How To Create an Effective Shift Swap Policy For Employees

How To Create an Effective Shift Swap Policy For Employees
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

Despite your best scheduling efforts, there will always be imperfections, and conflicts will arise.

In order to keep scheduling flexible for employees – yet still ensure each shift is fully staffed – your restaurant can offer a shift swap policy.

In this article, we'll explain what shift swapping is, outline its pros and cons, and walk through the steps you should take to maintain a fair and effective protocol for shift swapping.

What is Shift Swapping and How Does it Work?

Shift swapping is when employees willingly trading their shifts, effectively filling in for one another during their scheduled work hours.

For example, Bartender A is scheduled to work the dinner shift on Tuesday, but a personal matter comes up. In response, they can trade that Tuesday shift with Bartender B, who is scheduled to work the same shift on Wednesday. Both bartenders end up working the same number of hours – just on opposite days than they had originally intended.

Benefits of an Effective Shift Swapping Policy

Shift swapping helps restaurants build repeatable schedules week-over-week, rather than redesign an entire schedule to accommodate a reasonable time off request. From the restaurant's perspective, all shifts are covered and payroll is not disrupted. From employees' perspective, they're able to collaborate with their peers to find coverage when their normal schedule isn't ideal in a given week – or vice versa.

Employees Are Offered Flexibility & Autonomy

As restaurants continue to find and retain staff, one thing is certain – employees want to feel valued at their place of work. Like in any industry, restaurant workers need a healthy work-life balance and a guarantee that their employer will respect that.

Allowing a shift swap policy empowers your employees. They know they're trusted when given the option to swap a shift and will show up to work feeling understood and appreciated. They'll have the autonomy to adjust their schedules more liberally to handle personal matters and pursue their interests without placing the restaurant's success in jeopardy. The process creates a culture of mutual appreciation that won't go unnoticed by staff.

Lowered Risk of No-Shows

No-shows are an inevitability in restaurants, but thanks to shift swaps, they don't have to be disastrous. With shift swapping, employees can find coverage from willing co-workers when they're unable to fulfill a prior commitment to work at a specific time. For employees, this adds less pressure to their lives and assures them that their team will cover them if anything outside of work comes up.

For the restaurant, this is a best-case scenario. It keeps the restaurant fully staffed and causes no disruption or delays in a guest's experience if an employee needs to tend to something outside of work.

No Extra Work for Managers

Restaurant managers have four million things to worry about during a shift, and the last thing they want to add to that list is an employee who is unable to make their shift. The news carries implications for fair workweek violations, adjusting on-call scheduling, and the guest experience during a given shift.

An easy shift swap policy alleviates the risk of all of these nightmares from becoming a reality. All they need to do is press a button when a shift swap request comes their way.

Crisis averted.

A more rigid shift swap policy that makes it difficult (or impossible) to swap shifts and makes the entire process a burden on employees and management – the latter of whom needs to scramble to find a replacement if someone is a no-show.

Building Staff Camaraderie

The benefits of trust in the workplace are remarkable, with employees who feel a sense of trust at their job feeling more engaged and energetic, experiencing less stress, and taking fewer sick days.

Shift swapping builds a culture of dependency and trust among coworkers. Whether it's a family emergency or last-minute dinner plans, employees can create an aura of support (and the restaurant) by supporting one another in these moments.

Where shift trading can go wrong—and how to prevent it

When mismanaged through murky rules and no helpful technology, there can be some potential risks associated with shift trading.

Poor Communication

Lack of a clear process and channel for surfacing shift swaps can overwhelm the employee requesting the trade, their manager, and any employees who are contacted. Everyone is pressured and put on the spot, which could result in an understaffed shift – and the lingering animosity that comes with it.

Manager overwhelm

A shift swapping policy that requires continuous, substantial effort from managers is a poor shift swapping policy. It takes time away from other, more pressing tasks in the restaurant.

Instead, use a shift trading tool that managers can set and forget. Once the guidelines of the swap are set, employees should be empowered to use technology to manage their own shift trades within the rules so that all managers have to do is press “approve” when a request comes their way. Otherwise, the chances of finding someone willing to make the swap start to dwindle.

Communicating Shift Swap Changes With All Employees

Employees should be able to know who is working a shift with them – especially if a swap has impacted a shift's roster.

In most jobs, overcommunication offers more benefits than downsides – and that goes for staffing and scheduling. To make sure everyone is aware that a shift trade has been authorized, as well as who is now scheduled to work with them, simply send an announcement to those working the shift in question regarding these updates.

What to Include in a Shift Swapping Policy

A shift trading policy needs to be crystal-clear so that all employees can understand and follow it. This clarity will help to limit request rejections and give employees certainty faster. Here are some staples that all policies should cover to ensure employees can initiate and confirm shift swaps without any friction.

Technology to Use

The first thing your restaurant should specify is how shifts should be offered up, accepted, and approved for a trade. For restaurants using technology to manage shift swaps, the policy should outline how to use the software to complete a trade for maximum ease-of-use.

Eligibility By Role

Employees should know whether or not they are eligible to accept a shift trade opportunity based on their roles and expertise. For example, in your restaurant, all bartenders might be able to fill in for servers, but servers may not be able to do the same for bartenders unless they're allowed to be behind the bar. The criteria for who is able to accept which roles and why means only those qualified are accepting these opportunities.

Restrictions on Hours

Let's say a line cook working a six-hour shift on Friday wants to trade with someone working a five-hour shift on Thursday. This might not seem like a big deal, but it could mean that extra hour causes the second employee to go into overtime for the week.

If this is not caught come payroll time, the restaurant might find itself violating overtime law. If it happens too often, the restaurant might pay higher-than-needed fees for overtime work rather than keeping labor costs low. As such, you may want to consider a rule regarding overtime and shift swap acceptance.

Time Window for Swapping Shifts

To avoid last-minute scrambles, your restaurant might implement a time window that employees requesting a shift trade have to honor to spare their peers and the restaurant any added stress – except in cases of emergency. Otherwise, employees who may have been able to trade shifts might not have enough time to make necessary arrangements.

Likewise, employees who initiate a trade might have a window clarifying if the trade is not accepted within a set number of hours after being offered, the employee is responsible for working that shift. Otherwise, the employee requesting the swap might expect to find coverage that never comes.

How to use 7shifts to make shift swaps and trades simple

Ready to set up your shift swap policy with the right technology? In this section, we'll be walking through the easy set-up process for using 7shifts restaurant employee scheduling software to manage your shift trades.

Step 1: Determine Your Employees' Feedback for Shift Swapping

Before implementing a shift swap policy, it's worth hearing from those it will impact the most – your employees.

Using 7shifts, you can make an announcement that the restaurant is considering creating or adjusting a shift swap policy and you'd like to hear what staff thinks of the idea and what should be incorporated. Individual employees can then begin messaging employers one-on-one to provide candid and helpful feedback that will help the restaurant build a policy that works for everyone.

Step 2: Set Up Shift Trading and a Shift Pool

This step makes it possible for employees to start initiating shift swaps.

On desktop, admins can enable the shift trading feature by simply checking the Shift Pool box in the product backend. It's also here where you can specify whether or not shift trades need approval from those with manager permissions.

Enable 7shifts Shift Pooling software.
7shifts Shift Pool feature

Step 3: Start Trading

From this point, your employees can start offering up and accepting shift trades. The process is doable on both the mobile app and on desktop, maximizing accessibility for employees to manage swaps.

On mobile, employees just need to find the shift they would like to trade, select “Find Cover,” then “Trade Shift.” From there, they need to search for the shift they would like to trade for and choose “Send Request,” where that employee will receive the request on their end. Learn more about the shift swapping process on mobile with this article.

The process is similar on desktop. Employees can head to their schedule online, click “Trade,” then follow the steps above to request a swap. You can learn more about the process in this article.

How to trade a shift in 7shifts scheduling software.
Trading shifts in 7shifts

In both situations, recipients of shift trade requests can accept or reject a request, after which the requesting employee will receive a notification of the request. If the trade is requested, they can immediately look for another shift swap opportunity.

Step 4: Monitor Requests and Approve

If you decide you'd like to approve any shift swaps before they occur, it only involves one extra step.

When a shift manager is alerted about a swap request, they just need to press “Approve” or “Decline.”

Monitoring shift trades and requests in 7shifts.
Managing shift trades

Over time, you may find you're getting frequent shift swap requests from a few team members, or even too many from your team at large. If this is the case, it's worth talking to those team members to see if adjustments might need to be made to their schedules. If there's no outstanding issues, consider reminding employees that shift swaps are the exception – not the rule – when it comes to scheduling, as they make predictable scheduling more difficult for you and your other employees. You can use your shift pool report to quickly identify the employees who are most likely to engage in these trades and discuss with them directly.

shift pool layout in 7shifts.
Creating a shift pool in 7shifts

Step 5: Watch for Labor Compliance and Overtime Situations

One of the major reasons for monitoring shift swaps is to ensure there are no violations of labor compliance laws or unnecessary overtime expenses. When reviewing these requests, you can easily review these conflicts to determine if the swap should move forward.

Shift trade conflict error appearing in the 7shifts app.

Should you choose to allow swaps without approval, remember to double check for unplanned overtime expenses when doing restaurant payroll to see if employees are costing you labor fees with shift trades.

Step 6: Communicate Schedule Changes Wherever You Are

The next step is to let your team know about schedule changes as they come up. If you need to share news of a swap with your team, head over to the announcements tool to craft an alert. You can even filter to only alert those scheduled on a certain day so that only relevant staff are notified of the swap.

Step 7: Remind Employees About the Shift Pool During Busy or Holiday Periods

One final reminder: swaps can be your greatest asset when you're facing potentially understaffed shifts. This trend can be seasonal – especially in the summer and during the holidays. When these times come around, you might benefit from reminding your team that shift swapping is allowed and recommended. It might save you from a no call, no show and save the night in your restaurant. And make sure you have the perfect holiday work schedule in place.

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.