.

The people on this shift are typically the ones who are making the most deliveries since they work during the day. 

It involves drivers and — depending on your business — bikers who can visit final destinations to drop off packages.
That’s not to say nothing’s going on in the warehouse during this time. 

People are also continuously picking, packing, and sorting to make sure delivery drivers leave on time.

Second shift 

The second shift (also called the evening shift) usually starts after the first shift ends and goes on until the night. Typical second shift hours last from 5 pm to midnight. 

As a delivery business, you can use second-shift workers to extend your operating hours. 

For example, you can offer delivery services until 8 pm or 9 pm. 

Afterward, workers can help plan deliveries for the next day by sorting and marking packages. 

Third shift 

The third shift (also called the night shift) is the last shift of the day. As it tends to run overnight, only businesses open 24/7 usually have a third shift. 

A typical third shift starts at 10 pm to midnight and ends at 6 am to 8 am. 

While you probably can’t deliver packages to customers between 10 pm and 6 am, you can use third shift workers to manage inventory, sort through and mark packages for the next day, and respond to customer queries and complaints.

Fun fact: The third shift is also popularly called the graveyard shift. While the reason for this is disputed, it could be because these late shifts were once only worked by graveyard groundskeepers and mortuary workers at hospitals.

Circuit for Teams is a simple software for optimizing routes with multiple drivers. Click here to start your free 14-day trial.

Challenges of shift work schedules

While shift work schedules might work well for some businesses, others might find them difficult. 

Here are some of the biggest drawbacks of using a shift work schedule for your business. 

Workers might not be able to work efficiently

Depending on their shift, some workers might not be able to finish their work before their shift ends. 

For a delivery business, this can mean delayed deliveries and unsatisfied customers

For instance, if a delivery driver is expected to deliver 100 packages during a four-hour shift, they may not be able to complete all their deliveries. 

This could give the delivery business a bad rep.

Fortunately, as a delivery business owner, you can use routing software like Circuit for Teams to come up with efficient delivery routes for drivers while factoring in things like shift schedules.

Uneven work distribution 

Another major drawback of shift work scheduling is that the work might not be distributed evenly among workers. 

Let’s understand this with the help of an example. 

Let’s say you run a delivery business that deals with residential and commercial packages. 

You deliver commercial and residential packages Monday through Friday, but only deliver residential packages on the weekends (like FedEx). 

Delivery drivers who work during the weekdays may have to deliver both commercial and residential packages — whereas drivers who work on the weekends will only deliver residential packages. 

Drivers who work on weekends might have fewer deliveries compared to drivers who work the same number of hours during weekdays.

It might take employees time to adjust to new schedules 

It isn’t always easy for shift workers to cover for others or work in rotating shifts because of the habits they end up forming while working a specific shift. 

For instance, a night shift worker might find it difficult to stay awake during the day and cover shifts when needed. 

Similarly, a morning shift worker might not be able to work as well during a night shift. 

While shift work schedules are flexible, they can make it difficult for workers to transition between shifts or trade shifts when needed.

benefits-of-using-a-shift-work-schedule

Benefits of using a shift work schedule

Here are some of the benefits of using a shift work schedule. 

It gives workers flexibility 

Workers with commitments like taking care of sick family members or attending school may find it easier to work shift-based schedules. 

A shift work schedule allows these workers to ask for a dynamic allocation of work blocks based on the times they expect to be free. 

As a delivery business owner, you can use this to your advantage. 

If you have workers who work during the latter half of the day, you can extend your operating hours and offer delivery services beyond the normal workday schedule.

Easier for legal compliance 

Shift-based schedules can help delivery businesses organize their driver timings better and make sure all work is done within the rules set by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

For example, commercial delivery truck drivers must take at least one 30-minute break after driving for eight consecutive hours. 

If the drivers work every day, they shouldn’t drive more than 60 hours in seven days. 

And if they don’t drive every day of the week, they can’t drive more than 70 hours in eight days.

Phew! So many rules. 

It’s pretty tedious to constantly track your drivers’ work hours and make sure they’re within the limit.

With a shift-work schedule, you can chart out a clear schedule where no shift exceeds eight continuous hours and each driver gets plenty of rest. 

These schedules can help you work out a system that is both efficient and legally compliant.

You can deliver 24/7 

It’s no secret that customers appreciate fast deliveries. 

If you only deliver during usual work hours, it can be hard to take on more customers.

As for urgent deliveries, you’ll have to shoot yourself in the foot and say no. 

Why? 

If you only deliver from 8 am to 8 pm each day, for instance, you won’t have any drivers available to handle urgent orders after or even around 8.

A shift-work schedule allows you to hire drivers for night shifts and make sure that your customers get their orders on time, no matter when they place them. 

In fact, orders can be delivered to customers or warehouses much faster at night since there’s less traffic.

Effectively schedule drivers and routes with Circuit for Teams

Switching to a shift work schedule can help your business save money by using employees more efficiently

Of course, this is only possible if the schedules are closely monitored and analyzed to judge performance. 

Circuit for Teams can help you with the staff scheduling process.

It’s route optimization and employee scheduling software that uses intuitive algorithms to analyze your delivery drivers’ schedules and allocate work in real time. 

Use Circuit for Teams to track your delivery drivers. 

Knowing where workers are in their shifts lets you assign workloads accordingly and even make schedule changes based on last-minute issues like traffic and road construction.

Our routing software also benefits customers with delivery notifications and proof of delivery. 

Circuit for Teams is a simple software for optimizing routes with multiple drivers. Click here to start your free 14-day trial.
Published2 November 2022
Updated2 November 2022
AuthorHeather Reinblatt
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About the author

Heather Reinblatt
Heather ReinblattContributor

Heather Reinblatt is a managing editor currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. She spends her free time reading, trying new recipes, and cuddling her cat Paisley. You can find Heather on LinkedIn.

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