Shift swapping allows employees to exchange shifts with their coworkers. It’s a lifesaver for employees when they can’t show up for their scheduled shifts. It keeps businesses with fluctuating demands and complex scheduling needs well-staffed.
However, managing shift swaps can bring challenges. People may swap with coworkers who are not qualified. Or they totally forget their swapped shifts are coming. To make shift swapping work, you need clear policies, an efficient system, and effective communication.
In this post, we’ll explore shift swapping, its benefits and challenges, and how you can develop a shift swap policy for your business.
What is shift swapping?
Shift swapping is when one employee swaps their scheduled shift with another employee’s scheduled shift. People might be unavailable on their scheduled shifts, and shift swapping helps them find covers on their own instead of asking the manager to change the schedule.
Shift swapping gives employees more control over their schedules and reduces the burden on the manager. However, an employee may swap with someone who has a different pay rate or skills, which affects the service quality of the shift. Someone with a 4-hour shift may swap with someone with a 7-hour shift, and this may cause overtime.
Shift swapping gives employees greater control over their schedules and eases the workload for managers. Yet, it can lead to issues if employees trade with others who have different pay rates or skills, which affects the quality of service during the shift. Or when someone with a 4-hour shift swaps with someone who has a 7-hour shift, it can result in overtime costs.
So, shift swaps work best when:
- Employees have the same pay rate, skills, experience, and seniority.
- They exchange shifts with the same number of hours.
How does shift swap work?
When an employee needs to swap their shift, they find a willing coworker who can cover their shift.
Once both employees agree on the swap, they inform their supervisor or manager for approval.
After the swap is approved, the person in charge of scheduling updates the work schedule and both employees can now work their desired shifts.
What is an example of a shift swap?
Imagine you work at a busy coffee shop, and you’re scheduled to work the evening shift from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Saturday. However, this Saturday evening, you have a family event you can’t miss. So, you need to find a coworker who you can swap the shift with.
Here’s the shift swap process:
- Initiating the swap: You talk to your coworker, Sarah, who has the same job role as you and works the morning shift from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM on Saturday. You explain your situation and ask if she would be willing to swap her shift with you.
- Agreement: Sarah checks her schedule and realizes that she is available on Saturday during the evening. She agrees to swap shifts with you.
- Communication with manager: Both you and Sarah inform your manager, Dave, about the proposed shift swap.
- Manager’s approval: Dave reviews the request. He confirms that Sarah is a suitable replacement for your shift and there are no scheduling conflicts or overtime issues. He approves the swap.
- Confirmation: You and Sarah confirm with each other that the shift swap has been approved by the manager and is properly reflected in the schedule.
- Documentation: Dave updates the work schedule to reflect the shift swap. Now, on this Saturday, Sarah will work the evening shift and you will work the morning shift.
- Shift execution: On Saturday, you work the morning shift and Sarah works the evening shift. You can attend the family event in the evening.
Who can use shift swapping?
Shift swapping is common in businesses with changing scheduling needs and 24/7 operations such as:
- Retail stores: Retail businesses often deal with fluctuating customer demand and seasonal variations. Shift swaps allow them to adjust staffing levels based on real-time needs.
- Restaurants & coffee shops: The restaurant industry experiences unpredictable rushes and downtime. Shift swapping helps ensure there is enough staff during busy hours and reduces labor costs during slower times.
- Healthcare facilities: Hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes require 24/7 staffing. Shift swaps help accommodate medical professionals’ schedules and ensure patient care continuity.
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 the 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 the shift starts.
- Disciplinary procedures if an 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:
Ensure shift coverage
Shift swapping lets employees rearrange shifts by themselves, so shifts can still be fully staffed without you doing all the scheduling work.
Speed up the scheduling process
When employees can find someone to cover for them, you don’t have to spend so much time filling gaps in the schedules. There’s no need for lots of calls and texts between employees and managers.
Being flexible with working hours means people can adjust their job to fit with their personal lives.
Whether it’s family commitments, personal interests, or unexpected situations, shift swapping makes the work-life balance of workers more manageable.
Give your business a competitive advantage
Finding good workers isn’t easy as people start looking for better work-life balance and better workplace environments. Flexibility in scheduling is an attractive perk that many employees prioritize when choosing where to work and where to stay.
Shift swapping can give your business an advantage over others as it gives the flexibility that allows employees to handle family responsibilities, emergencies, or transportation better.
When employees have the freedom to arrange their work and personal lives, 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 shortages and employee retention problems.
Challenges of shift swapping
If employees swap shifts of different lengths or employees pick up extra hours, it can result in unexpected overtime costs. You need clear shift swapping policies and an approval step to prevent unnecessary costs.
Even when two employees already agree to swap shifts and they’ve got your approval, someone may still forget their shift or misunderstand when they’re supposed to work. Setting up reminders or using a shift scheduling app can lessen these situations and keep workers accountable.
Sometimes, the employees who swap shifts may have differing levels of experience or skills. To prevent disruptions and ensure service quality, make sure the swaps are made between eligible employees.
Set up an effective shift swapping system with the right tool
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 in 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.