The concept is to retain a well-trained workforce and avoid seasonal layoffs by exchanging employees between counter-seasonal employers within the same local business community.

What it is:

The Employee Exchange Program is a counter-seasonal employer workforce exchange that allows Rhino Foods and its partnering companies to retain their well-trained workforce and avoid seasonal layoffs by exchanging employees during times of lower demand.


In 1993, Rhino Foods was faced with the issue of excess staffing brought on by efficiency improvements and an unexpected drop in sales. Ted Castle, the owner of Rhino Foods, was not interested in laying off his employees. Instead, he turned to his staff to explore creative solutions to reduce the workforce while at the same time maintaining well-trained employees in the long-term.

Twenty-six employees formed a committee to brainstorm alternatives to layoffs. Through a series of creative brainstorming meetings, the concept of the Employee Exchange Program was born. After securing buy-in from key veteran employees, Rhino sent several of its “best” workers to a neighboring manufacturer to prove to everyone in the company that the program was serious. Since that time, the program has been a success for all involved: Rhino keeps its skilled workers long-term, the employees avoid the stress and upheaval of layoffs, and partnering businesses experience the same benefits at their companies.


  • We have developed long-term employee exchange partnerships with more than ten local businesses in Vermont. This has given us the flexibility to exchange a varying number of employees as our seasonal capacity needs shift from year to year.
  • In 2011-2012, we exchanged our first non-manufacturing employee. The employee worked half-time at both companies. This maintained the employee’s involvement with projects at Rhino and provided needed expertise to our partnering company.
  • We have saved thousands of dollars in staffing costs, while retaining our skilled employees in the long-term.
  • We have strengthened the sense of community and trust by continuing to improve the program and maintaining the commitment to avoid layoffs.
  • Valued employees remain at Rhino Foods.

Ripple Effects Outside of Rhino Foods:

  • Our program has been highlighted in business books, articles, a PBS show and other media.
  • We have actively shared this concept with hundreds of companies to impact the manner in which business is done.

How to Implement the Program:

Here are the basic components of our Employee Exchange Program to help provide concrete instruction if you are interested in trying this at your organization.

  • Identify potential like-minded companies with seasonal staffing needs that are in reasonable proximity to your business. Contact these potential partners to discuss the concept of employee exchange.
  • Meet with your employees to explain the program, to address concerns, and to begin building buy-in to this win-win situation.
  • Determine your criteria for potential employee participants so that company needs are met, and your partner will have a positive experience.
  • Ideally, you’re selecting from a pool of employees that have volunteered. This is not always possible for business or head-count reasons.
  • Select your business partners.
  • Prior to placement, set up site visits for your employees to experience the possible jobs and working conditions. This is also the time for the companies to interview potential staff.
  • Meet with your partners to discuss and come to agreement on issues such as:
    •      Length of exchange
    •      Rate of pay
    •      Unemployment and workers’ compensation costs
    •      Time off
    •      Discipline issues
    •      Training
    •      Safety
    •      Non-recruitment of your staff
  • Sign contractual agreements with your partners.
  • During the exchange keep in contact with your employees to address their concerns and to keep them apprised of what is happening at your company so they feel connected.
  • At the end of the exchange, supervisors at the partnering companies complete employee evaluations.
  • Interview returning employees to understand their experiences and to identify program improvement opportunities.
  • Share the successes and the learnings within your company to continue to grow support for the program and increase employee comfort with the concept.

Additional Information:

For support in helping to implement this program in your business, please feel free to contact Rhino Foods.