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Designing Shift Patterns: The Value of Staff Collaboration

Workforce rostering and shift pattern design has long been the backbone of many industries in the UK. From the NHS nurses working round-the-clock to warehouse operatives, transport drivers, and even the dedicated staff at your local pub, shift work keeps our nation ticking. But when did you last consider changing the strategy behind your work schedules? This blog will explore why staff collaboration in this process is vital.

What is a shift pattern? 

In essence, a shift pattern dictates employees’ working and non-working periods. Shift pattern examples abound, from the staggered day shift patterns in retail to the day and night shifts in the emergency services. It goes beyond merely clocking in and out; it’s about ensuring optimal working hours, staff coverage during peak times, and a balanced work-life equation for everyone involved. We have created a selection of blogs which dive deep into the key shift patterns you should know.

The objective of a shift pattern is to ensure that the correct number of employees are working at the right time. For instance, a brick-and-mortar shop might require employees to work throughout the day, ensuring no downtime.

Designing these patterns is a challenging feat. Ensuring an efficient week cycle, accommodating diverse work days, and giving thought to consecutive days on or off are all part and parcel of the process. And here’s a little nugget of wisdom: involving staff in the designing process can be revolutionary.

Change is about inclusivity. No one appreciates unexpected shifts or being dictated to. Employees value having a say, especially regarding their shift pattern or roster, which rank only behind pay in sensitivity. Humans resist change, but when it’s inevitable, it’s crucial to have everyone on board and involved.

Simon Karios, Principle Consultant, Totalmobile

Benefits of Staff Involvement in Shift Pattern Design

Improved Employee Satisfaction

By offering a voice to the people, you’re promoting a sense of belonging and value. Tailoring work schedules to personal needs, whether family commitments, further studies, or simple preferences like morning or evening shifts, part-time working or longer shifts can drastically enhance job satisfaction. Think of it as a tailored suit – the better the fit, the more comfortable and content you are.

Increased Productivity and Efficiency

It’s no secret that an energised and happy employee is often a productive one. Suppose a warehouse operative is more of a night owl and thrives during the graveyard shift. In that case, their performance will likely be better than someone struggling against their natural rhythm – or the Window of Circadian Low

By aligning work schedules with personal preferences, there’s a direct impact on employee well-being, service quality and overall productivity.

Reduced Employee Burnout and Turnover

Shift work can be gruelling. The chef paramedic working consecutive long weekends or the factory worker engineer juggling rotating shifts knows the toll it can take. However, when shift patterns are thoughtfully designed with staff input, it alleviates much of this stress. This helps reduce burnout and plays a pivotal role in retaining talent in the long run. Explore this article to learn how your shift patterns and rosters may be affecting employee retention and recruitment: Shift Pattern & Rostering Mistakes Harming Employee Retention. 

In the vast landscape of UK shift work, the collaborative approach in designing schedules is not just beneficial – it’s transformative. But the question remains: how can organisations weave this collaboration seamlessly into their scheduling?

Strategies for Effective Staff Collaboration in Shift Pattern Design

The value of staff input in shift pattern design is clear. But the question on many managers’ lips is, “How do we do it effectively?”. Let’s look at a few strategies to kickstart shift pattern change.

Distributing Anonymous Surveys:

Why? To kick things off, it’s paramount to gauge the general sentiment and preferences of your staff. Anonymous surveys offer a safe space for employees, from factory workers to frontline NHS staff, to voice their true feelings without fear of repercussions.

How? Utilise digital survey platforms that allow for easy distribution and collection of responses. Craft questions that touch on preferred working hours, types of shift patterns (e.g., rotating shifts, 12-hour shifts), and any challenges they currently face.

Organising Focus Groups and Meetings

Why? While surveys offer breadth, focus groups dive deep. These allow managers to understand the nuances of employees’ preferences and challenges, giving insights that a survey might miss.  They’re also a means to help people understand the need for change and to have an input into the design of what’s proposed, even different ways of working.

How? Assemble diverse groups of employees across different roles and seniorities, including any employee or trade union representatives. Facilitate open discussions and consider a shift pattern and rostering discovery session to ensure unbiased conversations.

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Reviewing Workload and Activity Trends

Why? Historical data is a treasure trove of insights. It can highlight peak activity hours and help align resource availability to demand peaks.

How? Use rostering software to review past work trends. This will aid in identifying patterns and forecasting future staffing needs based on previous trends.

Identifying Peak Hours and Seasons

Why? Some industries have pronounced peak periods. Retail might surge during Christmas, while coastal resorts see a summer rush. Emergency services might experience peak demand on a Friday night, while demand for breakdown services are higher around commuting times. Knowing these peaks ensures adequate staffing during high demand.

How? Combine sales data, customer footfall, or service usage data with historical shift records to pinpoint exact periods of high activity. Consider future demand trends too if there’s likely to be any forecasted changes, and take account of unplanned demand too.

Allowing Shift Swap and Trade Requests

Why? Life is unpredictable. An employee might need sudden time off, or they might prefer working a different shift. Swapping shifts among peers can solve many scheduling conflicts without managerial intervention.

How? Implement a clear policy for shift swaps, ensuring both parties agree and that the swap adheres to labour laws regarding maximum working hours.

Key Considerations in Shift Pattern Design

The road to designing the perfect shift pattern is laden with many considerations. Beyond mere numbers and hours, it’s about moulding a work schedule that befits the company’s goals and the staff’s well-being. Here are some pivotal aspects to ponder:

Determining Optimal Staffing Ratios:

Why? Ensuring the right number of hands on deck is crucial. Overstaffing leads to increased costs, while understaffing results in service hiccups.

How? Analyse your busiest periods (from data discussed earlier), estimate the workforce required, and juxtapose this with staff availability. Regularly update these ratios as the business grows or as demand shifts.

Accounting for Seasonal Demands:

Why? Seasonal flux is real. Just ask any retailer during Black Friday sales, lifeguards during summer and a field engineer after adverse weather conditions. Understanding these peaks helps in pre-emptive planning.

How? Reference historical sales, work schedules, forthcoming promotion campaigns or service data to forecast busy periods. Accordingly, devise shift patterns that can flexibly scale up or down.

Acknowledging Individual Preferences:

Why? Every employee has a unique rhythm, from the shift manager to the care worker. Some may prefer the tranquillity of night shifts, while others might be morning birds. Some may prefer part-time hours, others a little flexibility around school drop-off times. Respecting these nuances can spike job satisfaction.

How? During induction or regular check-ins, have a system to capture shift preferences. You may also receive individual “flexible working requests” or hear this through your trade union or employee forums. While granting every wish may not always be feasible, this data becomes a valuable reference during scheduling.

Accommodating Time-Off Requests:

Why? Life events, whether a child’s graduation or a friend’s wedding, are moments to cherish. Offering a system that fairly addresses leave requests can bolster staff morale.

How? Implement a transparent leave request system, giving ample notice periods. Ensure a fair rotational method. This type of shift plan ensures the same people aren’t always working unpopular shifts and weekend cover.  A shift swap system can work well for short notice requests too.

Best Practices for Implementing Collaborative Shift Patterns

There’s a vast difference between good intentions and tangible results when setting up collaborative shift patterns. To bridge this gap, the following best practices can steer you towards operational success and elevated employee satisfaction.

Proof of Concept:

Whether introducing a staggered day shift pattern for your manufacturing unit or a rotating shift for NHS staff, always confirm the proof of concept with a pilot phase.

By testing the waters with a smaller group or a limited time frame, you gather invaluable insights. Mistakes made here are learning opportunities rather than full-blown crises. Additionally, feedback from this phase can guide refinements, ensuring a smoother rollout for the broader team.

Champion Continuous Monitoring and Feedback:

Shift patterns aren’t set in stone. As business needs evolve and demand or personal circumstances change, so too should your shift schedules. Foster an environment where staff members feel empowered to share their feedback, be it about the viability of 12 hour shifts or the practicality of a typical Monday to Friday week cycle.

Utilise digital tools to monitor the effectiveness of implemented patterns. Are targets being met? Are staff members reporting increased satisfaction? Such continuous vigilance allows for timely course corrections.

Regularly Review and Adjust Shift Patterns:

The phrase ‘change is the only constant’ rings especially true for shift scheduling. The optimal shift pattern for a winter month might be vastly different from a bustling summer season. External factors, like a significant event in the community or a change in public transport schedules, can also influence the efficacy of a pattern.
Make it a norm to periodically review shift patterns, incorporating changes from empirical data and staff or trade union feedback. Such dynamism ensures that the shift pattern is always in its prime, catering to business goals and employee well-being.

Employee Engagement:

Beyond the nitty-gritty of hours and schedules, cultivating a genuine spirit of collaboration is pivotal. When staff members genuinely believe their inputs are valued, they’re more likely to engage constructively. Regular workshops, open forums, or digital suggestion boxes can facilitate this culture. When employees see tangible changes emanating from their suggestions – like a much-requested weekend cover or an adjusted hour day – it reinforces trust and fosters a sense of ownership.


Involving your staff in the shift pattern design process not only makes operational sense but also champions a culture of collaboration and respect. It’s a forward-looking approach grounded in the realities of today’s dynamic work environments.

The first step is to recognise the challenges, be it excessive overtime, productivity gaps impacting customer service, or shift patterns affecting employee wellbeing. But what next?

Shift Pattern Discovery Session

If your current shift patterns aren’t quite hitting the mark, or if you find yourself nodding along to some of the challenges above, then it’s time for a deeper dive. Totalmobile’s Shift Pattern Experts, armed with decades of experience, have curated a specialised Shift Pattern and Rostering Discovery Session. This initial session is tailor-made to help organisations swiftly identify potential efficiency gains, pinpoint challenges, and even chalk out a compelling business case for shift pattern changes.

So, are your shift patterns harmonised with your organisation’s aspirations and staff’s needs? If there’s even a hint of doubt, don’t hesitate. Get in touch with our team today to chart out your next steps.

Shift Planning Discovery Session
Edward Bell

Edward Bell, Totalmobile's Content Strategist, shapes and delivers compelling content spotlighting their unique SaaS solutions. With 6+ years in MarComs, his journey spans diverse marketing roles, driven by tech passion. Edward fuels Totalmobile's mission, educating and advocating for impactful solutions across sectors, ensuring ROI for customers.