What are the types of employee scheduling?

Feb 21, 2023

This blog discusses some of the different ways people categorise employee scheduling. When asking the question, “what are the types of employee scheduling,” you are likely to get one of three answers. In this blog post, we explain the three potential answers and then explain the options for each possible answer.

So what are the 3 types of employee scheduling?

As we mentioned above, you may get three different answers to this question:

  • Ways of scheduling: the answer may focus on the different scheduling tools, such as cloud-based or auto-scheduling. We explore these below.
  • Ways of working: this answer would explain the different ways employers organise their labour, ranging from 9-5, work from home to shift work and seasonal workers.
  • Types of shift pattern: this would detail the different work patterns, such as the “continental shift pattern” or “staggered days”. They are all the same “way of working” – shift work.

So, to give you full understanding of the types of employee scheduling, we will cover each one in more detail below.

What are the different ways of scheduling?

There are several ways of scheduling which can be as simple as informing someone of their standard working week and letting them manage their own schedule right up to an AI-powered auto-scheduling tool which can build a schedule for 100s of workers in a 24-hour operation and take into account many different criteria. The sophistication of the tool you will require is directly linked to the complexity of the schedule you want to create. 

We believe these are the different ways you can schedule your employees.

  • Standard work schedule, so no employee scheduling tools are needed.
  • Fixed schedule, so no employee scheduling software is needed.
  • Variable schedules – spreadsheet or paper schedule
  • Variable schedules – cloud-based workforce management software
  • Variable schedules – on-premise workforce management
  • Variable schedules – workforce management with auto-scheduling
  • Variable schedules – workforce management with AI-powered automated scheduling software
types of employee scheduling

What are the most common ways of working?

In this section, we describe the different ways an employer may organise their labour. An employer may employ several groups of employees, each with a different way of working. For instance, 9-5 workers, hybrid workers in head office, shift workers in a distribution warehouse, and fully flexible and zero-hour contract workers in retail stores.

These ways of working are normally the key part of an employment contract and are often referred to as contract types. 

These ways of working often have different scheduling requirements. Some are self-scheduling- such as 9-5 or pre-scheduled such as shift patterns, whilst others need sophisticated scheduling tools like zero-hours contracts and fully flexible working.

The main ways of working

9 to 5: A 9 to 5 schedule means working set days and hours. Typically, this means working Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Contingent labour: This type of arrangement is where the worker is employed by an agency which supplies additional resources at peak demand. The employer pays the agency that pays the workers, and the hours can fall into any of the other ways of working described in this article.

Freelancer: As a freelancer, you can be self-employed and take on multiple clients or employers simultaneously. Opting to freelance for an organisation may give you the independence to work whenever you want, so long as tasks are completed by the designated date.

Fixed schedule: With a fixed schedule, you usually work the same days and hours each week, just like a 9-5 schedule. The difference is that you don’t necessarily need to work Monday to Friday. For example, your employer may ask you to work a fixed schedule from Tuesday to Saturday.

Fully Flexible: The exact opposite of a 9-5 schedule. The employer will create a different working pattern for you each week based on the demands of the business. They are often based on a fixed or “contracted” number of hours, and these contracted hours may be at different times each week.

Hybrid worker: This usually means that the employer may require you to work some days from the office and allow you a few days of home office work per week. It is generally based on a fixed number of contracted hours and the number of days in the office per week.

Part-time schedule: A part-time job involves working fewer hours than a full-time role. Employers usually expect part-time workers to work less than 35 hours per week. One example of a part-time schedule is working four hours a day, Monday to Friday.

Seasonal: Seasonal employees usually only work for a few months each year, making it an ideal choice for students who need to focus on their studies during the academic year. These work schedules typically include the holiday season from November to December and the summer from June to August.

Shift: We have covered shift patterns below in some detail; they are a fixed set of rules designed to cover 16+ hours per day, and once established, they don’t tend to change much.

Work From Home: Where you usually work from home based on a fixed number of contracted hours per week. The working patterns often follow a 9-5 routine, Monday to Friday, but there is often flexibility in the hours worked.

Zero Hours Contract: Also called “casual workers”, there is no commitment from the employer to a minimum number of hours each week or from the employee to work those hours. They have some benefits for employees who want a second job but need to retain flexibility and many benefits to employers with complex demand curves and looking for flexibility.

Main ways of working

What are the different types of shift patterns?

Let’s explore the last point in the types of employee scheduling, the shift patterns. A shift pattern combines workers, working hours, schedules, and infrastructure to meet specific needs. Its purpose is to provide adequate coverage and man-hours for any business. These are a fixed set of rules that reduce the need for complex workforce scheduling software because the work patterns have been worked out in advance and documented. They work well in factories and other large venues where the workload can be easily predicted, but coverage is needed for more than 8 hours per day.

They are often combined, for instance, to provide 24-hour coverage on weekdays but with less coverage on weekends. Or are used to transition staff from one shift pattern to another without causing major disruption to sleep patterns.

Once the shift pattern has been documented and well understood by the workforce, the scheduling is as simple as saying, “you are on nights this week”, and the employee knows where they need to be and when. There are several types of shift patterns, and we document the most typical ones we have come across below. 

types of shifts

They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but we won’t discuss those here.

‘2 Shift’: This model typically operates Monday to Friday, with teams of participants rotating on a weekly basis. The 06:00-14:00 shift is often referred to as earlies, mornings, AM, or 6-2, while the 14:00-22:00 shift is commonly known as lates, afters, afternoons, back shift or 2-10. The default pattern can cover two x 40 hours = 80 hours per week or two x 37.5 hours per week.

“3 shift” This shift pattern involves 8-hour shifts over a 3-week cycle, totalling an average of 40 hours per week. The first week includes nights, the second week afternoons, and the third week mornings, commencing 06:00 Monday to 06:00 Saturday. This equals a total of 120 hours per week.

“4 on 4 off”: A pattern of work which is ongoing, involving 12-hour shifts, is adopted. Employees work four 12-hour days successively, followed by four days off, then four 12-hour nights consecutively, then four days off, followed by an additional four days, and the cycle continues.

Continental shift pattern:   Employees work 8-hour shifts in 4 teams over a 28-day cycle, with 3 shifts – day, swing, and night – each sequence ending on nights. It is important to consider issues related to recovery periods and ‘shift’ lag.

Custom Shift Patterns: Built and designed specifically for an individual employer. Often shift patterns have been worked for many years without analysis and reviewing labour standards. Sometimes an AI auto-scheduling tool will be used to create the optimal shift pattern, which is then worked throughout the year but doesn’t change. This allows staff to know a long way in advance what their work schedule is going to be. However, such a pattern will not be as simple as the others described here.

Evening Shift: This pattern offers coverage four or five days a week, typically from 17:00 to 21:00. It is widely utilised in businesses with seasonal requirements, and it can be used to connect a daytime activity with nighttime.

Night Shift: Typically, this model covers Monday to Friday from 22:00 to 06:00. Sunday to Thursday is a popular alternative for employees. As a default, it would involve 5 days of 8 hours, giving a total of 40 hours. When combined with a 2-shift system, it provides 120 hours in total.

Staggered Days: This model commonly averages 5 days of 8 hours each, spread over 6 or 7 days to cover weekends. Compensating days off are typically granted during the week. This staggered days approach is commonly used for maintenance and services teams, with a 2-week or 3-week cycle rota.

Weekend Shifts: This model typically employs 12-hour shifts, limiting participants to working 12 hours daily on Saturdays and Sundays, with a rotation between days and nights occurring in alternate weeks. When employed together with a three-shift, semi-continuous pattern, 24/7 coverage can be achieved.


As you can see, there are several answers to the question of what are the types of employee scheduling. Hopefully, one of the ways we have described above will give you the answer you are looking for.


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