Panama shift pattern
Sometimes referred to as a “2-2-3” schedule, the Panama shift schedule is a slow shift rotation system where four teams work two separate 12-hour shifts. It’s particularly useful for things like emergency services and the healthcare industry where staff are needed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Example of a Panama shift pattern
When working to a Panama shift pattern, staff work:
2x days on
2x days off
3x days on
2x days off
2x days on
3x days off
The cycle then repeats, covering a total of 28 days, at which point the night and day teams will usually swap over.
Shift length tends to be constant when using a Panama shift pattern, but scheduled days off change from one week to the next — making it tricky for staff to make plans without keeping a close eye on their rota.
Why is it called the Panama shift pattern?
The origins of the name “Panama shift pattern” are unclear, but some people believe that this scheduling method was originally developed by United States forces operating in the Panama Canal Zone in the mid-to-late 1900s, with the term — and rota pattern — eventually catching on in non-military circles too.
What types of businesses use the Panama shift pattern?
The Panama shift pattern is primarily used by healthcare staff and rapid response services, but it’s also popular with businesses that operate 24 hours a day such as security firms, utility companies (particularly their engineers) and IT providers where any loss of service could cause major disruption for their customers.
Care home operators may also benefit from using a Panama shift pattern because it allows care staff to take turns working “unsociable” hours such as night shifts, which can have a detrimental effect on employees’ mental and physical health over long periods.
It’s not the only shift pattern available to these industries, however — patterns like 4 on, 3 off and 4 on, 4 off have also proved to be effective ways of rostering employees in industries where 24-hour cover is needed.
Methods of scheduling for 24-hour operations
Roster planning and communicating shifts to staff whose shift patterns regularly change or rotate can be a difficult and time-consuming task, often leading to understaffing and confusion for employees.
For this reason, we recommend investing in shift planning software that allows managers to create templates based on tried-and-tested shift patterns rather than creating schedules from scratch for each pay period or rotation.
An effective method of communicating schedules and shift updates to employees is also paramount when said staff work during hours when their rota manager isn’t available. Be sure to choose a system that automatically notifies staff of any shift changes in real-time so that they always have access to the most up-to-date schedule.