How To Develop an Effective Shift Swap Policy

by Katie Sawyer, 6 minutes read
HOME blog develop an effective shift swap policy

For many employers, few things are as frustrating and time-consuming as filling a shift. 

You get a call early in the morning or just before a shift from a worker saying they can’t make it in. So you call down a list of other workers to see if one of them can cover it.

You track down a replacement and they agree to cover the shift – until they forget the schedule change and don’t show up. 

That comes with several drawbacks – additional labor costs, understaffing, employee burnout, conflicts between employees, and a decrease in employee morale, satisfaction, and overall productivity. 

But there’s a way out: introduce a shift swap policy.

Read on to find out how establishing an effective shift swapping policy eliminates the headaches that come with managing shift swap requests.  

How to build a shift swap policy

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Shift swapping is a simple process: 

  • Employee initiates a shift trade request

  • The second employee (replacement) approves the shift request

  • Employer/Manager gets a notification of the request and either approves or denies it

While it may sound easy, shift swap requests can seem like a nightmare. 

You have a working schedule that does everything you need only for workers to tamper with it later. With an effective shift swap policy, you’ll be less frustrated and have more engaged workers who are unlikely to churn unexpectedly. 

How do you develop a shift swap policy? Here are four important best practices to help you get started.

Define a clear process

Setting a procedure for swapping schedules starts at the managerial level – get the right attitude to shift trading and then set clear, fair, and accessible rules for everyone. 

A good shift swap policy imposes structure and clearly outlines the company’s and employees’ responsibilities. 

Address key things like: 

  • When staff members will receive upcoming shift assignments

  • How much notice you’ll give employees for upcoming schedules

  • The timeframe in which workers can request shift swaps

  • Shift swap approval process

  • Disciplinary procedures for failing to comply with the policy

Establish the best practices, the process you want employees to use, and a clear outline of all the steps involved. 

For instance, you can include steps like updating employee profiles and scheduling on a software program to send texts or call the people involved in the switch (including management).

Put a reminder of the shift swap process in your employee handbook and any onboarding information so your team members – especially new hires – know the rules on their first day at work.

It’ll be easier for them to gain your approval when they send shift trading requests in line with the policy and manage a healthy work-life balance. 

Source: Canva

If you manage a retail store, for example, there’s a high chance one or more employees are pursuing further studies. And that’s to be expected because of the flexible nature of retail job schedules. 

When new hires are aware of shift swapping policies regarding their own schedule upfront, they can work with their school schedule. Plus, they’ll know when to ask for time off to study for a test, or trade shifts with a colleague when they have an impromptu class or exam.  

Check for any federal, state, or local statutes that might apply to your company and ensure compliance with labor laws and advance-notice requirements around schedules.

A detailed policy helps you avoid innumerable shift-trading problems, unexpected labor costs, and unhappy employees.

Share the schedule in advance

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While employees should be able to adapt to their work schedule, sometimes the unexpected happens: a child falls ill, school events pop up, or they need to trade shifts with coworkers. 

But nothing brings them more frustration like not knowing shift details and their own schedules in advance. And giving short notice means they’ll most likely call off leaving your team understaffed. 

As a manager, you also need long-term clarity on who is working and when, so you can plan effectively and approve any shift swaps with the data you have.

That’s why you need to communicate clearly and let employees easily access and understand your schedule. 

To make communication easier:

  • Design a process that broadcasts 100s of open shifts to your staff in advance

  • Give employees their assigned schedules at least two weeks in advance so they can look ahead at their schedules and request shift swaps in good time

  • Encourage open communication channels

  • Let employees own their schedules and take responsibility for filling the shifts and any related consequences 

With a clear communication process and regular shift reminders, you’ll remove the uncertainty about when employees work. 

You also reduce unnecessary surprises like last minute call outs, eliminate unnecessary tension for you and your staff, and minimize shift swapping. 

Create approval parameters

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A formalized shift swap policy minimizes many negative consequences that could result from shift swapping at work: employee no-shows, extra labor costs (like unscheduled overtime), or errors made by improperly trained workers.

You can manage shift swap nuances automatically using scheduling software and remove any shift coverage roadblocks. 

However, if it’s not done properly, it could cost your business more money and time. 

To mitigate such risks:

  • Give managers the veto power to review and approve shift swap requests 

  • Set timelines that cut off employees from requesting shift swaps too close to their scheduled shifts

  • Ensure shift changes comply with workplace rules, training requirements, or the maximum permitted hours

  • Allow shift swaps only among qualified employees – not those with similar experience, training, or performance

  • Train employees that a manager must review and approve any changes to the schedule

  • Have a central location where managers can document each request they review and approve while notifying other managers of the scheduling updates

Depending on the unique complexities of your business, you can add more rules. Just make sure they’re clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Why should an organization allow shift swapping?

There’s so much to gain from investing time and effort in improving your shift swapping procedures

You can reduce unnecessary costs and distractions associated with schedule changes. Your employees also benefit from more learning opportunities and team engagement. 

Here are four main reasons you should allow shift swapping in your organization.

Ensure tighter shift coverage

With a shift swap policy in place, you’ll manage fewer shift changes and ensure tighter coverage. 

Shift swapping tools serve up suitable employees who are qualified, cost-efficient, and available so you can easily cover each shift.

Streamlining the process reduces shift-swap frustration and miscommunication among your managers and staff so they can better prepare for a productive shift. 

In addition, it can bring significant financial savings for your organization since there is no extra labor or overtime costs. 

Staff flexibility

Life is unpredictable – no matter how good you are at preparation and foresight.

Unforeseen circumstances will still pop up in your employees’ personal lives, requiring them to leave early, work remotely, or arrange shift swaps. 

The ability to change work schedules when such important life events happen is important for your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. 

Giving employees a flexible schedule and the freedom to swap shifts when needed helps you maintain happy, engaged team members. 

Current labor shortage

Employees are constantly seeking different perks and reasons to choose or stay at a business. 

An effective shift swap policy is a key driver of employee engagement, encourages them to work together more, and creates a reservoir of worker goodwill towards your organization.

By allowing suitable shift swaps, you’re not only supporting the employees but also their families – and they’ll appreciate you for that.

However, you must ensure that shift swaps are only possible where the employees have similar skill sets, comparable pay rates, and the swap doesn’t drain the organization financially.

It can boost morale

Allowing your staff to exchange shifts with their coworkers shows that you’re flexible and want to empower them. 

When you invite employees to take charge of their schedules, they own them and are more motivated to do their best. And they’re more engaged and inspired to deal with the pressures and challenges at work more effectively.

The result: less stress, fewer sick days and time off-work, and improved attitudes when they’re on the clock.

Improve your shift swapping procedure

Scheduling employees is an important part of running a business. So it’s inevitable that they’ll need to swap shifts from time to time. 

With an effective shift swap policy, you can eliminate the frustration, confusion, and negative consequences you might encounter. Sign up for a free trial of Deputy and see how you can fill shifts in just a few clicks.