2-2-3 schedule

2-2-3 Work Schedule: What It Is and How To Implement It 

For organizations with employees who work around the clock to handle customer needs and emergencies, shift scheduling is vital and can pose significant challenges. One popular solution is the 2-2-3 schedule.

In this article, we’ll explain how the 2-2-3 schedule works, analyze its advantages and drawbacks, cover some common variations, and offer tips on how to successfully implement the 2-2-3 schedule if you decide it’s right for your business.

Table Of Contents

The 2-2-3 schedule explained

Man working a 2-2-3 schedule

The 2-2-3 schedule is a shift scheduling system for maintaining 24-hour, seven-day-a-week employee coverage that balances out long employee shifts by giving all employees regular two- or three-day periods of time off and equitably distributing night shifts.

In the 2-2-3 schedule, the workforce is divided into four teams, each on a four-week (28-day) rotation.

In the first week of their rotation, a team will work two 12-hour day shifts, followed by two days off, followed by three more 12-hour day shifts. The second week begins with two days off, followed by two day shifts, and then three more days off.

The third and fourth weeks of the rotation follow the same sequence of working days and off days, but with night shifts replacing day shifts. After the fourth week, the rotation begins again.

This means employees will always have a week in which they work five days followed by a week in which they work only two days.

The rotations of the other three teams follow the same pattern, but offset from each other to maintain around-the-clock coverage each week.

For example, during the week that Team A works five day shifts, Team B will work five night shifts. During the two days of the week that Teams A and B are off, Team C will handle the day shift while Team D is at work during the night.

The classic 2-2-3 schedule following this pattern is also sometimes called the “Panama schedule,” although the origins of the name are unclear.

Visual of how the 2-2-3 schedule works

We know that visualizing the 2-2-3 schedule can be difficult from just a short description, so we’ve created a four-week example so you can see how the rotations work for Teams A, B, C, and D.

Week One:

  • Team A works two 12-hour day shifts, has two days off, and works three 12-hour day shifts.
  • Team B works two 12-hour night shifts, has two days off, and works three 12-hour night shifts.
  • Team C has two days off, works two 12-hour day shifts (while Team A and Team B are off), and then has three days off.
  • Team D has two days off, works two 12-hour night shifts, and then has three days off.

Week Two:

  • Team A has two days off, works two 12-hour day shifts, and has three days off.
  • Team B has two days off, works two 12-hour night shifts, and has three days off.
  • Team C works two 12-hour day shifts, has two days off, and then works three 12-hour day shifts.
  • Team D works two 12-hour night shifts, has two days off, and then works three 12-hour night shifts.

Week Three:

  • Team A works two 12-hour night shifts, has two days off, and works three 12-hour night shifts.
  • Team B works two 12-hour day shifts, has two days off, and works three 12-hour day shifts.
  • Team C has two days off, works two 12-hour night shifts (while Team A and Team B are off), and then has three days off.
  • Team D has two days off, works two 12-hour day shifts, and then has three days off.

Week Four:

  • Team A has two days off, works two 12-hour night shifts, and has three days off.
  • Team B has two days off, works two 12-hour day shifts, and has three days off.
  • Team C works two 12-hour night shifts, has two days off, and then works three 12-hour night shifts.
  • Team D works two 12-hour day shifts, has two days off, and then works three 12-hour day shifts.

Who is the 2-2-3 schedule for?

Man wondering who is the 2-2-3 schedule for?

As we mentioned, the 2-2-3 schedule is a shift work system designed for situations where it’s absolutely vital to maintain a certain level of employee staffing at all times.

Police, firefighters, and paramedics — to name a few — have often used the 2-2-3 schedule or a variation of it because of the need to provide a prompt and effective response to emergency calls that could come in at any moment.

However, many private sector businesses now provide support for a globally distributed customer base and have also adopted the 2-2-3 schedule.

Variations and alternatives


The Pitman schedule follows the same pattern of days on and off as the usual Panama version 2-2-3 schedule. The big difference is that the teams do not swap day and night shifts.

In the Pitman schedule, two teams always work days and two teams always work nights. Thus, each team begins its rotation cycle again every two weeks rather than every four.


The DuPont shift schedule differs from the standard Panama schedule much more radically, having employees work more during the first three weeks of a month with the entirety of every fourth week in the rotation off.

In this model, each team has four night shifts followed by three off days in the first week. The second week is three day shifts, a day off, and three night shifts. The third week is three off days followed by four day shifts. Each team is off all seven days of the last week in their rotation.

Panama Plus

Like the Pitman and the DuPont, the Panama Plus uses the regular Panama version as its foundation but adds one or two normal workweeks (i.e., 9-to-5 days shifts) into the rotation every two, four, or eight weeks.

So, using the example described earlier, you could have Team A work two weeks’ worth of day shifts (on the 2-2-3 schedule), work eight-hour day shifts during week three, and then work the night shift during weeks four and five (on the 2-2-3 schedule).

Essentially, it breaks down to this:

  • 2-2-3 day shifts for two, four, or eight weeks
  • 8-hour weekday shifts (a “normal” workweek) for one or two weeks
  • 2-2-3 night shifts for two, four, or eight weeks
  • 8-hour weekday shifts (a “normal” workweek) for one or two weeks

Inserting the 8-hour weekday shift into the mix isn’t necessary for the underlying 2-2-3 schedule to work, but it can be useful for training, administration, and as a transition from 12-hour day shifts to 12-hour night shifts.


In the DDNNOO variation of the 2-2-3 schedule, three teams alternate working two 12-hour days (the DD), two 12-hour nights (the NN), and two days off (the OO).

Here’s how all of that fits together:

Team A: Monday (12-hour day shift), Tuesday (12-hour day shift), Wednesday (12-hour night shift), Thursday (12-hour night shift), Friday (off), Saturday (off)
Team B: Monday (off), Tuesday (off), Wednesday (12-hour day shift), Thursday (12-hour day shift), Friday (12-hour night shift), Saturday (12-hour night shift)
Team C: Monday (12-hour night shift), Tuesday (12-hour night shift), Wednesday (off), Thursday (off), Friday (12-day shift), Saturday (12-hour day shift)

Come Sunday (or Monday if your business is closed Sunday), the DDNNOO cycle starts again with Team A working their two 12-hour day shifts.

2-2-3 schedule pros and cons

waitress on a 2-2-3 schedule

Pro: Time off

Although employees work long shifts in the 2-2-3 schedule, this is balanced out by ample time off. Employees never work more than three days in a row, followed by two- or three-day “weekends,” and only work a total of about 180 days in a year.

Pro: Fair night shift scheduling

In most organizations, few employees will be eager to work overnight shifts. The 2-2-3 schedule removes any dispute about unfairness in who gets assigned to work nights by ensuring all employees are assigned the same number of night shifts each rotation.

Con: Long shifts

There’s no getting around it: Working 12-hour shifts has been proven to have negative effects on employee well-being. Overnight shifts in particular have been linked to poor sleeping patterns, higher stress, and health issues.

Con: Adjusting to availability

The 2-2-3 schedule can work very well when you have enough staff to fill every team and shift. But any shortfall in staffing throws off its perfect balance. This makes adapting to employee vacations or call-outs due to illness or emergencies problematic.

Implementation tips

If you think that the 2-2-3 schedule could be a good fit for your organization, here are some recommendations on how to successfully implement it so you can maximize productivity and staff morale and minimize employee turnover.


A team at lunch time

Effective communication with employees is essential no matter what type of scheduling paradigm your company uses.

Before you put the 2-2-3 schedule into practice, take time to thoroughly explain how the system works. Integrate employee preferences on team composition if possible. Make sure that new employees understand the schedule during the interview and onboarding process.

Post the team rosters and schedules well before the date they go into effect, and if any changes must be made, notify everyone impacted with plenty of advance notice.

Using scheduling software like Sling can allow your employees to check the schedule from anywhere and you to make announcements of any changes to the schedule so your staff isn’t caught off guard.


Give your team some guidance

If you’re implementing a 2-2-3 schedule for the first time or new employees are joining a team that is already working such a schedule, it’s a good idea to provide guidance on how best to make the transition.

This is especially important if members of your team have never worked a night shift.

Consider writing instructions that give night-shift workers advice on how to eat, when to take breaks, when to go to bed, and other lifestyle choices that can impact their work.

Post those instructions in your employee handbook so everyone can access them when they need them.

Another way to help new team members adapt and adjust to the 2-2-3 schedule is to assign them to an experienced coworker who can act as a mentor and guide until the new team member gets things figured out.

Pick the right start time

The 2-2-3 schedule is based on 12-hour “day” shifts and 12-hour “night” shifts. Many guides on the 2-2-3 schedule assume that the day shift is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the night shift is 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. However, this isn’t set in stone.

There is no requirement on the specific blocks of time you treat as “day” and “night.” Consider your business needs and employee preferences to determine the ideal time for your shift changeover.

Make the most of breaks

a team taking a break

Regular, restful breaks are critical during long shifts on the 2-2-3 schedule, especially the night shifts. Breaks help keep productivity high and prevent staff from getting burned out.

Consider specifically scheduling break times during each shift. The purpose of this isn’t to make employees feel they must stay at their desks at all other times regardless of workload, but to ensure that employees who tend to get caught up in tasks actually take breaks.

A break doesn’t mean much if employees don’t have anywhere to get away from work, though. Consider investing in creating comfortable break spaces in your facilities, possibly including a place for employees on their break to take a brief “power nap.”

Tweak your lighting

The lighting you choose for your workplace can have a direct effect on the energy level, productivity, and overall mood of your employees — especially for those working the night shift portion of the 2-2-3 schedule.

Lighting that is too dim may make your employees feel tired and cranky, while lighting that is too bright may disrupt their body’s natural circadian rhythms and even trigger headaches.

Lighting that is just right for the shift and the space can help your team members stay alert and energized even when they’re on the tail end of a 12-hour work day.

Take the time to examine your team’s workspace — or hire a professional to conduct a survey — and answer questions such as:

  • Is there enough existing light to, at least, meet minimum United States General Services Administration (GSA) standards?
  • Can you improve on the existing arrangement?
  • Does glare become a factor at any position in your workspace?
  • Do team members complain about eyestrain?
  • Would task lighting fill in the gaps?
  • Do lights flicker in places?

As you look around your business, consider the type of light that would work best in the space (options include direct, direct-indirect, indirect, and shielded).

It can also be beneficial to consider bulb type — fluorescent, light-emitting diode (LED), halogen, or incandescent — as well as the color and temperature of light they emit.

In general, warm yellow or warm orange lights are better for relaxing and unwinding, while cool blue or cool white lights are better for waking up, working, and concentrating.

Keep in mind that new technologies allow you to set the system so that the lighting changes automatically from the cooler greens and blues that occur in the morning to the warmer yellows and reds that occur in the afternoon.

This lets you vary the color temperature of your workplace lights to mimic what happens outdoors. Such natural light can help improve your employees’ moods and focus so that they are able to stay productive for longer periods of time.

Minimize caffeine and sugar

coffee break on a 2-2-3 schedule

Twelve-hour shifts can be difficult for even the healthiest, most experienced team members, and many of your employees may rely on coffee, soda, or energy drinks to get them through.

But consuming caffeine as far out as six hours before bed can disrupt the body’s natural rhythms to the point that team members may not be able to sleep when they need to.

That can lead to all sorts of problems — depleted energy levels, loss of focus, irritability, burnout — for those working the 2-2-3 schedule.

To combat the overuse of caffeine, you may consider encouraging your team members to avoid caffeinated beverages during the last six hours of their shift.

They can certainly have caffeine at the start of their shift, but they may want to switch to water or other non-caffeinated beverages in the middle of their shift (and for their remaining time at work).

Similarly, eating high-sugar foods too close to bedtime can also disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and cause problems for those working the 2-2-3 schedule.

You can’t dictate what your employees eat during their time on the job, but, as part of the guidance you give them in your employee handbook, you can suggest switching to whole foods during the second half of their shift.

Whole food options include:

  • Fresh fruit (e.g., apples, bananas, peaches, oranges, etc.)
  • Fresh vegetables (e.g., carrots, spinach, celery, lettuce, sweet potatoes, etc.)
  • Lean protein (e.g., fish, chicken, beans, etc.)
  • Grains (e.g., oats, rice, quinoa, etc.)
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., almonds, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.)

Minimally processed foods like these provide plenty of energy for the day’s work without the inevitable “crash” that comes after consuming pre-packaged, high-sugar, processed foods that may be common in the workplace.

Simplify with scheduling software

For managers, making and revising schedules can eat up a large amount of time. Using employee scheduling software automates a huge part of the process so you can attend to other tasks.

Sling, for example, offers an intuitive drag-and-drop interface and lets you create and save schedule templates to save time. You’ll be able to manage time-off requests and availability changes and have clear visibility of who’s working when, even across multiple locations.

Using software can streamline the process of implementing a 2-2-3 schedule at your organization and help you keep your business running smoothly, shift after shift.

Smarter scheduling with Sling

Woman working a 2-2-3 schedule

The 2-2-3 schedule is a popular choice for organizations that have to respond to customer needs or emergencies 24/7.

It has the advantages of offering employees ample time off and equitable assignment of less-desirable night shifts, but managers must take care to mitigate the physical and mental fatigue effects that long shifts and overnight shifts can have on staff.

Whatever business you’re in and whatever type of schedule you use, Sling can save you time, improve efficiency, and help your team communicate.

To find out more about how our powerful scheduling, timekeeping, and task management features can transform your organization, visit GetSling.com today.

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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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