What Is a Rotating Roster? (With Definition, Pros and Cons)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A rotating roster is a work schedule that regularly changes an employee's shift pattern. This type of work schedule might involve working a day shift for a set number of days and then switching to a night shift for a set period. Understanding what this type of roster is may help you decide if you're suited to this type of work schedule. In this article, we define rotating rosters, discuss which industries typically use them and explain their pros and cons.

What is a rotating roster?

A rotating roster, or rolling roster, is a shift pattern that regularly changes, typically on a set basis. Employers often use them to divide a working day or a business's opening hours into a certain number of shifts. They assign each employee to work one shift for a set period before rotating them onto another. For example, an employee may spend five days working the morning shift, have two days off and then spend five days working afternoons. In this example, the same employee then rotates back to mornings at the end of their afternoon shift schedule.

A rolling roster may change this way every week, or it may be more complex. You can create a roster based on the number of available employees and the hours you want them to cover. Companies typically tailor this type of working schedule to keep their business open for extended hours or to ensure they can provide 24-hour services. They allocate the shifts equally amongst employees, so everyone regularly works various shifts throughout the rotation period. Managers often use computer software to prepare rolling rosters.

Related: 13 Types of Work Schedules (With Benefits and Challenges)

When to use rotating shifts

Rotating shift patterns are useful when a workplace or service provider has extended opening hours. You might use rotating shifts when a business operates outside the conventional nine-to-five schedules. Here are a few examples of industries that might use rolling rosters:

  • Aviation

  • Construction

  • Emergency services

  • Healthcare

  • Hospitality

  • Logistics

  • Manufacturing

  • Security

  • Transport

Related: What Are Swing Shifts? (How They Work and Tips for Success)

Advantages of rotating rosters

Rolling rosters have several advantages in comparison with other typical shift patterns. They often provide an alternative to fixed-shift rosters, which provide employees with a fixed work schedule that doesn't change from one week to the next. The advantages of rolling rosters include the following:

Allows the ability to extend opening hours

Dividing your operating hours into distinct shifts makes keeping business operations running day and night simpler. For example, hospitals typically use rotating shift patterns to ensure that patients can receive constant care. Doctors and nurses may work a set number of day shifts before working a set number of night shifts. This allows the hospital to provide continuous patient care while medical professionals are always available in the event of medical emergencies.

Related: What Is Workforce Management? (Including Key Processes)

Provides flexible shift patterns

Rolling rosters provide businesses with a flexible way to schedule employees. This is useful if the workplace has busy and quiet periods throughout the day, week or month. For example, hospitality businesses typically use rotating shift patterns to ensure they have more staff available at peak times. A hotel may schedule more employees on the afternoon shift when they know they're going to be busy with guests arriving and checking in for their stay. They may also schedule morning and afternoon shifts to overlap if they want extra cover at certain points in the day.

Related: 10 Key Hotel Manager Responsibilities (With Explanations)

Offers varied working conditions

Rolling shifts typically mean you might work with different colleagues and supervisors throughout the week. You may also have opportunities to interact with different customers and experience multiple events throughout the week. For example, employees at a restaurant may find it interesting to work the breakfast shift one week and the dinner service the next because they may learn different skills and interact with various team members and diners.

Related: What Does a Head Chef Do? (With Duties, Skills and Education)

Introduces fairer working conditions

Rolling rosters allow managers to distribute shifts fairly to employees. This might be beneficial when a workplace has peak periods or is open on weekends. Distributing shifts fairly means that employees may alternate between quieter and busier shifts. For example, they might work two consecutive weekends and then have the next two weekends off. This also promotes a fairer atmosphere amongst colleagues in the workplace because everyone knows they all work under the same shift patterns and conditions.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Casual and Part-Time Work?

Gives opportunities to gain experience

Working on rotating shifts may offer you more chances to take on different roles at different times of the day or gain new perspectives working with different colleagues and managers. This means you may gain a rounded overview of the business while also learning versatile and adaptable skills. For example, chefs may improve their cooking skills by working on breakfast dishes for one week and dinner meals for the next.

Related: Complete Guide on How to Work 12-Hour Shifts (With Tips)

Improves workplace productivity

Shift variations may lead to increased engagement in the workplace because employees take on new challenges, learn new skills and interact with different people. Increases in engagement typically result in improved productivity, as employees are better motivated and interested in their work. This means that the workplace may also benefit from more sales, less turnover or higher profits as employees increase productivity or improve the quality of services.

Disadvantages of rolling rosters

Rolling rosters have some disadvantages you may wish to know before implementing such schedules in the workplace. You may wish to consider the effects of rolling shift patterns on employees' work-life balance and well-being. You may also wish to consider the complexity of organising rolling rosters and a potential loss in efficiency brought about by constantly changing shifts. The disadvantages of rolling rosters include the following:

More inconsistency in shift patterns

Rotating shift patterns may cause employees to have an inconsistent work schedule. Employees may find it less easy to establish a set routine when their shifts change every week. This can adversely affect their work-life balance, and they may have difficulties arranging things such as child care, booking appointments with doctors or meeting with friends and family. Managers may limit these problems by giving employees as much notice of their rolling shift pattern as possible while also asking them in advance if there are shifts they can't cover or certain days off they might like in the week.

Related: What Is Shift Work?

Less easy to organise

Managers may find it more challenging to organise an effective rolling roster in the workplace. They can be somewhat complex to schedule, and it may be tricky to fill all the shifts while providing enough days off to staff. It may be difficult to include scheduled holidays, cover for sick employees at short notice and ensure that each shift has a supervisor present. The complexity of a shift pattern may vary depending on the business and its opening hours, but you can typically make the process easier by using computer software that plans the roster for you.

Related: 15 Ways to Help You Improve Performance at Work

More tiring shift patterns

Employees may find rotating shift patterns to be more physically challenging. They may especially have difficulty if there are challenges in scheduling multiple days off in a row or if employees switch from a night shift to a morning shift with little recovery time in between. Managers may help reduce fatigue by ensuring employees work only a few days in a row and have adequate time off when rotating between shift patterns.

Related: 13 Essential Career Tips for Nurses on Night Shifts

Lower efficiency

Changing shift patterns and rosters may lead to a decline in efficiency. Employees may become less motivated if they experience some fatigue or find it challenging to balance their work schedule with personal commitments. If you regularly change shifts and interact with different supervisors with different managerial styles, you may also find it less easy to perform consistently. A company may overcome this difficulty and maintain efficiency by implementing standardised procedures and managerial styles across different shifts. They may also find it useful to regularly communicate with team members and ensure they act before fatigue starts.

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