Shift Swapping: Make It Easy On Your Small Business (and Your Employees)

Scheduling your employees can cause headaches—even on a good day. Taking a bunch of employees’ differing schedules and fitting them perfectly into your operating hours is a fine balance, especially taking into account all the requests for time off, people with second jobs, and skills. One magic solution? Shift swapping.

Shift swapping is a solution that benefits both employers and employees to navigate those unexpected scheduling challenges. If you’ve never heard of it, not to worry: we’re breaking down the benefits, challenges, and the exact steps you need to take to make shift swapping work for you and your employees.

Put down your pencil, pick up your favorite beverage, and read on! 

What is shift swapping?

Shift swapping is a collaborative scheduling arrangement where a team member exchanges their scheduled work time to accommodate for a personal commitment. At its core, shift swapping involves employees trading their scheduled work time with the approval of their employer. It can be a huge benefit to everyone involved if employees have the flexibility to arrange their schedules when those unexpected life events pop up.

The benefits of shift swapping in your business

No matter how great you are at scheduling, things are constantly shifting and changing. Luckily, shift swapping can relieve some of the reworking that needs to happen once that scheduling gets posted. 

Let’s explore all of the ways shift swapping can help you—and your employees.

Benefits for employers

  • Quick resolutions: Embracing shift swapping allows you to quickly fill unexpected absences or staffing shortages. This minimizes disruptions to your daily operations.
  • Employee satisfaction and retention: A study by Future Forum found that flexibility is the main reason people stay in their jobs. By offering flexible scheduling options, you can create a positive work culture and boost employee morale while reducing turnover rates
  • Cost-efficiency: Allowing shift swapping can reduce the need to hire expensive temporary employees to cover time slots that another employee may want to grab.

Benefits for your employees

  • Improved work-life balance: Shift swapping allows employees to build their schedules around personal commitments, giving them work-life balance. They won’t always know when a big life event is coming so having flexibility allows them to prioritize their personal life and passions without putting their work position in jeopardy.
  • Increased autonomy: Providing employees with the ability—to some degree—to manage their schedules can lead to a feeling of trust and autonomy.
  • Accommodating personal needs: Shift swapping means that employees may not have to use their vacation days and sick days for personal commitments, whether they’re family-related, educational, or health-related.

The challenges that come with trading schedules

It isn’t all roses and rainbows with shift swapping. Things can go wrong and human error can get in the way of things running smoothly. Knowing the challenges can help you better prepare and have contingency plans.

  • Scheduling conflicts: Shift swapping can turn into ‘he said/she said’ situations. Miscommunications happen and without clear guidelines or effective communication, you can find yourself short-staffed.
  • Gaps in skills: Not all employees have the same skills. If an employee who’s a keyholder happens to switch with someone who isn’t, some employees may find themselves out in the cold one morning without a way in. 
  • Accidental overtime: Employees may not be aware of how many hours they’ve worked in a certain week—especially if they pick up a couple of shifts. They can head into overtime hours pretty quickly which can cause budgeting issues for you.

Why you need a shift swapping policy

Because of the challenges you can come up against with shift swapping, creating a thorough shift swapping policy is the best way for you to only reap the benefits and none of the pitfalls. 

Your shift swapping policy will set clear expectations, outline procedures, and ensure fairness for all employees. A well-defined policy mitigates potential scheduling conflicts and maintains a structured approach to managing shift swaps, fostering a harmonious work environment.

9 steps to creating a shift swapping policy

Shift swapping is one of those things that can be an added bonus for you and your employees—if those shift swaps are executed correctly.

Creating a comprehensive policy is going to make all of this easier on everybody involved. But what do you even include? Good thing we’re here. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps you need to take to create an effective shift swapping policy.

1. What are your business’ needs?

Start by figuring out your business’ unique operational needs, your staffing patterns, and work culture. Think about the nature of your business, the peak periods, and any potential issues with managing shifts. Understanding your scheduling and staffing needs first will help you tailor the shift swap policy.

2. Create clear guidelines

Establish unambiguous rules for shift swapping. Things to include:

  • Shift changes need to be approved by a manager or supervisor.
  • Submit your shift changes for approval at least X days in advance.
  • Shifts can only be swapped between employees with the same job position.
  • Shifts can only be swapped between employees with the same skill levels.
  • Shift changes won’t be approved if they result in overtime pay.
  • Shift swaps are only allowed X times in a month.
  • Shift swaps aren’t allowed during high-demand periods like the holidays.

You can set any rules you need to make sure that you’ve got the coverage you need—as long as they are clear and concrete.

3. Establish a formal line of communication

Develop a clear and efficient line of communication for employees to submit requests. What’s your preferred method for requests? A designated platform, like the Homebase team communication tool? Email? In-person submissions? Make sure that employees know who to contact and when they’ll hear back about their requests.

4. What is the approval process?

Define a clear process for approving requests. Managers or supervisors should review and approve swap requests based on pre-set criteria, considering things like adequate coverage, skillset requirements, and labor laws around working hours and breaks.

5. Record-keeping is key

Implement a system to document all approved shift swaps. You’re going to need accurate records of the original and swapped shifts, including dates, times, and the employees involved. Keep these records organized. That way they’re there just in case you need them for any he said/she said scenarios and to ensure compliance with labor regulations.

6. Implement and train your employees

Now that you’ve got your policy, it’s time to share it with your employees. Hold a training session to educate your employees and managers about the shift swap policy. Leave time for questions so that you’re sure everyone understands the guidelines, procedures, and the importance of adhering to the policy. You can get your employees to sign the policy and keep those documents for proof that they read it. Digitizing the documents is even better. Then, implement the policy consistently.

7. Keep the policy readily accessible

Make the policy easily accessible to all employees. You can distribute the policy through several channels, like employee handbooks, intranet portals, or digital platforms. Encourage an open-door policy where employees can ask questions or ask for help regarding the policy.

8. Enforce the policy

Now the not-so-fun part. You need to consistently enforce the policy. Address any violations or non-compliance quickly and consistently. You want to encourage a sense of ownership among your employees for the rules. Maintaining the policies really is to their benefit as well.

9. Regular review and adapt

Like any policy, you’re going to want to adapt as you go. Sometimes sitting and writing things down works in your head, but not in practice. Observe if the policies are working, if some need to be adjusted, or eliminated. Get feedback from your managers and employees on how everything is working for them since they’re on the front lines of these policies. And if you do change the policy, make sure to openly communicate that with your team.

Make shift swapping easy on you and your team

Have we sold you yet? As long as your policies are clear and all-encompassing, shift swapping is a win/win scenario for you and your employees.

But, if you want to make things easy on you and your employees, integrating a business software tool like Homebase is your best bet. Homebase can help you with nearly every step of your process—from trade requests, approvals, scheduling changes, record-keeping, and the added bonus of seamless communication between employees and managers. You don’t have to use a pen and paper anymore: Homebase has thought of everything.

Streamline your shift swapping process with Homebase 

Give your employees autonomy and flexibility over their schedules with Homebase.
Get started today.

Shift swapping FAQs

What is a shift swap?

A shift swap involves employees exchanging their assigned work hours with the approval of their employer to accommodate personal needs or unforeseen circumstances.

What are the benefits of shift swapping for employers and employees?

Shift swapping allows for flexibility in managing your employees’ needs, reducing staffing issues caused by unexpected absences, and maintaining a more efficient workflow. They can also promote a better work-life balance for employees, allowing them to take personal days without having to use their precious PTO or sick days.

What's the difference between shift swapping and shift bidding?

Shift swapping involves employees mutually exchanging shifts among themselves based on their needs or availability. But shift bidding allows employees to bid or choose available shifts based on seniority, preference, or financial incentives within the workplace.

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