How to Better Manage Shift Trading at Work & Policy Guidelines

4th June 2021

trading shifts at work

Simplifying shift management is a goal for many different industries, ranging from retail and hospitality to construction. Traditional nine-to-five roles aren’t compatible with every industry, and shift work allows these businesses to expand hours of operation to be more agile and more flexibly meet operational requirements, attracting even more business. Research from TUC (the Trade Union Congress), revealed how one in nine employees working in the UK works a night shift. As night shifts are normalised, the role of a shift trading policy needs to be more closely reviewed.

There are many different policies regarding shift work and even more helpful tips when it comes to managing shifts to each worker’s best ability. When managed effectively, this can even impact employee wellness alongside a well-functioning business.

What is Shift Work?

The definition of ‘shift work’ describes any work schedule that falls outside of the conventional nine-to-five day job. For example, shift work may involve morning work (6am – 2pm) or night work (2pm -10pm), or may be part of a rotating shift schedule which includes both, where some shifts take place later in the day and some earlier.

Night Work, explained

Acknowledged by PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service), ‘night shifts’ take place in the early morning, which is outside of the traditional working day. This describes where a worker completes their work, or at least more than half of their hours, between midnight and 8:00 AM.

The UK government provides the following guidelines on night working:

  • “Staff who regularly work at least 3 hours during the ‘night period’ are night workers.
  • The night period is 11pm to 6am, unless the worker and employer agree a different night period.
  • If they do, it must be 7 hours long and include midnight to 5am. It must be agreed in writing.
  • Staff may also be night workers if there’s a collective agreement (for example, a trade union agreement) that states their work is night work.
  • Additional rules apply to night workers on top of the rules on maximum weekly working hours and rest breaks.
  • Night workers must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • The average is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but it can be over a longer period of up to 52 weeks if the workers and the employer agree – for example, by collective agreement.
  • Regular overtime is included in the average, but not occasional overtime.
  • Workers cannot opt out of the limit.”

The Different Types of Shifts

Shift work can sometimes become overly complicated. To make it easier to understand, shift work defined as a non-standard working schedule where most of the hours are worked outside 8am-4pm and in some cases providing s 24-hour coverage to keep your business up and running all the time.

Employers are able to create their own type of shift work to better fit business needs, which is quite common across different industries. Some businesses may require workers for 10-hour shifts, for example, where other are only needed for a short period of time. Other business may require compressed working hours over the week, whilst others do not. The flexibility with working hours is what attracts many businesses to schedule shift patterns around work demand.

For example, the hospitality sector may need employees working shorter three or four hour shifts during quieter periods in the weekdays, unlike other industries which may request employees to work 10 hour shifts at a time. Truck driving, for example, requires long and often tiring shifts. The use of shift schedules depends on what works best for employees and a business.

Here are the most common types of shifts for covering a full day’s work:

  • 1st Shift — 8 AM to 4 PM
  • 2nd Shift — 4 PM to 12 PM
  • 3rd Shift— 12 PM to 8 AM

Common Industry Using Shift Patterns

Common industries that use shift patterns to run their business include, but are not limited to:

  • Call centre representative
  • Customer service representatives
  • Hospitality industry workers
  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Security workers
  • NHS workers
  • Veterinary workers
  • Drivers
  • Factory workers
  • Warehouse workers

With the ongoing flexibility of shift scheduling, sometimes employees request shifts to better fit around their interests. Shift swapping, which describing when employees trade shifts, is becoming more common across all businesses.

Challenges of Shift Swapping/Trading, Dropping & Covering

Shift swapping allows employees to swap or change shifts with their colleagues. Shifts are often swapped privately between colleagues. Once arranged, employees may or may not communicate the new arrangement with their line managers. Either way, this can be problematic. Missed or incomplete shifts, disagreements, and disorganisation can all result from mismanaged shift swapping.

Shift swapping can also have a negative impact on payroll as it can cause confusion over assigning payable hours, especially if shifts were missed. This can cause your payroll runs to be late or incorrect, which can lead to costly penalties and missed payments.

Implementing a Shift Swapping Policy

A shift swapping policy is a way for employers to work around this by putting in place formal guidelines to help employees understand their shifts. A policy on shift swapping can offer structure and help employer’s keep shift schedules organised and on-track.

Covering shift swapping policy and practice as part of induction programmes, or including the policy in an employee handbook, ensure that employers educate employees at the offset of the expectations required from them.

How Does a Shift Swapping Policy Benefit Employees?

A shift swapping policy will allow employees to better understand how they can adjust their working hours. If a shift needs to be changed, then line managers should oversee this and ensure that it aligns with company policy. Without this, the risk of mismanage can trouble payroll runs and even lead to late or incomplete shifts.

Your policy could include an approval process for shift swapping well in advance, to avoid any issues with things going wrong, including costly payroll mishaps. Many businesses have already put shift swapping policies in place and have found it beneficial. Importantly, this kind of policy can work to enrich your culture and help employees as much as those who schedule shift patterns.

Ensuring Compliance with Working Time Regulations

Despite the flexibility provided to businesses through the implementation of shift work, careful attention must be made to the Working Time Regulations. Even though some shift workers may have some exemptions to working time due to the nature of their role, employers must still ensure that individual employees are getting proper rest times and must follow the legislation in place. Some jobs, such as lorry, bus and coach drivers, and those working in air transport roles also have their own sectoral working time rules, that would need to be taken into account.

Find out more about compiling a shift swap policy, putting together an employee handbook, or running a compliant and accurate payroll solution, get in touch with the experts at IRIS FMP today.