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Providing flexibility through shift trading in public safety environments

On August 4, 2021

Every public safety agency may operate differently when it comes to emergency service scheduling, but the importance of a functional schedule is essential across the board. The shift schedule is a crucial part of the emergency response operation, and it determines an agency’s ability to provide services as effectively as possible often when seconds matter most. Although there is no single, perfect method for scheduling that fits all agencies providing flexibility to employees through shift trades or swaps can improve employee morale while maintaining minimum staffing requirements.


When creating a schedule, your focus is to maximize available resources to cover the department’s daily needs. The demands and high-pressure nature of public safety operations are greater than most 9-5 businesses, which makes it even more important to provide flexible scheduling options to employees. More flexibility can have the positive effect of improving morale and, by extension, employee performance. This is too often overlooked, especially in a fast-paced and demanding environment, which can compromise the well-being of the employee and their service to the community. The current state of agencies with short staffing, limited time off approvals, and significant overtime needs will contribute to employee burnout, increasing the need for additional flexibility.


Providing a system for swapping scheduled times can contribute to this flexibility goal. Although a new process may add a level of complexity especially in an environment where scheduling is a manual process it may still be worth the effort in order to offer employees more flexibility. 


When considering whether to allow trades, there are many questions you’ll need to answer.:

How do you handle trading between different training levels?
Do your contracts, CBAs, and/or MOUs allow trading?
What about trades between supervisors and line-level personnel?


There should, in addition, be considerations for rules to govern the process of trading. 

  • Do trades need to be equal in length?
  • Can personnel trade overtime shifts?
  • How far in advance, or how close to the date of the trade, can trades be negotiated?
  • Can two people trade without knowing which day the second half of the trade will be worked?


The many considerations listed and more lead up to quite possibly, the most important procedural question: Who keeps track of trades, and if they are completed? 


Many organizations choose to leave all tracking  to personnel, and only make the adjustments on the schedules. This can simplify the work required of management, though it’s essential to have a policy addressing when someone doesn’t show up for their portion of the trade. In my experience, the majority of organizations prefer to maintain the paper trail of the agreement to help enforce accountability for each party in the trade. This can be done via email with both parties copied and in agreement, or with paper forms signed by each party and the supervisor who reviewed and approved the trade.


Once the agreement is complete, the trade will need to be reviewed for policy compliance and to ensure staffing levels have been considered. You can now adjust the schedule and inform the personnel involved. You’ll need to identify who is responsible for these approval and recording steps. 


Although the process of creating and managing a trade system may seem daunting, you can achieve this far quicker with an automated solution that offers real-time coverage planning and electronic trade requests. In Schedule Express, it will also validate all rules, regulations, policies, and procedures within your organization to ensure all trades are compliant. The best solution will maintain the paper trail of approval, send notifications along the way, and adjust the schedule once approved. The end result of your efforts will be a system where your most valuable resource your personnel feel more in control of their hectic work life. 



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