Shift Bidding: 5 Best Practices To Make It Work For Your Workplace

Sometimes a shift is so popular, more than one employee would like to have it.

Sometimes no one wants certain shifts, and your schedule has more holes than Swiss cheese, so you have to get creative in how you fill them.

If you’re using open shifts, where employees can self schedule and claim a shift, none of this is new to you. The challenge is to keep things fair for everyone, including you, because sometimes first-come-first-served doesn’t work out well. 

Shift bidding fixes that.

While similar to self scheduling, you’ll still create open shifts and define the parameters of who is qualified to work on the shifts. But instead of claiming the shift outright, employees place a “bid” to indicate interest, and let you know they’d be willing to work it.

The manager then reviews all of the employees who are interested and decides who to give the shift to. That gives you the control over selecting the most qualified employee for the shift, or making sure there is equal opportunity for popular shifts to be distributed among your team.

This approach can work with shift swaps, where an employee who can’t make a shift offers it to a coworker. Instead of a direct shift swap, though, the newly open shift goes back for bids.

Open shifts and shift swaps give the employee control over their work schedule. Shift bids don’t really take from that, but they do offer managers a bit more control. You can guard against overtime, gauge which shifts are preferred, and build shifts that are balanced in skills and personality.

Shift bidding isn’t for everyone, though.

Keep in mind that some employees may not like the stress of having to bid for a shift, or might accuse managers of showing favoritism among employees (more on this later). Shift bidding also means you have more work to do than if you let employees claim and swap shifts amongst themselves. 

Shift bidding tends to be a better system for larger companies with more employees in the available bidding pool or companies who have a top-down structure of control, while smaller businesses may find simple shift swapping the better route.

If you decide to give shift bidding a try, we’ve got a few tips to help you make the process a smooth one for both you and your employees.

1. Be fair, but be cautious

Being accused of favoritism gets ugly fast.

It’s easy to give the same employees the shifts on bid, whether intentional or not, due to their experience, efficient work ethic, or simply being used to seeing their name on the schedule. In-group favoritism is tough to overcome, and you might not even be aware you’re accepting bids based on a preference for certain people or groups. Illegal discrimination happens when someone is chosen (or not chosen) because of characteristics or traits protected by the government; that can lead to significant legal trouble.

It’s not always easy to know when you are giving a shift bid to the same employees, but there’s an automated trick that can help. If your employee scheduling software helps you keep an eye on overtime, and alerts you to which employees are getting close to, or are into, overtime, that might be one way to monitor whether you’re scheduling the same employees too often.

2. Give up some control to the shift bidding process

Shift bidding is about helping you maintain some control without having to micromanage your entire schedule.

That is, instead of having to meticulously put individual employees on every shift and nail everything down so there are no gaps in the schedule, you give up some of that complete control and allow the bidding process to take place.

If you find you don’t like the bidding options for the shift in question, keep that in mind for next time. Instead of rejecting bidding altogether and reverting to manual scheduling, adjust how you allow the bids. Maybe that shift is one you want to plan more carefully and not allow open shifts or shift bids.

Whether you’re a hospital, a restaurant, or a factory, there are shifts and locations that take very specific people and experience to function correctly. No problem—schedule those out as you normally would. Leave shift bidding as an option for off-peak shifts, or fleshing out a more traditionally planned shift.

One of the best ways to help you avoid needing a tight grip on your schedule is to control what the shift looks like, not who you put on it. That means you need to…

3. Be specific about what the shift needs

There are two ways, as the schedule manager, to control a shift:

  1. Control which employees you put on it
  2. Control how you define the shift

Is it a peak shift? Does it require specific certifications or experience? Do you want your more senior employees to be on it? Do you want to limit newbie employee numbers on the shift? Is it a popular shift you want to use as a reward for employee achievement?

Think about what the shift needs, and how you’re using shift bidding. Then define that shift accordingly. This achieves a few things.

First, it deals with the favoritism issue. 

The best way to dispel accusations of favoritism is be very clear and specific about what qualifications you are looking for on a shift. Unless it’s obvious you’re defining a shift specifically tailored for favored employees, employees can see that if they want certain shifts, they’ll have to achieve the experience necessary to bid for them. It’s not favoritism if the definition is static and everyone has the ability to meet the definition if they work for it.

Secondly, you should understand what your business needs, in regards to how you structure your schedule. 

Maybe you’ll rethink how you structure your shifts and discover a different type of employee schedule would be a better fit. Maybe you’ll figure out a way to improve how you plan your shifts so you won’t need so much shift bidding to fill gaps. Maybe you’ll finally do a dive into your labor reports and start doing some real labor forecasting. Hopefully you’re using a scheduling app like When I Work, which generates reports and turns otherwise confusing labor data into usable information. 

Remember, the idea is that you are filling shifts for best possible outcomes. You have to get familiar with what those shifts historically have needed.

Once you know how you’ll define the requirements for a shift bid, let your employees know. If it ends up being the same pool of employees who qualify, keep track and rotate so each one gets a chance when the shift is next available.

4. Watch out for hidden factors

Shift bidding isn’t every employee’s first love. 

As we mentioned, some find it stressful to compete for a shift. Some won’t participate at all. Some will always think there’s favoritism at work, particularly if you’re using shift restrictions based on seniority. These may be reasons to leave open and shift swaps an option elsewhere, and only use shift bidding for crucial shifts.

But there are always going to be factors that pop up in shift bidding. To avoid inefficiencies, pay attention to the feedback you get from shifts that have been bid. 

Are customers satisfied? Are there complaints or concerns from coworkers? Is the same clique of workers always making sure they’re on the same shift so they can hang out? Is productivity at or exceeding expectation?

As with any process, it’s not set and forget. It’s pay attention, and adjust.

5. Use tools that make shift bidding possible

So here it is, the final tip, one we’ve alluded to several times. Without it, shift bidding can be a nightmare.

You have to use the tools that make shift bidding possible.

Here’s what won’t work: using emails, phone calls, notes, texting, and whatever other communication methods you cobble together to communicate back and forth with employees bidding on shifts. Ad hoc solutions complicate shift bidding.You’ll choose the path of least resistance every time, ending up with weak and problematic shifts instead of the most qualified employees.

Shift bidding is scheduling. It should be something built into the system you’re already using to schedule and communicate with employees. In When I Work, we made a shift bidding system (called OpenShift Requests) that quickly automates this process. 

Remember, open shifts and shift swaps are easier for scheduling managers from a time standpoint; employees do all the work themselves. The price you paid was no control over how the shift was built. 

With OpenShift Request, shift bidding is almost just as easy as letting your employees take the wheel. It can even be mixed in with shift swapping, as well as building the shift bidding into your scheduling templates. That’s a lot of complicated stuff all packed into a smoothly integrated system. It lets you use several options for filling open shifts and empowering employees, meaning everyone can grab control over their work-life balance.

When I Work makes it easy to start shift bidding. We also make it easy for you to try our system out for free and see for yourself how you can fix the gaps in your employee schedule.

Give your employees more control over their work schedule while you improve your stats on absenteeism and unnecessary overtime. Everyone wins.