What Are Shift Patterns? The Guide to Understanding Work Schedules

If you've ever worked in a shift-based job, then you know that shift patterns can be a bit baffling. What time do I start? What time do I finish? How many hours am I working? These are some typical questions most employees have when starting a new shift pattern. 

Making sure that your workforce has a sufficient number of employees working is the major goal of a shift pattern. This can either be in a form of man-hours or coverage perspective. For example, a factory may need more manpower during a large order season, whereas a brick-and-mortar shop will need enough workers every single day. 

As you read along, you’ll get a better understanding about shift patterns and how they can maximise workforce management and productivity. 

What is a Shift Pattern? 

A shift pattern is simply a schedule that dictates when an employee is required to work. Shift patterns can vary widely, but most often they involve working different hours on different days of the week. For example, a common shift pattern for retail jobs is working weekends and evenings during the week. This type of shift pattern is known as a "weekend warrior" schedule.

There are many other types of shift patterns, including: 

  • Early bird (starting work early in the morning) 

  • Night owl (working late in the night) 

  • Graveyard shift (working overnight) 

  • Split shift (working two shifts with a break in between) 

  • On-call (being available to work at any time)

  • Rotating shift (working different hours each week)

Each type of shift pattern has its own pros and cons. For example, the early bird pattern may be better for people who want to avoid traffic or who prefer to get their workday done early. Night owl shift patterns may be better for people who are more productive at night or who enjoy the nightlife.

Ultimately, it is up to every employee to decide what type of shift schedule is best suitable for them. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to choosing a work schedule. What seems doable for one person may not be workable for another. 

Experimenting with various shift arrangements is one of the strategic ways to figure out different work schedules suitable for your employees' needs. Moreover, a shift pattern can offer a lot of flexibility and can be a great way to manage an employee’s time. With a little bit of planning, your team can eventually find a shift arrangement that works for them. 

Early Bird Shift Pattern

An early-bird shift is a work schedule that starts earlier than the traditional workday. This type of shift is often used in industries where employees need to be on the job before customers or clients arrive. For example, many retail stores open their doors at least an hour before opening time to allow employees to stock shelves and prepare for the day.

Night Owl Shift Pattern

A night owl shift pattern is a shift that starts later in the day and extends into the evening or even the early hours of the morning. Night owl shift patterns are often used in industries where employees need to be available after normal business hours, such as customer service or security.

Graveyard Shift Pattern

A graveyard shift usually starts in the evening or night and extends into the wee hours of the morning. If your industry requires employees to be available after regular business hours (e.g. security or customer service), then you may want to consider implementing a graveyard shift pattern.  

Working night shifts can have some advantages, such as having ample time during the day to spend with family or friends, or being able to sleep during the day when it is hot outside. However, just like with other shift patterns, this one has its downsides too, such as feeling tired during the day and having difficulty sleeping at night.

If you work a night shift, there are some things you can do to help you stay awake and alert, such as drinking coffee or energy drinks, eating healthy snacks, and getting some exercise.

Split Shift Pattern

A split shift scheduling is a work schedule where an employee works for two or more hours, takes a break for several hours in the middle of the shift, and then returns to work for another shift.

There are some advantages to working a split shift, such as being able to have a longer break in the middle of the day and being able to sleep during the night. However, there are also some disadvantages to working a split shift, such as having difficulty balancing work and home life. 

If you work a split shift, there are some things you can do to help make it easier, such as scheduling your breaks through an employee management software, around your shift, communicating with your family and friends about your work schedule, and being adaptable to it.

On-Call Shift Pattern

An on-call shift is a shift where you are not scheduled to work at a specific time, but you are on call in case someone calls out sick or there is an emergency, in short, you're on standby mode. On-call shifts can be beneficial because they can give you some flexibility with your schedule. 

However, on-call shifts can also be stressful because you may not know when you will be working and you may have to work at odd hours. If you work an on-call shift, there are some things you can do to help make it easier, such as having a backup plan for child care, communicating with your family and friends about your work, and being flexible with your shift. 

Rotating Shift Pattern

A rotating shift pattern is a type of shift pattern where employees work different shifts at different times each week. For example, an employee may work the early shift one week and the late shift the next week. Rotating shift patterns can be beneficial because they can give you some variety in your work schedule, especially when using scheduling apps

However, rotating shift patterns can also be challenging because you may have to adjust your sleeping schedule each week. If you work a rotating shift pattern, there are some things you can do to help make it easier, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, communicating with your family and friends about your work schedule, and being flexible with your work schedule.

Which Shift Pattern Is Popular? 

There are a few shift patterns that are commonly used in workplaces. The most popular shift pattern is the Monday to Friday, nine-to-five shift. This shift pattern is often used in office jobs and other professional roles. It allows you to have weekends off, which can be great for spending time with family and friends.

Another popular shift pattern is the rotating shift pattern. This shift pattern involves working different hours each day of the week. For example, you may work from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Then, you may work from midday until eight in the evening on Thursday and Friday. Rotating shift patterns can be challenging to manage, but they can be beneficial if you need to be available for customer service during different times of the day.

Regardless of what shift pattern you choose, or you end up shift swapping with a colleague, it's vital that you're getting enough rest. Doing so can help you start your workday fully charged up without feeling ragged. 

More so, working long hours can be tough on your overall well-being, hence the emphasis on taking good care of yourself. Make sure you’re also eating a balanced diet for a healthier mind and body. 

Changing an Employee’s Shift Pattern Without Notice

It is generally not advisable to change shift patterns without prior notice. Doing so can disrupt the work-life balance of your team members and cause them to become resentful. Not to mention, this is a red flag that is against fair work compliance. 

If you need to make a change, try to give as many updates as possible so that your team can adjust accordingly. Make use of your employee management software to send updates or blast through communication channels. 


Overall, shift patterns are a way to organise work schedules so that employees can work different hours on different days. There are many different types of shift patterns, and the best one for your business will depend on your industry and the needs of your employees. If you have employees who need to work night shifts, there are some things you can do to help them stay awake and alert.

And if you’re planning to switch to an easier route of setting upshifts, RosterElf does the job for you. Our rostering tool can help you save time, create a business budget you can stick to, and optimise team productivity. 

What are you waiting for? Time to take your scheduling game to the next level and boost your business’ performance. Call us now at 1300 353 000 and our team will be more than happy to assist you. 

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