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.

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.

2-2-3 schedule pros and cons

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.


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.”

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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