Best Shift Swap Practices for Employers and Employees

If you’ve ever had to put together a schedule, you know the unique pain of a last-minute shift swap. You’ve created a highly exact work of art, after all. When someone changes it at the last minute, all types of problems can show up. 

Shift swapping can be unnecessarily complicated if you aren’t prepared. This guide will help define a shift swap, offer pros and cons on the practice, and leave you with some handy shift swapping tips to make sure you get the coverage you need.

What is a shift swap?

Shift swapping occurs when an employee can no longer work a shift on their appointed schedule, so they swap that shift with another employee. Shift swaps can help employees amend their schedules while keeping their overall hours intact. Business owners define shift swapping practices, and the policies work best when they are organized, easy to follow, and promote open lines of communication. 

It’s impossible to plan for all of the little things that can get in the way of a schedule running smoothly. Things happen—sometimes kids stay home from school, employees get sick, cars break down, etc. No matter what you do, life will get in the way, and your schedule will have to change at the last minute to accommodate.

The shift swap is an easy way to make sure your schedule is properly filled at work. Usually, this takes place between employees—they negotiate the hours and agree to swap their shifts without having to bother anyone about their plans.

Or, you may realize that it’s best to have a process to approve or deny any possible swaps. There’s no right or wrong way to do this (whichever works best for you is the right choice). 

Pros and cons of shift swaps 

Before implementing a shift swapping policy, weigh the pros and cons.

Benefits of shift swapping

Even though your hard work designing the schedule shouldn’t go unnoticed, there are some benefits to allowing your staff to swap shifts when the need arises.

A shift swap:

  • Keeps adequate number of staff on hand
  • Lets employees manage scheduling conflicts 
  • Allows employees to get time off when needed without reducing overall hours

Negatives of shift swapping

If you don’t have a clear shift swapping policy, things can get complicated pretty quickly. Chances are, you’ve experienced this already.

A shift swap fails when:

  • Employees have different abilities
  • Employees have different rates of pay 
  • Swapped hours lead to overtime
  • Employees forget to show up to their shifts
The graphic is titled "How to Make Shift Swapping Easy." It shows four steps. One, create a shift swapping policy. Two, create and distribute a schedule. Three, check in with your staff. Four, track shift swaps.

Shift swapping tips

While it might be a huge headache for employers to deal with the ever-changing schedule, it’s just as tough for employees who may be stressed about lost money. 

To make this process easier for all parties here are some shift swapping tips to keep in mind. 

1. Create a shift swapping policy

Create a detailed policy that keeps everyone and their needs in mind. 

Your policy should be flexible enough for employees to use easily, but also transparent enough that managers can quickly understand how the shift has changed. 

To make sure that all of the steps are clearly defined, consider:

  • Who can and can’t cover shifts 
  • Whether or not shift swaps require management approval
  • The deadline for swapping shifts
  • How swaps are confirmed—over the phone, via call or text, or directly on the schedule

Once you’ve created a new policy, make sure that it goes into your employee handbook so that everyone can see it and refer back to it when needed. 

2. Create and distribute a schedule ahead of time

Make sure to post the schedule promptly and with time to spare so that employees can know what to expect. This will also give you a better chance to cover shifts whenever the need arises.

Make sure that your schedule:

  • Is easily accessible, in hardcopy and online
  • Is easy to understand at a glance
  • Clearly shows managers or shift supervisors 

3. Routinely check in with your staff

Routinely check in with your staff to see if their availability has changed. Try making the schedule as predictable as possible. This will help your employees manage their time better.

Whether it is through text, over the phone, or through another form of communication, employees should know that they can reach you quickly and easily and without fear of judgment or reprisal.

4. Track shift swaps

Who’s working what shift? The last thing you want is for pay and overtime to get out of hand. Be sure to keep track of:

  • What shifts need coverage
  • What open shifts have been properly filled

If an employee of a higher pay rate fills in a shift for someone at a lower rate, your payroll and budget could suffer. And if your employees aren’t tracking their overall hours, they may find themselves working overtime that you aren’t prepared to pay.

You might want to reserve the right to decline a shift swap if any of these problems come up.

You may realize that you need to use a time and attendance software system to help streamline your schedule’s changing needs. Time and attendance software can make shift swaps easy by keeping track of changing employee hours and allowing you the final say in how the schedule changes.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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