Managing Shift Swaps and How to Develop a Policy

managing shift swaps and how to develop a policy

The Drawbacks of Shift Swapping

71% of managers report that they consistently receive requests from their employees to make changes to the work schedule. Unsurprisingly 70% of managers spend additional work hours on these administrative issues including the approval of swap requests and shift reassignments.

Shift swapping is an unavoidable part of any employee scheduling process, sometimes even the best employees need to make changes to their work schedule. Business professionals have different opinions and arguments for why employees need access to shift swapping and whether manager approval is needed.

Consequences of shift swapping that do not necessitate manager approval can include-

1. Labor costs- A carefully crafted work schedule is based on a business's budget, and factors in the different hourly rates or salaries of various employees. When employees swap shifts they are not often thinking about the additional labor costs that your business may incur.

If a work shift is covered by a staff member who is paid more than the originally scheduled worker, labor costs can rapidly and unintentionally add up. If a shift swap results in an employee working unexpected overtime hours it may leave management scrambling to balance your business's labor budget.

2. Employee experience- Knowing what duties are expected from them every shift and having a consistent schedule are two important features of positive employee experience. Employees need stability and excessive shift swapping can quickly result in a dangerous decrease in employee morale, satisfaction, and overall productivity.

Without manager approval of swap requests, employees may feel pressured to swap shifts that otherwise would not want to take. If left unchecked, work shift swapping develops into an employee scheduling and workforce management nightmare.

3. Staffing issues- Employee scheduling with a time clock is a delicate balancing act that seeks to avoid both overstaffing and understaffing. While overstaffing decreases employee motivation and increases labor costs for your business, understaffing leaves employees feeling overly stressed and customers unattended.

When swap requests become too overwhelming or confusing, employees may resort to missing shifts or calling in sick. Employees who were purposefully scheduled together for training purposes or due to their compatibility will not receive the same benefits that they would have by following the original work schedule.

4. Miscommunications- Shift changes can quickly become confusing and stressful, especially if manager approval is not required. Conflicts between employees may occur if an employee wrongly assumes another co-worker is covering their shift and neither employee shows up.

Miscommunications regarding shift changes are difficult from a workforce management perspective. An uncovered shift can leave management struggling to understand which employee to hold accountable or discipline.

How to Develop a Shift Swap Policy

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Creating and maintaining a shift swapping policy requires careful consideration and planning. Like any workforce management process, swapping shifts should be standardized and consistently reevaluated for its efficiency.

A great shift swapping policy may include-

  1. Establishing a system- Employees need to understand your business's policies around shift swapping. Manage shift swaps by determining and enforcing rules that cover manager approval and employee accountability for any work shift missed.

    Shift swapping policies must be communicated to employees clearly and frequently. If an employee cannot manage shift swapping without creating employee scheduling issues, their shift swapping privileges should be reevaluated.

    Make sure your policies around swapping shifts are compliant with labor laws. Some states require employers to provide a certain amount of notice before shifts.

  2. Shift swap privileges- Shift swapping is a privilege and employees need to understand and respect that. Employees may not consider how much time and effort goes into the employee scheduling process and can easily abuse shift swaps either intentionally or unintentionally.

    Employees who are not considerate of other employees or your business when they trade shifts should have their privileges limited or revoked. Additionally, employees who are at risk of breaching overtime may not receive manager approval for swapping their shifts.

    To avoid any perception of favoritism or future workplace conflict, communicate to workers how shift swapping affects the scheduling process. When employees are aware of the consequences that swapping shifts may result in for your business, they will likely be more considerate and mindful.

  3. Manager approval- While allowing employees to swap shifts without manager approval may appear to be a time-saving initiative, if it is not done properly it can end up costing your business more time and money. Requiring manager approval is the simplest and most effective way to avoid shift swap issues.

    When employees know that they must receive manager approval for shift swaps they are much less likely to request last-minute shift changes. Additionally, manager approval can decrease shift swapping miscommunications from developing between employees while promoting accountability.

    Manager approval will mitigate the risk of excessive labor costs and various accountability issues. Whenever a manager approves shift changes they must make sure to inform any other managers as well as update the central employee work schedule.
  4. Scheduling software- The best employee scheduling software programs will make sure that every shift is covered optimally. By automatically factoring in labor costs and any scheduling time conflicts, scheduling software avoids shift swapping issues before they even occur. When swap requests are first vetted by scheduling software, managers can stay in control of the employee scheduling process.