Expert advice

Can I swap shifts with another nurse if they haven’t seen the rota yet?

It may seem like a simple switch, but there’s usually more to it, advises Marc Cornock

It may seem like a simple switch, but there’s usually more to it, advises Marc Cornock


Picture: Jim Varney

A rota system can be difficult to organise and manage. Factors that need to be considered include ensuring the correct skill mix for the workplace, the differences in workload on certain days or times of the day, whether some staff members have set working patterns and if people have requested specific days off.

If you are the person responsible for writing the rota, adjusting it is within your remit, and it is unlikely you would put yourself on a shift you didn’t want to work in the first place. But if the rota is already out and it’s possible staff may have noted down their shifts, you should consult them before making any changes.

Check first

Assuming you are not the person responsible for organising the rota, you need to discuss any potential changes with the nurse who put the rota together. Swapping your shift with someone else may seem straightforward, but as it is unlikely you will have had access to the information used to organise the rota, such as requests from staff members for specific days off, you shouldn’t change anything without checking first.

‘It seems unfair to swap a shift with someone without their knowledge just because you saw the rota first, so you need to consider how this could affect team working’

If you swap a shift with someone without their knowledge, how do you know if they can work that shift? They may have requested it off for a reason, such as a study day, social event or due to childcare arrangements.

On my last unit, all requests were marked on the rota with a small ‘r’ beside the shift so that it was known not to change these without speaking to the individual concerned. Do you know what your rota organiser does to denote requested shifts or days off? If not, make sure you find out.


Picture: iStock

You also need to consider whether the change you make will affect the skill mix – are you the same band as the person you want to swap with? Do you have the same skill set? And if you swap a shift, how will this affect your working hours and those of the person you swap with? If it would mean one of you working too many hours in a particular week, for example, this could affect patient safety.

Will it affect team morale?

It also seems unfair to swap a shift with someone without their knowledge just because you saw the rota first, so you need to consider how this could affect team working and staff morale.

Ultimately, there are too many uncertainties at play here for you to swap a shift without discussing it with the rota organiser and the person with whom you want to change shifts.

My advice is to make sure you get your requests in as early as possible to the rota organiser if there are shifts you cannot or do not want to work, and discuss any changes with the people involved to ensure this won’t create any problems for your colleagues or patients.


Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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