Scheduling 24 x 7 Operations, 8 Hour Shifts vs. 12 Hour Shifts

December 2, 2010

Scheduling, Self Improvement

I have worked with many 24 x 7, Operations teams over the years.  Almost every one of those teams were scheduled to work 8-hour shifts, when I initially took responsibility for them.  While it may seem like 8-hour shifts are easier than 12-hour shifts, that really is not the case.  If you run a 24 x 7, Operations team, I would highly recommend that you evaluate whether 12-hour shifts are a better fit for your organization.

Below is a list of Pro’s and Con’s for the two types of schedules that might help you make up your mind:

Pro’s for 8-hour shifts:

  1. People are used to working 8-hour shifts, so the management team doesn’t have to put any effort into making it work and the employees do not have to make an adjustment.

Con’s for 8-hour shifts:

  1. The 8-hour shifts do not divide evenly with a 24 x 7 operation.  If you schedule even shifts around the clock, you will end up with 3 days worth of wasted time for half your people.
  2. There are 3 shift rotations between the 3 shifts each day.  Each shift change is another opportunity to drop the ball.  During shift changes, support tickets have to be passed from one engineer to another, monitoring alerts may be missed, assumptions may be made about what the previous shift has done.
  3. Scheduling 8-hour shifts is more complicated than 12-hour shifts.  These schedules are made for organizations that work a 5 day week.  Dealing with 3 shifts a day and maintaining coverage on the 2 extra days, while trying to minimize the overlap that occurs throughout the week, requires more of the manager’s time.
  4. Adjusting the schedule to cover for sick days and vacation time, is much more complicated and time consuming than with 12-hour schedules.

Pro’s for 12-Hour Shifts:

  1. The 12-hour shifts divide evenly with a 24 x 7 schedule so there is no wasted time.
  2. Since 12-hour shifts eliminate the days of mass employee overlap, more people are available for each shift.  Instead of having 3 or 4 days with minimal staffing and then 3 or 4 days with many more people than you need, your shift remain evenly staffed.  If there is a need for some extra headcount on a shift, there can always be additional people added for those peak times.
  3. 12-hour shifts require less time to setup and maintain.  The shifts are divided into 4 sections, front and back of the week, and days and nights.
  4. 12-hour schedules only require 2 shift changes each day.  This means fewer opportunities to drop the ball.
  5. If you schedule the 12-hour shift on a 3 by 4 schedule (working 3 days week 1 and 4 days week 2), employees get 7 days off, out of every 14 days.  Employees become very attached to this amount of time off.  Once they get used to it, it is harder for them to take a different job working 5 days a week.  This helps lower employee churn.

Con’s for 12-Hour Shifts:

  1. On the days employees work, the employee’s day is primarily filled with work and sleep.  The extra time off more than makes up for this for most employees.
  2. The shift is long.  Some people believe the shifts are too long for their employees.  At a previous company we moved over a hundred people to the new shifts, and then did a survey of everyone that worked 12-hour shifts.  Almost 80% of the employees favored the 12-hour schedules.
  3. 12-Hour schedules for hourly employees require a little understanding by the Finance and Executive team.  (See the “12-Hour Schedule for Hourly Employees” section below)

Example of a 24 x 7 team staffed with 8 hour shifts, trying to staff one person for every hour of the week.

Each number represents a headcount.

S  M  T  W  T  F  S

1   1   1   1    1   4   4  Days

2   2   2   2   2   5   5  Evenings

3   3   3   3   3   6   6  Nights

— The 4th, 5th and 6th headcount have 3 days worth of time that will need to overlap with other team members.  Unless there is a business need to justify this overlap, this is generally a waste of resources.

Example of a 12-hour schedule covering the same schedule with only 4 people.

S  M  T  W  T  F  S

1   1   1   1    2   2   2  Days

3   3   3   3   4   4   4  Nights

The 12 hour schedules cover the entire week with 2 less headcount.  If this same exercise is done for large teams, the benefit multiplies with the size of the organization.

12-Hour Schedules for Hourly Employees

  • The standard schedule for 12-hour shifts, is based on a 2 week rotation, 3 days on in week 1 and 4 days on in week 2.  This type of schedule causes some built-in overtime but it still works out to be more cost effective for the company.
  • In the schedule above where we are covering 7 days a week, 24 hours a day with one person.  The 8-hour shift requires 6 people.  The same schedule with 12-hour shifts only requires 4 people.  If your fully burdened cost per employee is 40K.  That is a savings of 80K annually, simply by changing the schedule.  This savings is multiplied as the size of the team rises.
  • Schedule per employee
    • Week 1 – 3 days x 12 hours = 36 hours – 3 hours (for lunch) = 33 hours
    • Week 2 – 4 days x 12 hours = 48 hours – 4 hours (for lunch) = 44 hours
    • Total Hours worked in a 2 week pay period is 77 hours.  4 hours are paid as overtime for a total of 6 hours.
    • Total pay to each employee is 79 hours.
  • With the 12-hour schedules, each employee only works 77 hours every 2 weeks, but is paid for 79 hours instead of 80 and the shift is covered with fewer people.
    • The employees get a better result because they only work 77 hours in each 2 week period but get paid for 79.
    • The company gets a better result because the shift is covered with fewer people and there is a one hour reduction per employee every 2 week period.


Unless your Operations team has a requirement for lots of employee overlap.  12-hour schedules will reduce your headcount, reduce total wages paid out (with the 1 hour reduction per employee) and simplify scheduling so there is less confusion for the employees and less wasted time by the management staff.

The benefits of 12 hour schedules are clear but any schedule change this drastic will not work if the management team doesn’t buy-in to the change.

As always, if you have any questions about setting up 12 hours schedules, please feel free to email me.

Copyright © 2011 Scott O. King
All Rights Reserved
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About Scott King

Operations executive with years of leadership experience, highly focused on continuous improvement and building strong teams.

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14 Comments on “Scheduling 24 x 7 Operations, 8 Hour Shifts vs. 12 Hour Shifts”

  1. Colleen Says:

    I have just taken over scheduling at a facility where I need to cover 8am – 4pm & 2pm-10pm shifts 5 days a week with 3 people on each shift. As well I need to cover the weekends with 2 people on 8am-4pm and 2 people on 2-10pm and a single person on both Sat & Sun from 9-5pm. Is there anyway to do this with 7 full time staff and 2 part time staff? The part time staff can only work 2-10pm Mon – Fri but are available for any shifts on the weekend.


  2. Todd H Says:

    I have a few questions about my operation and would like to get your input. Could you send me an email so we can talk off line?


  3. Michael Geer Says:

    I need help with the following: I have 9 people to cover 24 x7. I would like staff weekdays with 4 people, 2nd shift with 3 people and 3rd shift with 2 people. weekends I would like to staff 2 on days 2 on 2nd shift and 2 on 3rd shift.

    I would like the burden and time spent on each shift and the days to work be balanced among all. ..any suggestion on how to cover such a scenario.


  4. janet Says:

    I want to know what you would do with 24\7 coverage with 8 employees only 3 are full time employees and the other are part time do you have any examples of what this schedule would look like.



  5. tom Says:

    the company i work for wants 24/7 coverage. with 4 employees on 1st shift, 4 on 2nd, and 2 on 3rd. is there any way this can be done working 12 hrs shifts? Thanks , Tom


  6. Boitumelo Says:

    Please help guys!

    Am assigned to make up a shift cycle for 3 shift x 12hrs with a maximum of ten day offs/month.

    Any suggestions on the order days On/Off for a cycle of a month


  7. John Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Whats your take on covering 24×7 operations with a team of 5? It can be swing shifts, 12 hour shifts, 8 hour shifts or a mixture of both or other hours (trying to keep it no less than 6 hours continuous). Even floating days to cover sick/vacation time. The goal is to minimize OT while one person may be out but still keep the shift covered. I’m not trying to eliminate OT, just reduce it as much as possible with what I got.
    Any suggestions?


    • Eric Martin Says:

      M-F (7-3) * Sat, Sun, Mon (Off) * Tues-Mon (3-11) -*Tue,Wed (OFF) * Thurs-Tues(7-3) * Thurs-Wed (11-7)


      • Eric Martin Says:

        M-F (7-3) * Sat, Sun, Mon (Off) * Tues-Mon (3-11) -*Tue,Wed (OFF) * Thurs-Tues(7-3) * Thurs-Wed (11-7) * Thur,Fri,Sat,Sun (OFF) and then back at it monday. It takes a crew of five to make this work. Vacations covered by the before and after shift by 4 hr coverage each.

  8. queenrosered1 Says:

    I am a retired nurse and began working 8 hour shifts at a hospital way back in 1973. They rotated our shifts every two weeks and it was HORRIBLE!
    Fast forward to a different state, another 24/7 healthcare facility. 12 hour shifts are wonderful! I was able to work 3 days (36 hrs and paid for 40, instead of OT for the extra DAILY hours beyond 8) and i had FOUR days a week OFF!
    Everyone was happier with this arrangement, whether they worked the day or night shifts. Really a “no-brainer” in my opinion.Thanks.


  9. Janettte Korinetz Says:

    I work at a company that took away our 12 hours shifts about a year ago citing “an aging workforce” as the reason. I feel like I’ve aged five years in the last one year going back to eight hour shifts.All my co workers as well as myself are just drained most of the time and find little time for family. !2 hour shifts create a wonderful balance for workers.


  10. Bryan Says:

    I’m just taking over an operations team with a staff of 5 growing to six. I’m interested in the 12hr thoughts you have as it seems the best way I can cover 24x7x7. Are there any tools or examples that would be a shortcut to figuring staffing out?


    • Scott King Says:

      I would be happy to help you but I need a little more data.

      Do have have any requirements to staff more people on certain days or at certain times?
      Are you staffing a location, 24×7 or a function? (Are people allowed to work from home?). If so that gives us a little more flexibility.
      Do you count as one of the 5 people?
      Do you fill in for the team if someone is out?

      Without knowing the details, if you have 5 people and you can help fill in if needed during the day.
      I would recommend staffing your people using the 12 hours schedules in this article.
      First half | Second half (Each number below is one headcount)
      Days 1 | Days 2
      Nights 3 | Nights 4
      Night time floater 5
      With this schedule you cover 24 x7 and you have a night time floater to cover if needed. I put the floater at night because night time staff usually takes more sick days, etc, in my experience. You can also fill in for the day time workers easier than then night time, if you are the manager.


      • Craig Rolsin Says:

        I manage a 24x7x7 Data Center team that has 6 employees including me. We currently work 10 hour shifts 4 days a week. I have also worked a 12 hour shift at another Data Center before that was nice on the 3 day weeks but on the 4th day of 12 hour days your body is kind of wearing down. The current problem my employees complain about is that when someone is out unexpectedly an employee needs to come in on their off day to cover. Also if someone wants to take a week vacation the person covering for them has to work each day they are out to cover. To top this off they are not paid overtime as they are salary employees. When you have the 12 hour shifts how do you handle the unexpected outages and the lengthy vacations?

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