What is Shift Bidding and How Does it Work?

Long-term shift bids in public safety agencies take many forms. Learn about how shift bidding can boost morale and streamline scheduling.

October 16, 2023

Article Highlights

Shift bids in public safety are essential, long-term processes that impact agency morale and functionality. The shift bidding process allows employees to request preferred shifts they qualify for. It's an automated method allowing the shift scheduler to maintain control while also giving responders a say in their schedule preferences.

In this article, we're discussing long-term shift bids in public safety organizations. That means responders choose new shift rotations for their long-term schedules, for a month, a quarter, or even a year. These shift requests typically need supervisor approval before being implemented. Meaning responders may not always get their first choice.

This article will clarify the shift bid process, how it works, and best practices for managing it effectively.

What is a shift bid?

Let's say a police department runs annual shift bids each year from November to December to plan for the next year's schedules. (Some also do monthly bids, others do quarterly.) Officers are able to make their shift choices during that two-month period. At the end of the bid period, the administration would then sort the choices by seniority and departmental rules, and choose the best fit for each schedule.

Shift bids are important because they allow employees to reflect on their previous year's schedule and have a say in their future schedule. This ultimately helps employee morale and retention.

How does shift bidding work?

The process usually follows these steps:

Your department's schedulers create the shifts needed to fulfill proper staffing levels. They can also set the qualifications and rules for specific shifts if needed. The notifications go out to all employees, notifying them of available shifts.

Responders then check their schedules, see which shifts they can fill, skip the ones they can't, and don't see the ones they're not qualified to work. They then "bid" on the shifts they want.

Shift bidding is similar to self-scheduling, however, there is an approval step that happens before the shift is given to that officer. Schedulers review the employees' bids and make their own decisions based on the responders' input.

With rules-based scheduling, schedulers can access crucial information such as an employee's qualification for a specific shift or which responders are nearing overtime. This approach reduces overtime expenses and ensures that only qualified responders are assigned to challenging shifts.

Once the shifts have been filled, responders will be able to see their schedules on their mobile devices or laptops.

What industries can use shift bidding?

Several industries are able to use shift bidding, including:

  • Law Enforcement: Shift bidding efficiently allocates officers where and when they're needed the most, which ensures community safety while respecting officers' individual preferences.
  • 911 Dispatch and Call Centers: Bidding prioritizes operational demands and dispatchers' well-being, both of which are critical in managing emergency responses.
  • Fire Departments: Shift bids help firefighters achieve a balance between their roles and personal lives. That helps promote department readiness and reduces burnout.
  • EMS: The shift bidding process juggles high-intensity roles with the need for rest and recuperation, which lets EMS responders recover from particularly grueling shifts and intense calls.
  • Hospitals/Healthcare: When healthcare professionals work in different and varying shifts, shift bidding is critical to ensuring patient care without compromising staff welfare.

Benefits of offering shift bids

Shift bids are more than just a procedural function: they contribute significantly to boosting employee morale, reducing burnout, and improving employee retention. By allowing staff to schedule their own preferences, departments acknowledge their team's needs, promoting a positive work environment.

This gives responders some control over their work schedule. It helps them work around family commitments, spouse work schedules, daycare and school obligations, and lets them be home for important family events. 

That can go a long way to keeping responders satisfied with their job and less likely to struggle with relationships at home.

You can read more about the pros and cons of shift bidding in this article.

How does the shift bid scheduling process work?

Here is how the shift bid process typically works:

  1. Setup by schedulers: They determine the term for the bids — one month, two months, etc.
  2. Guidance for employees: They provide clear instructions for employees on selecting shifts and avoiding scheduling conflicts.
  3. Show available schedules: Each employee can see the shifts that are available to them and the ones they qualify for.
  4. Determine shift bid duration: How long will the bidding window remain open?
  5. Notify employees of the new bidding period: You can announce the start on the basis of seniority, departmental rules, or all at once.
  6. Close bids, assign shifts: Fill shifts by seniority, based on officer preferences and department needs.
  7. Draft the upcoming schedule: Incorporate the finalized bids and create a comprehensive schedule for the upcoming term.
  8. Announce new assignments to staff: Keep them informed and ask for input for future bid processes.
  9. Review results and address concerns: Resolve any issues, ask for feedback, find problems and errors, and make improvements for the next bid window.

Methods to manage the shift bid schedule process

There are a few ways to manage the entire shift bid process.

Paper Sign-Ups or Whiteboards:

  • Pros: This is simple and direct, and the schedule is easy to view.
  • Cons: The process can be cumbersome and unwieldy; it's not ideal for large departments.

Electronic Spreadsheets:

  • Pros: More efficient than paper. Schedules are editable and easy to disseminate. You can even share the spreadsheets for online access (e.g., Google Drive).
  • Cons: There's a greater potential for errors, and it requires higher technology proficiency. Does not allow for much input from officers; they can bid on shifts they don't qualify for.

Dedicated Shift Bid Systems:

  • Pros: A shift bid system is tailored for the process and streamlines functionality. This is its sole purpose. That makes mastery of the software much easier.
  • Cons: This will likely involve upfront purchase costs, and your staff will need to adapt to a new system.

Final thoughts

Managing shift bids takes careful consideration. By adopting the process, not only can your department run more efficiently, but your responders' morale, work-life balance, and well-being can also improve, which increases retention and reduces burnout.

Implementing a shift bid process may require some adjustments and go through some growing pains, but with the right approach, it can become a valuable asset to your agency's operations.

Curious to learn about scheduling software solutions offered by PowerDMS? Discover PowerTime, a complete personnel scheduling software built for public safety.

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