Shift Swap | 4 mins read

Managing Shift Swaps and How to Develop a Policy

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Hanh Truong

By Hanh Truong

Introduction to Shift Swap

It can be difficult to accommodate all employee availability and shift preferences. It can get even more demanding when unexpected events occur and a team member cannot come to work. Oftentimes, employees will do a shift swap with another coworker. This is the act of trading a scheduled shift for another shift. As simple as this process may be, managers of businesses need a well-defined shift swapping process to ensure a seamless workflow and schedule.

The Drawbacks of Shift Swapping

Although swapping shifts can be an easy solution for employees, it can pose some challenges for businesses. The following are drawbacks caused by uncontrolled shift swapping.

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Extra Payroll Costs

Some business structures will pay specific staff members higher wages, due to seniority, experience, or position. When other employees trade shifts with higher-paid staff, the business will have to increase payroll expenses. This type of uncontrolled payroll spending can significantly impact a business's overall bottom line and profitability.


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When experienced staff swaps shifts with new hires or unversed employees, the business will experience a delay in workflow and efficiency. In turn, productivity levels will decrease and more time will be spent on completing tasks.


When shift swaps are not communicated to supervisors or managers, the team will be out of the loop and confused.

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Lack of Accountability

Due to the miscommunication, managers will not know who is working which shift and will not be able to hold the right employee accountable for their job. For example, if an employee does not come into work, management will not know who to contact or reprimand since there is no documentation of the shift swap.

Complexity Leads to No Coverage

When a shift swapping policy is complex or non-existent, an employee may end up calling in sick or requesting time off. Managers will then have to scramble to find a replacement or be short-staffed for the shift.

How to Develop a Shift Swap Policy

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A shift swap policy will help remedy employee scheduling conflicts. This is important, considering 62% of sales associates leave their retail jobs due to persistent scheduling issues, according to a survey. The following are some best practices for developing a shift swapping procedure.

1. Identify Who Can do Shift Swaps

Allowing everyone in the business to swap shifts can be confusing and can cause efficiency challenges. A shift swapping policy should delineate who can shift swap with whom. For instance, experienced employees should only be able to trade their shifts with those that are on the same performance level. Additionally, staff members should only swap shifts with colleagues that work in the same department or position.

2. Always Require Approval from Managers

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Once an employee finds someone to trade shifts with, they need to send a request to managers for approval. By documenting the trade and approval, business owners can update the schedule and be on the same page. They can also prevent employees from swapping shifts with the wrong staff member.

3. Establish a Time Limit for Last-Minute Adjustments

Generally, if a business is using scheduling software, employees can send requests for shift trades through an app. Managers will receive a notification and can approve it on their own time. However, last-minute shift changes will occur and can be confusing and disorganized. To prevent time-sensitive requests from being lost and ignored, any trades done 12 hours or less should be communicated directly to managers. This will make sure management acts quickly and prevents operational delays.

4. Track Overtime Pay

Uncontrolled shift swapping can result in increased overtime expenses. This can impact a business's bottom line, considering most laws require companies to pay 1.5 times the regular minimum wage for overtime. When creating a shift swapping policy, managers should set a standard for tracking overtime and ensure that a shift swap request does not cause an employee to work over 40 hours per week.

Conclusion to Shift Swap

  • Shift swaps are when employees trade their scheduled shifts with their colleagues' shifts.
  • Although this is a great solution for employees that cannot come to work, uncontrolled shift swapping can cause challenges for business.
  • Some challenges of unmanaged shift swaps include increased costs, miscommunication, and lack of accountability.
  • To prevent these drawbacks, business owners need to develop a shift swapping policy that controls how employees trade their shifts.

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