Most small business owners welcome the arrival of the holiday season in one of two ways.
- With open arms, knowing that a majority of their revenue is secured in these last few months of the year and that you’ll soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief once the holiday season is over.
- By grinning and bearing it, because there are too many things to do, too many people to accommodate and not enough hours in the day.
Neither approach is wrong; in fact, you might even oscillate between the two, but one thing is certain: the holidays bring their own set of rewards and challenges for small business owners.
One of those challenges can be handling your employees’ holiday vacation requests.
Here are some tips for managing employee time off requests so that no one finds themselves muttering ‘bah humbug!’ under their breath, and you aren’t viewed as a Scrooge.
Evaluate Your End-of-Year Employee Coverage Needs
Ideally, you would do this when you establish your employee vacation policy. But in case you haven’t, take a look at your needs.
You may not be in a business that allows you to simply shut down in the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s day. However, do you need full coverage those days? What if some of your employees worked remotely just to be sure that any client fires that might arise are tended to quickly?
Take a realistic look at your business’ needs during these days. Consider your clients. Do your clients/customers need service between the holidays? Or on Black Friday or New Year’s Eve? If the answer is no, then you might be able to offer your employees a bit more flexibility when considering the end-of-year vacation calendar.
If you’re a retail establishment and will be extending your hours for the holidays, make sure your employees have as much advance warning as possible.
Clearly Communicate Your Company’s Vacation Policy
Some employees may assume that the day after Thanksgiving is already a holiday. The same for the day after Christmas. Make sure you have clearly communicated what days are already counted as holidays with your team. It’s best to send an email (a few times) and post a list of holidays in a central location.
As stated above, if you don’t need full coverage, communicate that as well. Offer the ability for employees to work remote or come in for a half-day. Some employees with visiting family or kids might be looking for a reason to be out of the house for a few hours.
And don’t forget to also communicate this information to your clients. Most clients are understanding of time off around the holidays. (Psst: they’re in the same boat). Also, if you communicate with them early that this will be a lighter time of year for you, it will give them the chance to say, “Oh, I forgot, we’re looking to make a big push in January and are going to need help with XYZ project.” That way everyone can plan ahead.
Ask for Time-Off Requests Early
The best way to avoid major conflicts, like everyone wanting the same day off, is to ask for the requests early.
Put an employee vacation request policy in place, and set firm deadlines for vacation requests for the major end of the year holidays: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. It’s best to give yourself at least four weeks of lead time before each holiday, so those Thanksgiving requests should already be sitting in your inbox.
If you notice conflicts, there are a few ways to handle it. You can use seniority or go by the first person to request a certain day. You can also ask employees to work it out amongst themselves. Most times employees will work together to figure out coverage.
Just be sure to ask them to clear it with you first before it’s set in stone. That way you know you’ll be comfortable with whatever decision is made.
You can also set-up a shared employee vacation calendar in Outlook or Google Drive, and use a time tracking software to manage when employees using time off. This gives people the chance to input their own time off requests while simultaneously seeing who else has already made a request.
Post the Final Schedule as Soon as Possible
Once you’ve received the requests and made your decisions, first, let the employees know. Then post the schedule so that everyone is aware of who is working and when. If conflicts still arise, it is of course up to your discretion how to handle them.
If you have employees who work with specific clients, you might ask them to reach out and let their clients know their schedule as well. They might already do this on their own, but it’s nice for everyone to be on the same page.
Offer Incentives for Less Desirable Days
If you are open on Black Friday, consider having lunch catered. The stores and restaurants will be super crowded and knowing that their lunch is covered will be a nice relief to your employees in the office.
You could offer the same for the day after Christmas or New Year’s Eve. If you do this, let your employees know ahead of time. It’d be a shame for someone to bring in a killer sandwich made with leftovers and have to pass up free lunch at the office.
Also, consider early release. Even if your clients are in the office during the holidays, the chance anyone will be staying at their desk until the bitter end is slim. Letting people work a half day or even just leave a couple hours early is a nice perk.
You don’t want a disgruntled employee coming in on a day they wanted off and making work miserable for everyone. However, you also don’t want to reward that type of behavior. If you have clearly communicated your vacation and time-off request guidelines then you shouldn’t run into too many problems managing your employee time off requests when deciding your end-of-year schedule.