Panama Shift Pattern: The Ultimate Guide to Boosting Productivity

Panama shift pattern example by Shiftbase

In this ultimate guide, you will learn everything about the Panama Shift Pattern, including how to implement it, the benefits it can bring, and the challenges you may face.

What is a Panama shift pattern?

Panama Rota is a slow rotation system of shift patterns taken up by four teams across two twelve-hour shifts designed to produce a slow rotation effect. Four teams work two 12-hour shifts under the Panama shift schedule, often referred to as a "2-2-3" schedule.

It can be especially useful for the emergency service industry and the healthcare sector, where employees must work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Many believe the term "Panama shift pattern" originated during United States operations in the Panama Canal Zone during the mid-to-late 1900s. As it began to catch on outside military circles, it was also used in other professions.

Useful Read: Schedule Rotation Generator + FREE Template

How does the Panama shift pattern look like?

The shift style is perfect for the healthcare industry, as both working and non-working days include the following: 

  • 2 days working
  • 2 days off
  • 3 days working
  • 2 days off
  • 2 days working
  • 3 days off

A pattern will be followed by four teams rotating for 28 days each before changing to another team. During this 28-day pattern, each member may be required to work the day and night shifts while the other team member works the other shift.

What is a continental shift pattern?

The continental shift pattern specifically refers to a system that employs consecutive shifts and can apply to most continuous shift patterns. A shift schedule can consist of seven eight-hour shifts and four twelve-hour shifts. 

It begins with morning shifts, continues through afternoon shifts, and ends with night shifts. It allows staff members to rotate fluidly between jobs. The continental shift will follow two or three days of rest to ensure that your employees have adequate time to recover. 

Which industries use the Panama shift pattern?

female-call-center-operator-orking-night-shift-2022-09-23-21-41-49-utc_50In addition to the Panama schedule, many industries and businesses use it to ensure 24-hour availability for business operations seven days a week.

All businesses, from police stations to call centers, are in demand 24 hours a day. They, therefore, need to set up their schedules in a way that meets the needs of their customers. Similarly, industries such as manufacturing and industrial use employees 24 hours a day to meet quotas.

Due to the nature of the work, the Panama schedule is ideal for work that requires more working days and careful time management.

Various 24/7 shift patterns exist, but the Panama shift is commonly chosen because it's less unpleasant than other scheduling strategies.

How to implement a Panama shift schedule pattern

Despite being one of the most convenient and flexible schedules, if not properly implemented, it can be problematic. Following are some tips for implementing and managing a Panama shift pattern:

Set a proper start time

The time at which your employees begin their shifts is critical. Hence, there is no right advice as every team has different preferences. For example, if most of your employees are early risers, you can start shifts at 05:00. However, if many employees prefer not to start that early, you may need to find a different time. If you want your team to be most productive, they must be comfortable with shift times.

Assist new employees.

It may take new employees some time to adjust to the 2-2-3 work schedule, both mentally and physically. It is possible that their bodies cannot handle the amount of work (yet). These problems can affect their work and personal lives.

For example, those who worked the previous night are more likely to make mistakes on their first day. Additionally, a slow rotating shift pattern may cause fatigue, sleeplessness, and other issues for your new employees.

It is, therefore, important for managers to monitor fatigue regularly. A good idea would be to have more experienced employees guide them as they learn about the workload and unusual shift times.

Encourage productive breaks

It is beneficial for your employees to take regular short breaks to feel refreshed. During the break, employees can walk, have a nap or do anything that will recharge them. It is common for employees to take a 45-minute break every 45 minutes.

Then some take a break 75-90 minutes into the workday. It is wise to set a maximum and minimum for breaks. This ensures that a sufficient amount of work is done and rest.

Anticipate potential problems

When someone is on leave at a workplace, it is important to arrange a replacement regularly. There may be several reasons, such as illness, vacation, etc. A replacement should be arranged when it fits the schedule of the person taking over the shift. Every four weeks, each team backs up its colleagues.

You can divide the teams per week based on the week they have the fewest shifts. It means they will only have to work a few shifts if someone needs to be replaced.

Additionally, this rotation applies within teams to ensure that there's a fair alternation of people taking over other people's shifts.

Communicate with employees

By interviewing them frequently, you will gain a more in-depth understanding of what your employees prefer when it comes to their shift schedules. Furthermore, employees can swap shifts with one another, and schedules can be flexible.

If most of your employees prefer a Panama shift pattern, you can follow that, but if a few prefer the night shift, you can divide the shifts better by assigning more.

Talking with your employees about their experiences and problems is also a good idea. In this way, you will be able to assist them in overcoming problems and improving their productivity. 

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Advantages of the Panama shift patterns

The Panama shift pattern is a popular schedule due to its low price, simplicity, and flexibility. It can be used in a wide range of industries and scenarios.

It is ideal for those who want to start their own business or need more flexibility in their daily operations.

Employees who work long shifts can focus on a particular task for a longer time, allowing them to finish it before they leave work.

Quality control can be achieved because the same person is responsible for the whole job from beginning to end. It is also beneficial for the company to have long shifts. 

Employees who work 12-hour days are more cost-effective to hire. You can divert funds to other parts of your business using this method. 

Since employees are given more days off on a 12-hour shift, they may work less. Although they rarely work more than a full-time employee, they work the same average hours! In addition, the workload is not affected either. 

As a result, employees may often be able to take advantage of long weekends, which contribute to a better balance between work and personal life. Thus, employee absenteeism will be reduced because immovable appointments can be scheduled for off days. 

Disadvantages of the Panama shift patterns

Website designer working digital tablet and computer laptop with smart phone and digital design diagram on wooden desk as conceptIt has been found that working long shifts (over 8 hours) increases one's stress levels and bad eating habits, thereby causing one to sleep longer when they are not working long shifts. The result is fatigue among workers. 

It can be exhausting to work a 12-hour shift. It may be difficult for employees to stay awake at night, especially if they work long hours. 

Employees with long work schedules and sleep deprivation can adversely affect their immune system responses. This puts them at a greater risk of diseases related to inflammation or autoimmune reactions. 

A 12-hour shift is common in manufacturing, so that fatigue can lead to serious workplace accidents for employees or teammates.

Are Panama shift patterns enjoyable for employees?

It depends on each employee. Some people disregard long shifts because they like the pattern's constant breaks. It may become exhausting, regardless of how short the workweek is, for others to work long hours. If you're considering using a Panama style rotation, we recommend discussing it with your staff first.

What are some other shift patterns you can employ?

Shift patterns can be used to rotate staff in many ways. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Some of these include:

Two shift patterns: 

The two-shift pattern often comprises two shifts, one in the early morning and the other in the late afternoon. Business owners that do not need 24/7 coverage may find this service suitable for their needs.

Regular 4 on/4 off shift pattern: 

The 4 on/4 off shift pattern is typically employed by companies that need a constant rotation of shifts. Employees can work either nights or days during the four days a week, providing 24-hour coverage. As a disadvantage, work can require you to work four days in a row, sometimes during unsociable hours.

Useful Read: The 4-day work week schedule - An Implementation  Guide

Try a free ShiftBase demo if you want to learn how ShiftBase can help you automate your rota and simplify your work schedule.

Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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