How to Develop a Shift Swap Policy That Works

If you’ve ever done shift planning, you know the smallest changes can make the whole process frustrating.

Imagine John can’t work the morning shift as scheduled. You’ll have to face multiple situations:

  • You have to ring around multiple workers until someone agrees to cover the shift.
  • John swaps his shift with Jane, and it turns out Jane isn’t qualified for the shift and she has no idea what to do.
  • You found someone to cover for John, but then they forget to show up.

Any of these situations not only cause hurdles to your daily admin work. Without an effective policy in place, worse consequences may happen: increased labor costs, conflicts, decreased productivity, understaffing, you name it.

In this post, we’ll talk about how to develop a shift swap policy that works and how you can set up a system to manage shift swaps.

How to develop a shift swap policy

A common shift swap process often includes these 3 steps:

  • Employee sends a shift swap request to coworkers.
  • Coworker approves the request, meaning they agree to swap their shift.
  • Manager/business owner receives the swap request and reviews it, then decide to approve or decline it.

Any changes during these steps can cause delays to that shift swap request, and even the whole process may restart. There might be no one available to swap the shift. The coworker may change their mind after agreeing to the swap request. The manager may not approve the request because the replacement isn’t qualified for the shift.

That’s why it’s necessary to develop a shift swap policy. Here are 3 steps to do so.

1. Set a clear procedure

Clear procedures and rules make sure shift trading is transparent and fair for everyone. The policy should include best practices and outlines of steps so everyone knows exactly what to do when they want to swap shifts.

You can list out steps for the shift swap approval process. This includes how employees can check if someone can swap a shift with them, how they can send a swap request, how others can approve that request, and how the manager approves or declines that swap.

2. Set rules and requirements

Shift swapping will be more effective if you set the right rules and requirements for it. They help minimize unwanted consequences such as no-call, no-shows, unplanned overtime, unqualified swaps, extra costs, etc.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Responsibilities of company and employees
  • Requirements of a qualified cover: expertise, experience, certifications, roles, performance, total work hours, etc. Only those with matching requirements can swap.
  • Required information to provide: contact details, etc.
  • Time frame in which employees can request shift trades: for example, swap requests are only valid when they’re sent 24 hours before shift starts.
  • Disciplinary procedures if employee doesn’t comply with the policy

When establishing rules, managers should have veto power when reviewing shift requests. Employees still have freedom in arranging their shifts, but veto power allows you to make the final decision in complicated situations such as unqualified swaps or last-minute requests.

3. Make sure everyone knows the shift swap policy

Put the shift swap policy into an employee handbook, a pinned message in a group chat, onboarding materials for new hires, a training handbook, or printed papers. Whichever works for your business will be fine as long as the policy is accessible to everyone.

With clear procedures, rules, and requirements in place, employees know what your expectations are and are more likely to send eligible shift trade requests. It’s easier for approval from management as the process doesn’t have to start all over again just because the swapped employee isn’t eligible.

To make sure your shift swap policy is compliant, you need to check federal, state, and local laws related to labor resources and work schedules carefully, and consult with a lawyer if you can.

3 tips for implementing shift swapping in your business

1. Send work schedules to employees in advance

Sending work schedules to employees earlier gives employees more time to plan their week ahead. Employees may have classes on weekends or they need to accompany their kids on a school camping trip. If you send out schedules too late, you may expect more sudden absences and leave requests, which may eventually lead to understaffing.

Managers also need to know who’s working, when, and where, so sending work schedules out early will give you more time to deal with shift trades and time-off requests.

2. Use the right tools to communicate schedule updates

Besides setting up procedures and rules for shift swaps, you should use some tools to let your employees access their schedules and schedule updates easily. You can use chat apps, project management software, or scheduling software with a messaging feature.

We recommend using a scheduling app with messaging feature because you can:

  • Send schedules to employees at least one week in advance so they can plan their schedules ahead.
  • Send shift reminders so employees don’t forget to show up for their shifts.
  • Notify staff of shift swap requests so they decide to take it or not.
  • Employees can chat with coworkers and discuss shift trades.

3. Automate shift swapping

Shift swap requests can be managed via a spreadsheet, emails, or texts. But it’s difficult to keep track of requests. As shift swaps are directly related to the work schedule of each week, the smallest mistake can cause chaos in the team schedule.

A scheduling app like Camelo puts all shift swap requests into one place, so you can review and approve swaps easily. Employees can discuss and swap shifts on Camelo, and the work schedules will be updated automatically.

Why should you allow shift swapping?

There are plenty of reasons why it’s a wise decision to implement shift swapping as part of your scheduling strategy. Let’s take a look at the 3 top reasons:

1. Make sure shifts are fully covered

Shift swapping lets employees rearrange shifts by themselves, so shifts can still be fully staffed without you doing all the scheduling work.

2. Employees have control over their time

Shift swapping gives employees, especially shift workers, the flexibility to take time off when they need. This gives them a boost in productivity and engagement at work.

3. Labor shortage/retention

Flexibility in scheduling is an attractive perk that many employees prioritize when choosing where to work and where to stay. When employees have the freedom to arrange their work and personal life, they’re happier and healthier. The happier and healthier your employees are, the more likely they are to stay. That means you’re less likely to face labor shortage and employee retention problems.

Set up an effective system to enforce your shift swap policy

A shift swapping system helps you enforce your shift swapping policy more consistently. While it sounds like you need to put in more effort than simply sending some texts and forms, it will be rewarding and efficient for the long term.

Set up an effective shift swapping system with Camelo. Let staff swap shifts by themselves, review swap requests, and approve shift swaps on the fly. Try it free today.

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