Shift Swaps: Everything managers need to know

The words SHIFT swap written out in bold text.

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In this post, we start by defining what a shift swap is, the benefits of allowing employees to swap shifts, and how shift swapping typically works.

We then list out different shift swap policies that you can use at your restaurant or store.

Finally, we recommend ways to streamline and automate shift swaps to make it easier on managers and employees, such as using a shift swap template or online scheduling software.

What is a shift swap?

A shift swap (sometimes written incorrectly as “shift swop”) is when employees trade shifts with each other. In some industries, it’s also known as a shift trade.

Shift swapping (or shift trading) is a common practice in many workplaces. Anyone who’s worked in retail, restaurants, or hospitality has probably exchanged shifts with a coworker at least once or twice.

Shift swapping has many benefits for employees and employers alike.

What are the benefits of shift swaps?

Shift swaps keep employees happy and result in fewer no-calls/no-shows.

When an employee can’t make a certain shift, swapping with a coworker allows them to mitigate the impact on the business.

Shift swaps ensure adequate staffing, give employees a chance to solve their scheduling conflicts, and make it so they can have the needed time off without giving up an entire shift’s worth of pay.

In short, it improves employee retention and protects the business.

Other benefits of shift swaps

Shift swaps are an excellent opportunity to empower your staff members in a way that benefits them and your business.

Added freedom and flexibility

photo of employees at a table sharing ideas in a team building exercise

Allowing employees to swap shifts gives them more control over their work schedule and more flexibility for their personal lives. Freedom and flexibility are good for both morale and productivity.

Shift swaps are also conducive to good workforce management. They are a simple and effective way to solve many staffing issues and ensure effective employee scheduling.

Supports working as a team

Shift swaps save time and give your employees an extra opportunity to work as a team to solve problems.

When employees are able to trade shifts, they can work together to find a solution within the schedule that benefits everyone instead of relying on a manager to do it all for them every time.

Your employees will benefit from the opportunity to problem-solve on their own, and your managers won’t drown in rewriting the schedule every other day. Allowing employees to figure out minor schedule changes in a way that works best for them can save your managers a lot of conflicts, headaches, and time. 

Shift swapping: things to watch out for

Shift swaps are usually a win-win, but there are a few things you need to be cautious about:

  • Once your employees decide which shifts to trade and who to trade with, it’s still a good idea to require a manager’s approval before proceeding.
  • Make sure trades don’t start costing you overtime.
  • Also, be sure to avoid any trades that might result in shifts that aren’t adequately staffed. Consider the training level and skill sets of the staff on a shift.

For example, make sure you’ll still have a good team before approving a trade between a newbie and a more experienced employee.

Learning more about shift swap policies and best practices can help you avoid making mistakes. Online scheduling software can prevent mistakes altogether, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Shift swap policies and best practices

Abiding by certain policies, as well as using online scheduling software, can make updating the schedule a breeze. 

Many websites, such as this one, talk about the importance of employee education, posting the schedule in advance, and having a policy in place that’s easy for both management and employees to follow.

They’re not wrong! Let’s take a look at some best practices, then we’ll go over some shift swap policy examples.

Tip #1: Post the schedule in advance

When employees know when they’ll be working, they can effectively plan out their week and limit unnecessary surprises for management.

We recommend that you post the schedule at least a week in advance so that your employees can plan accordingly. However, some areas (particularly those that have fair workweek) may require you to post the schedule 10, 14, or even 21 days in advance.

In addition, a somewhat predictable schedule will help reduce the need for workers to swap shifts in the first place, since they know what to expect.

Tip #2: Use an online scheduling software

The benefits of building your team’s schedule using an online platform greatly outweigh the old pen-and-paper or Excel spreadsheet methods.

Online employee scheduling software like TimeForge allows managers to build schedules manually, use a template, or even generate them automatically based on historical sales trends.

When it comes to shift swaps, the software greatly streamlines the process:

  1. An employee flags a shift as available for someone else to pick up.
  2. Another team member applies to pick up that shift.
  3. The manager approves or rejects the swap.

Throughout this entire process, the software notifies employees and managers about the shift swap in progress, as well as the status.

All of this is done from a computer or using TimeForge’s mobile app, which makes it extremely convenient. No one has to drive to the store to check a printed schedule or to make changes to the schedule. Everything’s online.

Tip #3: Educate your employees

Whatever policies you decide on, you’ll want to make sure to communicate them to employees. Especially new hires.

During new employee orientation is when your new hires are first made aware of company policies. By teaching employees the rules up front, it makes it easier for them to manage a healthy work-life balance.

For example, with many retail jobs, there’s a high chance the employee is in school. After all, a flexible schedule is one of the most popular reasons students choose work in the retail industry. 

When the employee is aware of policies regarding their schedule from the beginning, it’s easier for them to work with their class schedule. They’ll have a better idea about whether to ask off to study for a big test the night before, or swap shifts with someone when the study group needs to meet at the last minute.

Shift swap policy examples

Given the information above, creating a Shift Swap Policy is pretty straightforward. You’ll want to create policies that work well for your business but allow your workers enough flexibility to manage a work-life balance. You also want to select policies that are easy to manage and enforce.

Common shift swap policies include rules like:

  • Shift swaps require manager approval.
  • Shift swaps must be submitted 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 swaps cannot occur if they will result in overtime pay.

The rules don’t sound that complicated, but they can be a lot to track day-to-day. This is especially true when your managers are busy managing the team.

This is where a shift swap template or, even better, a good online employee scheduling solution comes into play.

Using a shift swap template

Managers can manually handle all of the steps for a shift swap, but to save time, they can also print out or provide a shift swap template for employees to use.

Employees could fill out and sign the shift swap form for the manager to review. This form would explain which shifts they would like to swap and why.

Typically, a printed template would have the following pieces of information:

  • Who is giving up the shift
  • Who is picking up the shift
  • Why the shift is being traded
  • The date and time of the shift
  • Employee signatures

Once filled out, the form would be left in a box in the back office or handed directly to the on-duty manager.

Buuuuut, as you can imagine, there are some drawbacks to using a printed template.

Disadvantages of using a printed shift swap form

The manager would still have to see and keep track of the form. Then, they’d have to review the schedule and make sure overtime won’t be an issue. They’d also have to make sure the replacement staff member has the necessary skills needed for that particular shift.

Once the manager has done all of those things, they then have to make modifications to the schedule and communicate the changes. 

Taking all of the above into account, it’s not hard to see how a single shift swap can quickly eat up a manager’s time.

Two coworkers swapping shifts using their smart phones.
Fortunately, online scheduling software allows employees to swap shifts using their smart phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices these days.

How online scheduling software streamlines shift swaps

A full-featured scheduling platform can automate your shift swap policies. For example, the software can be configured to require manager approval or require employees to give up shifts a certain amount of time in advance.

Here’s what a scheduling software like Timeforge can do:

  • allows employees to submit shift swap requests online,
  • can require shift swap requests to be submitted X days in advance,
  • checks for appropriate skill levels if desired,
  • allows managers to review and approve swaps (or can be set to automatically approve requests),
  • informs the manager if overtime would occur,
  • automatically changes the employees on the schedule,
  • informs all parties involved, including the manager,
  • and more

At the same time, online software gives workers the flexibility they need to take care of issues at home, school, or the doctor’s office. 

Other helpful features for employees include:

  • When giving up a shift, employees may leave a message if they want, and they are prompted to confirm the day and time of the shift, which helps reduce errors and confusion.
  • When an employee reviews the available shift swaps, they only see shifts for dates and times they are able to work. This keeps things simple for staff members, as they don’t have to sort through shifts they can’t work.

With a well-rounded policy, both managers and employees will be happier and more productive.

Spend less time managing the schedule

It’s easy to enjoy the benefits of shift swaps when you use a labor management software with shift swap functionality built into it.

Fortunately, such a program already exists. TimeForge does the work for you by giving employees a platform in which to make their swap requests. It can also help catch requests that won’t work in your favor.

For example, it ensures that both trade partners are equally matched in their skill level, so your shifts will run as smoothly as possible. It will also inform management when a swap will result in overtime.

If appropriate, TimeForge can require all swaps to be approved by a manager or to be made a certain amount of time in advance.

Once completed and approved, TimeForge automatically updates the schedule to reflect the swap so your managers don’t have to.

To learn more about how TimeForge handles shift swaps, check out this handy how-to guide. It’ll walk you through the process and how to configure the settings to best serve your business.

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