There are all sorts of scenarios that could prevent your employees from being able to work their scheduled shifts. And if you want to empower them to navigate those scenarios in a way that has minimal impact on your business, something you’ll definitely want to consider?
Allowing team members to swap shifts.
When done correctly, shift swapping can not only help out your employees—but it can also help out your business.
Let’s take a deep dive into all things shift swaps: what they are, the benefits (and potential drawbacks), and how to create a shift swapping policy that works for your team and your business.
What Does It Mean to Swap Shifts?
A shift swap happens when an employee can’t make it to a scheduled shift—and so they trade shifts with another employee that’s available to work during that time period. That’s also called a shift trade.
So, for example, let’s say you have an employee that’s scheduled to work 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday—but they have a last-minute personal issue and can’t work during their scheduled shift. In a shift swap situation, they might call one of their colleagues that’s scheduled to work Wednesday from 12 to 4 p.m.—and offer to work their Wednesday shift if they’d be willing to cover their Monday shift.
If the colleague says yes? That’s a shift swap.
Generally, when employees do a swap, shift changes are an even trade; so, while the work schedule changes for each employee, the total number of hours they work stays the same. And as long as shift swaps are handled this way, it shouldn’t impact labor costs. (If staff members start swapping scheduled shifts of different lengths—for example, swapping a four-hour shift for an eight-hour shift—it could potentially lead to overtime issues.)
Employees might want or need to change shifts for a number of reasons, including:
- Scheduling conflicts
- Scheduling preferences (for example, they might want to swap their morning shift for an afternoon or evening shift)
- Last-minute issues or emergencies
Benefits of Shift Swapping
Allowing your employees to swap out shifts when necessary offers some definite benefits, both for team members and business owners.
Some benefits the shift swapping process offer include:
- Decreased no-shows: One of the main reasons for swapping, trading, or exchanging shifts? A last-minute issue that keeps an employee from being able to show up at work. When you allow employees to find coverage for those last-minute issues, that will lower your number of no-shows.
- Better employee experience: When employees can exchange shifts as needed, it gives them more flexibility and better work-life balance. This creates a better employee experience, which can increase employee engagement, morale, and performance.
- Less scheduling work for managers: When employees aren’t allowed to swap out shifts when they have scheduling conflicts or can’t work their scheduled shifts, managers have to do the work to adjust the schedule and find coverage. But by allowing employees to exchange shifts, you cut back on the amount of time and energy managers have to spend on scheduling their direct reports each week.
Drawbacks of Shift Swapping
There’s no denying that swapping out shifts can be beneficial. But the practice isn’t without its disadvantages.
Some drawbacks you’ll want to consider before implementing a shift swap policy within your organization include:
- Potential overtime costs: As mentioned, as long as shift trades are even, it won’t impact your labor costs since employees aren’t changing the total number of hours they’re working. But if you’re not paying attention or tracking schedule swaps, employees could potentially swap a shorter shift for a longer one—and if that longer shift puts them over their full-time hours for the week, you’d be on the hook to pay them overtime.
- Skill, experience, and/or seniority gaps: Sometimes, you schedule employees at a certain time for a reason. And if they trade out shifts, it could lead to a skill set, seniority, or experience gap. For example, if a senior employee swaps out a shift with a brand new employee—and the senior employee was scheduled for a particularly busy or demanding time—that new employee may not have the experience or skills to navigate the shift they picked up.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to enjoy all of the benefits of offering shift swapping to your employees—while avoiding potential headaches or drawbacks.
And that’s creating a clear shift swapping policy.
Making Shift Swapping Easy: Create a Clear Policy
The right shift swapping policy can make the shift swapping process simple and seamless—for your employees, your managers, and you as a business owner.
But how, exactly, do you create a shift swapping policy that works for your team members and your business?
Let’s take a look at key elements you’ll want to include in your shift swapping policy:
The first thing you’ll want to include in your policy on shift trades? Eligibility.
Make sure your policy clearly outlines:
- Who is eligible to request shift swaps: Your policy should clearly outline which employees are eligible to swap scheduled shifts. For example, employees may need to be working for your company for 90 days before they can swap a scheduled shift with a co-worker.
- Which co-workers they can trade their shifts with: Your policy should also outline which of their co-workers they can trade or exchange shifts with. For example, you may require employees to hold the same job title to be eligible for shift trades.
- What shifts are eligible for trades: If you have certain shifts that are ineligible for shift swaps (for example, if you own a restaurant and want to avoid shift swaps on your busy Friday and Saturday night shifts), make sure to include those in your policy.
Clearly outlining who and what shifts are eligible for shift trades will help you avoid any confusion—or any coverage issues—in the future.
As mentioned, when it comes to shift exchanges, tracking hours is extremely important. If employees are swapping shifts of different lengths—and you’re not tracking those shift changes—it could lead to employees working overtime.
Hourly automatically tracks when and how long employees work and sends business owners data in real-time, which can help you avoid accidental overtime.
In your policy, outline any time restrictions you have around swapping shifts. For example, your policy might say that all shift trades need to be equal in hours (so, for example, swapping an eight-hour shift for an eight-hour shift or a four-hour shift for a four-hour shift). Or you may opt to allow employees to change shifts of different lengths (for example, swapping a four-hour shift for an eight-hour shift)—but only if the change in shift length does not push them into overtime territory.
If you plan to have time restrictions around how much notice employees need to give before swapping shifts (for example, they must submit a request to trade shifts at least three hours before their scheduled shift), you’ll want to include that in your policy as well.
Clear Instructions on How to Submit Shift Swap Requests
One of (if not the) most important parts of your shift swap policy is outlining how employees can submit shift swap requests.
Your policy should clearly outline:
- What to include in their shift swap request: Make sure to outline all of the information employees will need to include in their request to trade shifts (for example, their scheduled shift, the new shift they’ll be working, and the contact information for the employee that will be covering their shift.)
- Who to submit the shift swap request to: Your policy should also clearly state who employees should submit their swap requests to; that way, they can ensure their request gets to the right person—and they can get manager approval for their work schedule change.
- Deadlines: Again, if employees have to submit their requests by a certain time (for example, an hour before their scheduled shift), you’ll want to include that in your policy.
- Where to direct questions: Your employees may have questions about shift trades. Make sure your policy clearly outlines where to direct those questions—for example, to the business owner, their manager, or an HR representative. (We’ll jump more into employee questions in a bit.)
If you’re going to be using employee scheduling software for shift swap requests, you’ll also want to include information on that software—as well as instructions on how to use it—in your policy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Swapping Shifts
As mentioned, your employees may have questions about trading shifts.
So what, exactly, are those questions—and what are the answers? Let’s take a look at some FAQs about swapping shifts:
Is it OK to swap your shifts with another employee?
Whether swapping shifts is an accepted practice will vary from company to company. If you’re unsure if you can trade out shifts, talk to your manager; they can give you more information about the company’s shift swapping policy.
How do I ask to swap or exchange shifts?
Some companies allow employees to swap out shifts by calling their managers, while others require employees to submit a written request—and some companies use employee scheduling software to manage their shift trade requests.
If you’re not sure how to submit a request to trade shifts, talk to your manager.
Can I trade my short shift for a longer shift—or vice versa?
Trading shifts of different lengths—for example, a short shift for a long shift—can lead to overtime issues and is generally discouraged by employers.
Use These Tips to Better Manage Shift Trades at Your Company
Shift trades can be a win-win for employees and businesses—but only when they’re managed correctly. A shift swap policy that clearly outlines your company’s approach to changing shifts (including who is eligible, how often, and how to request a shift exchange) will ensure that you and your team are on the same page—and help you avoid any challenges or miscommunications when an employee wants to exchange shifts with a co-worker.
And now that you know how to create a shift swap policy that benefits both your employees and your business, all that’s left to do? Get your policy down on paper!