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Shift swapping: Benefits and challenges

Shift swapping is a time-honoured tradition for shift workers, but it can be challenging for business owners to manage. This guide covers the benefits and challenges, along with best practices for shift swapping in your business. 

What is shift swapping? 

Shift swapping is when colleagues within an organisation exchange shifts. Employees may switch individual shifts if one person needs time off, for example, or they might switch shifts permanently. Ideally, shift swaps involve shifts of the same length, so the total number of hours worked by each employee stays the same. 

Why use shift swapping?

There are lots of reasons why you might allow shift swapping as part of your rosteringand workforce management process. It's empowering for employees because it gives them more control over their schedules, helping them fit appointments and other life events around their work lives. For employers, shift swapping can make it easier to fill rosters and reduce no-shows. 

Benefits of shift swapping 

The benefits of shift swapping include: 

Employee flexibility 

Employee flexibility is a major benefit of shift swapping, particularly in jobs with rosters and set schedules. Trusting employees to manage their own shifts can help them juggle childcare, appointments and other life obligations more easily, which can reduce stress and boost job satisfaction. 

Not being short-staffed 

Having all shifts adequately staffed maximises productivity and enables a better customer experience. Without a shift swap process, you may have more administrative work to do to fill your rosters. 

Improved employee experience 

Giving people more control over their schedules is a way to make your employees feel more engaged and better able to meet their work and personal commitments.

Decreased no-shows

Decreasing no-shows is a major win for your business. An employee not turning up to work can cause understaffing, extra costs and last-minute scrambling to fill gaps. It can also increase workplace health and safety risks. A clear shift-swapping policy lets employees sort out shift issues early. 

Reduced costs

Reduced costs are another potential advantage of shift swapping. The policy ensures that shifts are fully staffed, minimising last-minute call-ins and overtime, which can increase staffing costs. 

Challenges of shift swapping 

Shift swapping has its benefits, but it does come with some challenges you'll need to prepare for. 

Swapping mishaps  

In theory, shift swaps should ensure that all working hours are covered. In practice, if you don't have a solid process for tracking and approving shift swaps, you could find unexpected gaps in your schedule. 

Skill and experience gaps 

Gaps in skill or experience can make shift swapping more complicated. The process is simple between employees in the same role but doesn't run so smoothly if employees are swapping shifts with people in roles with more responsibility. If stand-ins are on higher pay rates, for example, the overall cost of the shift will increase. 

Scheduling conflicts

Scheduling conflicts can come up if your shift swap process isn’t clear. For example, one person may think that they've agreed to swap a shift, while the other employee hasn’t actually said yes. In another case, an employee could agree to take on shifts already on their schedule, creating a conflict. These miscommunications can lead to scheduling gaps and all the issues that come with them. 

Potential overtime costs

Potential overtime costs can become a problem if shift swaps aren’t managed effectively. In an ideal scenario, employees swap like-for-like shifts, so their overall work hours for the period stay the same. However, this doesn't always happen – employees may swap a full-day shift for a half-day, leading to increased hours or overtime pay for one person. This can add to the administrative burden of ensuring you have the right timesheet information to pay your team correctly.

Best practices when using shift swapping

Shift swapping best practices include setting expectations, communicating clearly, creating a solid process, and using rostering software to manage the process.

Implement a clear shift-swapping policy

Implementing a clear shift-swapping policy helps you eliminate potential shift-swap issues, like mismatched employee qualifications, overtime and scheduling conflicts. Add the policy to your employee handbook or process management platform so employees can find it easily. 

Your policy should include: 

  • Criteria – which employees are eligible for shift swaps and who can they swap with? You could specify that employees may only swap with others in the same role or team.  

  • The process – do employees request and accept a swap via text, email or through your rostering software

  • Timelines – when does a shift swap need to be completed? 

  • Sign-off – do managers need to approve each swap? 

  • Reasons for refusal – make it clear that shift swap requests may be declined, and explain why this could happen. 

Create shift swap buffers 

Creating shift swap buffers can help you reduce the risk of confusing, last-minute shift swaps. Put a buffer in place by including time frames in your shift swap policy.  For example, you could require that shift swaps need to be finalised before the pay period begins, or 48 hours before the shift starts. 

Set shift swap expectations

Setting shift swap expectations helps reduce the risk of errors, unapproved swaps or no-shows. Point new employees to your shift swap policy, include a reminder on your timesheets, and reiterate the rules if employees make a mistake with shift swapping. 

Ensure all shift swaps are signed off

Ensure all shift swaps are signed off by a manager or team leader to reduce coverage issues and overtime costs. If you use the MYOB Advanced Workforce Management platform, you can create rules so that only employees with relevant skills and certifications can accept specific shifts. Employees are able to swap shifts using the dedicated mobile app. 

Put effective shift swap processes in place

Put effective shift swap processes in place to balance employee freedom with business requirements. A good process should be as simple and streamlined as possible. When you use rostering software that facilitates shift swapping, you can set rules around which employees can swap shifts with whom so that you don’t need to check and manually approve every request. 

Shift swap FAQs

What is an example of a shift swap? 

Here's a simple example of a shift swap in a restaurant setting:  

  • An employee is rostered to work a shift from 4-8 pm on a Monday.

  • The shift clashes with a personal commitment so they reach out to a co-worker, who is rostered for a shift on Tuesday from 12-4 pm, to exchange shifts. 

  • The co-worker agrees, and both employees request a shift swap from their team leader. 

  • The team leader signs off the request, and the roster changes to reflect the shift swap. 

How do you request a shift swap? 

The way to request a shift swap depends on your work policies. In some organisations, employees swap shifts by calling, texting or emailing their manager.

If your business uses rostering software to manage shift workers, employees should be able to make requests directly from the online roster. 

How much notice do you need for a shift change? 

How much notice you need for a shift change depends on your business policy. It's a good idea to put a time buffer in place to help you ensure coverage for shift changes, rather than having to scramble to fill shifts at the last second. In many businesses, shift swap requests need to be in a week ahead, while others allow employees to make requests 72 or 48 hours in advance. 

Steer clear of shift-swap stress with MYOB 

Shift swaps can be complicated and stressful for managers and employees alike. For your management team, shift swaps can lead to understaffed shifts or costly overtime, while employees may struggle with the swap process. 

MYOB Advanced Workforce Management helps streamline the shift swap process on both ends. Instead of paper rosters, email or text change requests, and the risk of missed shifts and understaffing, all your rosters, shift change requests, approvals and confirmations are managed through one portal. 

For you, that means a smoother process with fewer mistakes. For your employees, the platform makes it simple to keep track of scheduled shifts and request swaps. 

Find out more about upgrading your workforce management processes. 

Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature and does not consider your personal situation. It does not constitute legal, financial, or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as a statement of law, policy or advice. You should consider whether this information is appropriate to your needs and, if necessary, seek independent advice. This information is only accurate at the time of publication. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information contained on this webpage, MYOB disclaims, to the extent permitted by law, all liability for the information contained on this webpage or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

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