People Management
8 min.

Shift Swap: How to Effortlessly Schedule Employee Swap Shifts

Sarah Busque
Last updated on 22 Dec. 2023
Published on 10 Jan. 2023
Two hands trading schedule cards
Two hands trading schedule cards

Shift swapping gives employees more control over work schedules and lets businesses fill empty shift slots.

Table of contents

Some employers worry that shift swapping will overly complicate employee scheduling. But in fact, allowing employees to trade shifts can be incredibly beneficial for businesses with limited resources. And with the right tools, it can also be incredibly easy.

What is shift swapping?

A shift swap is a common work practice that allows staff members to trade a scheduled shift with a co-worker when needed. Shift swapping is generally accepted as a good business practice for shift work. Among other things, it provides employees more control over work schedules while also making it easier for managers to ensure adequate shift coverage.

Businesses that can take advantage of shift swapping

Shift swapping is common practice in many industries, particularly those with rotating shift schedules, such as:

Benefits of switching shifts for businesses & employees

The practice of trading shifts isn’t just convenient for staff members. It makes good business sense. It can also save time for managers who need to ensure the shift is covered.

Giving employees more flexibility in their work week will reduce stress for employees and promote teamwork. In turn, this will:

Here are 7 ways in which a team can benefit from shift swapping.

1. Increases job satisfaction

Giving employees greater control over their work schedule has a significant impact on worker attitudes and well-being.

Creating an employee schedule involves a lot of juggling. Having a good shift swapping process in place gives managers yet one more option to better meet the needs of employees—without having to constantly rework the entire schedule.

Employee management simplified.

Online work schedules. Time clock. Communication.

Discover Agendrix

The easiest way to transition to and manage shift swaps is with staff scheduling software like Agendrix. It lets employees send out a switch shift request and accept swap requests autonomously (or not), while keeping you fully informed of shift trades. No more worries about a no-show or understaffed shift again!

2. Lets employees manage scheduling conflicts

The vast majority of retail and food-service employees get little advance notice of their work schedules, making it difficult to plan ahead. According to this study:

  • Two-thirds get less than two weeks’ notice
  • Half of them get less than a week’s notice
  • Many have at least one canceled shift per month
  • 25% are expected to work on-call shifts
  • 50% are scheduled to work “clopenings”(a close shift followed by an opening shift the next morning)

Shift swapping is an employee-friendly solution to this reality.

3. Gives employees needed time off without losing precious hours

Low-wage workers sometimes need to take time off—for a family emergency for instance— but the last thing they need is to lose income. With a shift trade, these workers are less likely to suffer financially because they are more likely to pick up another shift, rather than just giving theirs away.

4. Ensures enough workers on staff

All managers can expect employees to request the odd day off. Depending on the availability of staff resources, this can create scheduling chaos.

Allowing staff to request swapping shifts with other employees shows your team that you are sensitive to this need, but that you also need to have each shift covered adequately.

5. Avoids overtime

Done right, shift swapping can avoid employees from racking up overtime hours.

Employee scheduling software lets you view when employees are exceeding either desired worked hours or when they are scheduled for overtime. This makes it easier to manage shift trades, all while preventing employees from exceeding a certain number of hours worked in a given week.

You can also prevent employees from different skill sets from swapping shifts without your approval. For instance, a waiter couldn’t swap his service shift with a line cook’s prep shift.

6. Reduces the risk of no-shows

Allowing swap shifts reduces the risk of employee no-shows.

As a case in point, consider this real-life example: an employee needs a day off for an emergency medical appointment, but the business doesn’t allow shift swaps. What’s the employee to do? Disregard their health or simply not show up for work? Quit?

Agendrix employee scheduling software lets you automatically allow, approve and send notifications of shift swaps to concerned employees.

7. Makes your business more attractive

The Great Resignation (a.k.a. the Big Quit or Great Reshuffle), brought on by the COVID pandemic has meant business in sectors ranging from healthcare to hospitality and restaurants to name a few are now fighting over quality workers.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, the three biggest reasons why so many Americans quit their jobs in 2021 are:

  1. Low pay
  2. Lack of opportunities for advancement
  3. Feeling disrespected at work

The same survey also found that those who quit and found a new job said their new employer offers:

  1. Better pay
  2. More opportunities for advancement
  3. Better work-life balance and flexibility

Allowing shift swapping gives more flexibility, essentially opening the door to a wider talent pool.

3 ways that shift swapping can go wrong

Like all business practices, shift swapping can also have drawbacks when not managed properly.

1. Lack of communication

Failing to clearly communicate your shift swapping policy can lead to a wild west scenario, with you as the manager in the dark as to who—if anyone—is showing up for a given shift.

2. Shift swapping leading to overtime

Not having clearly defined rules for shift swapping may mean some go-getters will work overtime hours. This can lead to high labor costs and burnout for these employees.

3. Employees forget to show up for new shift

Not having a clear process for requesting, accepting and communicating shift swaps increases the risk that the replacement employee may simply forget to show up for the extra shift they picked up.

Employee management simplified.

Online work schedules. Time clock. Communication.

Discover Agendrix

Agendrix scheduling software uses real-time notifications to keep everyone in the loop. It also lets managers determine their level of intervention for the approval of traded shifts.

5 best practices for setting up a swap schedule

Setting up a swap schedule doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are best practices every business should follow to maximize the benefits of shift swapping.

1. Create a shift swapping policy

Having a clear shift swap policy will avoid chaos and headaches for everyone.

A good policy lets employees know what is fair and acceptable by your organization when it comes to shift swapping.

The policy should include:

  • The number of days’ notice given for assigned shift schedules
  • The acceptable timeframe for employees to make shift swap requests
  • The procedure for requesting and accepting an open shift swap
  • The manager’s role in the entire process–if they need to intervene in shift swap requests or approve the shift swap
  • The repercussions of not following the policy

Have one policy for all employees and make sure it is communicated to everyone. Share the policy with new hires as part of your employee onboarding process.

You don’t need employee scheduling software to create a shift swapping policy, but it will make it much easier to ensure the correct procedures are being followed.

2. Centralize your employee schedules

An all-in-one employee scheduling software will let you centralize all aspects of employee management:

See how Agendrix software makes managing all aspects of shift work easy!

3. Facilitate communication

Scheduling software benefits managers with limited resources in a number of ways. In the case of managing shift swaps, it makes it easy to ensure shift coverage and that scheduling changes are communicated in a timely way.

Depending on whether or not your approval is required, employees can make a swap a shift request directly in the software.

Any qualified employee who is willing to cover the shift can immediately accept. The software will inform the manager of the trade. You always know if a shift is covered or not.

The time clock features allow different ways to clock and let you see when employees arrive at job sites, giving you double reassurance that the shift is indeed being covered in real-time.

Other features like the built-in chat and bulletin board make it easy to openly discuss published schedules, last-minute scheduling changes, swaps, time off and other information, either with individual employees or the entire team.

4. Encourage collaboration

Teamwork leads to more productive teams and better business performance. Allowing shift swaps empowers team members to support one another. If you use scheduling software, you can let employees thank each other for trading shifts with high fives.

5. Stay in control

As a shift manager, you need to stay in control of everything from timesheets to time & attendance. You also need to make sure shift swaps won’t be detrimental to business.

You’ll also want oversight on the employee’s overtime to avoid potential worker burnout and keep labor costs in check.

Simplify shift swapping with Agendrix

The best way to simplify shift swaps is by minimizing them in the first place. Agendrix scheduling software makes it easy to build more accurate work schedules by taking business needs and employee work preferences into account.

Shift swapping is a reality for most SMBs. Agendrix also makes it easy to set up and manage the entire shift swapping process. You can monitor and approve changes to the schedule with just a quick glance, saving you tons of time.

Your questions answered.

Why should a business allow shift swapping?

Shift swaps are an excellent way to meet staffing needs while giving staff more control and flexibility over their work schedules. Shift swapping has been shown to increase employee morale and improve employee retention. Studies have also shown that switch shifts boost worker productivity and sales.

How do you set up shift swapping?

1. Set a clear procedure

2. Clarify rules and requirements in a policy

3. Share this information with your team

Agendrix employee scheduling software automates most of the work involved in setting up shift swapping.

How do you swap shifts in Agendrix?

With Agendrix employee scheduling software, employees can easily request or accept a shift swap using the software’s mobile or web app.

Discover Agendrix.
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