What’s the best 12-hour shift pattern?
Defining the “best” of anything always means you bring a subjective viewpoint to the decisions.
What’s best for an organization might not be best for an individual. Complicating the decisions are the many possible variations in
Complicating the decisions are the many possible variations in 12-hour schedules. The ideal schedule would ensure adequate staffing while maximizing employee satisfaction.
The DuPont schedule was developed in the late 1950s by that organization.
It is designed around a 28-day work schedule with a seven to eight day stretch of time off.
Work stretches are generally three or four days or nights with a 24 hour break between each three shifts.
Although employees usually love the idea of a mini-vacation, the 24-hour break between two three-shift stretches increases the risk of fatigue.
The short break can be particularly hard on the night shift worker.
The every other weekend off or 2-3-2 schedule follows a 14-day pattern.
Employees work two shifts, have two days off, work three shifts, have two days off, work two shifts and have three days off.
The three-day weekend every other week is attractive to employees, but it doesn’t translate well to rotating shifts.
This schedule does allow for set days off, however.
Four On, Four Off
The four on, four off shift is just what it sounds like: four work shifts followed by four days off.
This schedule offers adequate time to recuperate after a four-day work stretch.
It also allows for three straight weekends off in an eight-week schedule.
However, the counterpoint is that employees work five straight weekends in which they work at least one of the weekend days.
It also means the employees’ days off change each week.
Coverage vs. the Individual
For the employer, any schedule that ensures good coverage works well.
Some employers even offer full-time benefits for nurses who work every weekend.
One advantage of 12-hour shifts from the employer’s point of view is that schedules can be designed so each shift has the same number of nurses.
The ideal shift for the employee may vary according to his or her needs.
Someone who wants to go to school, for example, may do better with the every weekend or the 2-3-2 pattern.
For the night shift worker, the actual shift is probably not as important as the strategies the worker uses to ensure enough sleep.
Those who make the most successful adaptation to night shifts often keep to those hours even on their days off.
Switching back and forth is hard on the circadian clock and can lead to sleep deprivation.
This is also true of rotating shifts, no matter what the schedule.
In summary, the best 12-hour shift is the one that works best for you.
The schedules described here don’t cover all possible variations.
Remember, your needs may change over time.
What worked well when you were single and younger may not work as well as you become older or have family responsibilities.
2016-22778 Exp. 5/18