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Shift-Swapping: The Key to Flexible Scheduling and Employee Satisfaction
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Workforce Management

Shift-Swapping: The Key to Flexible Scheduling and Employee Satisfaction

One-Minute Takeaway

  • Employees with flexibility to handle unexpected life events are less likely to miss work or quit.
  • Dedicated software streamlines shift-swap requests, approvals, and real-time schedule updates.
  • Set defined rules on eligibility, deadlines, and managerial oversight.

In today’s fast-paced world, employees need adaptable work schedules to balance their professional and personal lives. From routine doctor’s appointments to unexpected family emergencies, life happens—and shift workers are no exception. This is where a well-structured shift-swap policy can prove invaluable for both your business and employees.

In a survey of retail managers conducted by scheduling technology company WorkJam, 62% of those managers said they had sales associates quit over ongoing scheduling conflicts. And employee turnover is 174% more likely without real-time scheduling capabilities (Bersin by Deloitte). If you have shift workers, it’s important to your company’s retention efforts that you fully understand that sometimes “life happens” and your employees will occasionally need to change up their schedules.

What is Shift-Swapping?

Shift-swapping refers to a practice where employees can mutually exchange their assigned work shifts to accommodate personal needs or other unforeseen circumstances. With a robust shift-swap policy in place, employees gain more control over their schedules, creating a greater sense of work-life balance and (with a bit of luck) improving overall job satisfaction.

Shift-Swapping Needs to be Strategic

Of course, companies need consistency and dependability when scheduling staff, but employees also need the flexibility to adapt to the demands of life with doctor’s visits, kids, spouses, and aging parents. These requirements don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. A well-thought-out shift-swap policy can work for both sides and help ensure that both the company and its employees get the staff scheduling they need.

The Case for Shift-Swapping: Benefits for Your Business

A thoughtful shift-swapping process offers significant advantages for businesses, including:

  • Reduced Absenteeism: When employees have the flexibility to adjust their own schedules, they are less likely to call out sick or miss work due to unexpected events.
  • Improved Employee Engagement and Retention: Increased flexibility and control over schedules can boost employee morale, fostering a happier, and more productive workforce.
  • Enhanced Operational Efficiency: A seamless shift-swap system helps maintain consistent staffing levels, ensuring operations run smoothly even with unexpected changes.

Pro Tip: Every employee handbook should have a section on shift-swap policies. Don’t have a handbook? Here are 8 reasons why you should consider building one.

6 Tips to Creating a Successful Shift-Swap Policy

Here are key points to consider when developing or refining your policy:

  1. Clearly Communicate: Thoroughly explain your shift-swap policy to employees, including eligibility, restrictions, submission procedures, and approval mechanisms.
  2. Determine which employees can swap shifts. Define which employees are eligible to participate in shift-swapping. You can’t allow every staff member to have the ability to put in swap requests for every shift. And you definitely want to make sure that a bunch of your lower performing employees don’t suddenly accept swaps that your A-listers request off. You also need to ensure that your employees can’t swap shifts with another employee who works a different department or position. It’s a good idea to ensure that staff can only swap shifts with an employee who has equal training, experience, and performance.
  3. Require manager approval. Don’t let staff swap shifts willy-nilly! Managers should retain final say on approving shift-swap requests to maintain visibility into schedule changes, ensuring operational needs are met.
  4. Make sure there’s an off-switch for last-minute requests. Establish a reasonable deadline for submitting shift-swap requests, allowing sufficient time for management review and preventing last-minute disruptions. For example, make sure that any shift changes that are requested 12 hours or less prior to a shift are automatically routed to a manager for review and approval.
  5. Keep an eye on overtime pay. This is a very important watch-out. Overtime can easily get out of hand if no one is minding the shop when it comes to shift changes. You need to have a system that’s set up to monitor hours and decline a shift change request if it would put that person over their weekly hours.
  6. Integrate technology. Use dedicated software solutions to streamline the shift-swap process. These platforms often facilitate shift requests, approvals, and real-time schedule updates.

Technology: The Key to Seamless Shift Swapping

Modern employee scheduling software empowers both employees and managers to manage shift swaps smoothly. Leading solutions offer valuable features, such as:

  • User-friendly interface: Intuitive mobile apps allow employees to request or offer shifts with ease.
  • Real-time notifications: Managers receive immediate alerts about shift swap requests, enabling timely approvals.
  • Overtime prevention: Integrated monitoring tracks employee hours, preventing potential overtime expenses.
  • Enhanced communication: Built-in messaging tools facilitate communication between employees and managers regarding shifts.

Shift-Swapping: Potential Challenges and Solutions

While offering significant benefits, successful implementation of shift-swapping requires a proactive focus on potential roadblocks:

  • Scheduling Disruptions: Implement safeguards such as advance notice requirements and managerial oversight to mitigate scheduling conflicts.
  • Abuse by Employees: Set clear guidelines on shift-swap eligibility and frequency to prevent excessive use or misuse of the system.
  • Compliance Concerns: Ensure your policy aligns with labor laws and regulations regarding overtime pay and breaks.

A Shift-Swapping Study

Studies and real-world examples demonstrate the positive impact of shift-swapping in workplaces.

In 2017 (the most recent study of its kind), Center for WorkLife Law partnered with clothing retailer The Gap to understand if mobile scheduling systems, mostly controlled by employees, would work for the company. WorkLife Law gave study participants at some Gap locations access to a smartphone app that enabled employees to put shifts they couldn’t work into a pool. Other workers could snag the shifts on a first-come, first-served basis without manager approval.

The experiment was a success

During the more than six-month trial period, about 60% of The Gap’s employees used the app. To the company’s surprise, nearly 50% of their workers who were over 50 used the app to swap shifts. Ninety-five percent of the company’s part-time employees said that having the ability to exchange shifts helped them modify their work schedules around their personal lives, while 97% applauded the system for aiding them in securing more hours when they needed them.

Putting Your Policy to Work

Make your shift-swap policy a success! Effectively communicate the policy to employees using your employee handbook, intranet, and training sessions. Provide ongoing support to employees and managers as they navigate the process.

When strategically implemented, shift-swapping can be a powerful tool for fostering a flexible and engaged workforce, ultimately contributing to a more successful and productive business.

How Paycor Helps

Need a time and attendance system that delivers results? Paycor’s Workforce Management Solutions allow employees to drop, pick up, or request shift changes in real time. And with the system’s intuitive drag and drop functionality, you can assign shifts and publish schedules in just a few clicks.

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