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Multi-shift systems - what is it?

Multi-shift systems: From 2-shift systems to full-continuous

Whether we like it or not, multi-layer systems play an important role across all sectors, from the healthcare industry to manufacturing and logistics. Not only are they extremely helpful, they are absolutely essential for many businesses.

Coordinating many work areas and long opening hours can seem overwhelming. However, this can be done effectively and relatively easily with the help of multi-layer systems. The prerequisite for optimal deployment is that you understand when to use which shift system optimally and how they work.

After reading our article, you will have no problem understanding what different shift systems there are and how they work.

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What types of multi-layer systems are there?

The best-known models are the 2-shift system, the 3-shift system, the 4-shift system and the 5-shift system.

The 4 and 5-shift system is a full-continuous shift system. Each of these models has its own advantages and disadvantages and should be selected according to operational requirements.


2-shift system

The 2-shift system is one of the simplest forms of multi-layer systems. Employees usually work either an early shift or a late shift. Each shift typically lasts eight hours.


3-shift system

The 3-shift system is a common form of shift operation and is used in many companies. As a rule, the company is staffed "around the clock" for 24 hours, five days a week. The shifts are divided into an early shift, a late shift and a night shift, each lasting eight hours. In this way, continuous production can be guaranteed and, at the same time, employees' working hours can be made more flexible.

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Shift worker in factory

4-shift system

In a 4-shift system, four shift groups are scheduled, which vary in time between seven and nine hours. This shift system is used when the machines have to be in operation 24 hours a day and cannot be switched off. This type of shift planning falls into the category of fully continuous shift planning. All seven days of the week are included in the planning.

The number of shift groups does not mean that four shifts are used on one day. It simply means that four shift groups, with a certain number of employees and working hours, can be scheduled to fill the total weekly working time in the company. They also alternate one after the other. The division into early, late and night shifts is maintained.

In order to meet the challenge of keeping a company running 24 hours a day, the shift system is extended to four shift groups (4-shift system). This results in a weekly working time of 42 hours per shift group, which complies with legal requirements.

In order to systematically schedule employees, two different schemes are used, particularly in the manufacturing industry, which guarantee 24-hour operation. One is the 4x4 scheme. This is the most common scheme in the manufacturing industry. It is used with the aim of ensuring continuity of production and longer rest periods for employees.

The procedure for this scheme is as follows:

  1. Shifts are divided into four shift groups, usually A-D.

  2. Shift group A: Assigned to the early shift, for example, works for a set period of time (e.g. eight hours) and a set work period (e.g. two days). A rest period for shift group A follows a certain working period.

  3. Shift group B: replaces shift group A, e.g. for the late shift. It generally follows the same work and rest period schedule as shift group A.

  4. Shift group C: Works, for example, on the night shift after shift group B.

  5. Shift group D: It has a free shift in this work period. The same rotation scheme applies to shift group D as to the other shift groups and the same working time - rest period scheme applies to all shift groups.

  6. This system always repeats itself cyclically in regular periods. The difference is that the shift groups rotate. If shift group A worked the early shift in the previous period and shift group B worked the late shift, shift group A works the late shift in the next period and shift group B works the night shift.

Another scheme used in the manufacturing industry for shift planning is the "2-2-3 scheme", the so-called "Panama Plan". Here, too, 24-hour operation is systematically guaranteed on all days of the week.


5-shift system

In the 5-shift model, five work groups are scheduled per day. These are further divided into early, late and night shifts. As a result, the average working time per day is reduced even further. Aside from this, the operating modes of 4-shift and 5-shift systems are identical.

What is a rolling shift plan?

If we say "rolling shift system", also known as a rolling shift plan (also known as rolling wave planning), we must inevitably also say "backward rolling shift system" and "forward rolling shift system". A rolling shift plan is an addition to one of the standard shift systems. This means that the shift plan is preceded by a 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-shift system.

Both types of rolling shift system involve planning that takes into account the shifts and days off of the available employees. This planning is fixed and is constantly repeated after a certain period of time (e.g. after a week). This planning therefore rolls in a fixed cycle.

The forward-rolling shift system works according to the standard early shift, late shift and night shift principle. Employees are divided into their shifts from morning to night.

When we talk about the backward-rolling shift system, the reverse of the forward-rolling shift system applies. It is divided into night shift, late shift and early shift.

Basically, it is important to understand when we talk about a rolling shift system that the shift system rotates in a fixed cycle - it rolls, so to speak.

What does "full-continuous" or "full-continuous shift system" mean?

"Vollkonti" is the abbreviation for "full-continuous shift system". In fully continuous shift systems, work is carried out in a company around the clock, i.e. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means that work in shift operation continues around the clock.

With a 3-shift system, you quickly reach the limits of what is possible, as three shift groups would each have to work 56 hours per week with an eight-hour working week. A day off would be a distant prospect, and a weekend off would be utopian. The use of a 4- or 5-shift model would therefore be unavoidable.

Advantages of the full-contact shift system

The advantages of the full-continuous shift system are obvious: continuous work enables higher capacity utilization of the production facilities. This in turn leads to higher productivity and greater output. Orders can also be processed more quickly, which contributes to greater customer satisfaction.

In addition, continuous operation leads to significant savings in companies where the switching on and off of machines or ovens, for example, involves large amounts of energy.

Challenges of the full-continuous shift system

However, the full-contact shift system also brings challenges. Continuous working hours can have a negative impact on employees' health. Employers must therefore ensure that their employees get enough breaks and that their work is well organized in shifts.

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Fully continuous shift operation: 4 or 5 shift rotation?

In order to operate a factory around the clock or to ensure the care of all patients in a hospital, work must therefore be carried out in a 4 or 5 shift rotation. The numbers indicate how many shift groups the employees are divided into in such a full-continuous shift operation. A 5-shift rotation therefore does not mean that five shifts have to be assigned every day. Instead, the employees are distributed over the week according to their shift group on the various working days with their shifts. Each group has its own schedule.

Due to the division into five groups, each group has fewer shifts in a 5-shift system than in a 4-shift system. This means that employees only work an average of 30 hours per week instead of 35, for example. If employees now have to work 35 hours per week - depending on their employment contract and works agreement - they will therefore receive -5 hours on their hourly account balance.

In order to compensate for this hourly account balance, the employees must now work additional shifts. These shifts can then be freely chosen by the employee in a 5-shift rotation - for example, if a colleague is ill or on vacation. Employees can now take on this shift in addition to their regular shift schedule or shift group schedule. These additional shifts are commonly referred to as bring shifts and are basically nothing more than open shifts.

By selecting bring shifts, employees can now create their own schedule and plan their free time better. Simply put, they can work more often when it suits them personally and an improved work-life balance is guaranteed for each individual. With the aim of being an attractive employer and giving employees more freedom, many companies are now opting for the 5-shift rotation.


Depending on whether you work in the manufacturing industry or in another sector in which the use of a multi-layer system makes sense, you should take the time to select the right shift system for your company before using it. This will ensure that the selected multi-layer system is used effectively in the long term.

You should decide which shift system with which scheme you ultimately choose after thoroughly weighing up the advantages and disadvantages and taking into account the other factors relevant to your company.

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Implementing multi-shift and full-continuous systems with shyftplan

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