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How to Make Shift Swapping Easy for Your Team

Shift SwapShift Swap
min read
August 21, 2023

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:

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:

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:

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:

Clearly outlining who and what shifts are eligible for shift trades will help you avoid any confusion—or any coverage issues—in the future.

Time Restrictions

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:

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!

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