Time Off During the Holidays

It can be an employer’s nightmare – how do you manage all these vacation requests and deliver on business needs? Some industries like hotels and retail have no choice, they MUST be open for the holiday season while other industries have the option of shutting down or offering work-from-home options. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, you will still be faced with a slew of time off requests. What do you do?

Set the expectation early
If you’re in an industry that is open during the holidays, you may consider a blackout policy or a ‘this or that ‘ policy. A blackout policy is where all vacation requests are denied for a set period of time (i.e. in some Retail Stores no vacation requests are granted from Thanksgiving through New Years Day). These policies should be communicated as soon as they are made and with any new hires that come on board. You DO NOT want to surprise your employees with this policy! If that seems a little too stringent for your employee population, consider a policy where employees can submit their preference of having either Christmas or New Years off. Make it clear that you will do your best to match their request, but it is not a guarantee. This could also be done by offering the days off before Christmas vs. after Christmas – whichever makes most sense for your organization.

Encourage employees to work it out together
Sometimes when everyone in a single department asks for the same days (or overlapping days) off, it’s better to let them figure it out. You may also help your employees by sharing expectations. For example, we will need 12 workers in the office on Christmas Eve and we will need 15 workers in the office on New Years Eve. This way they may be able to work out a plan amongst themselves to meet these coverage levels rather than have them dictated by ‘management.’

Set deadlines or windows for requests.
Some employers go for the “first come/First serve” approach. Personally, I’m not a fan of this approach because some employees may put in their requests extremely early to guarantee they are granted – Seriously, I’ve gotten Christmas requests in February before. What I recommend is to set a window during which holiday requests will be accepted and reviewed. For example, requests will be accepted no earlier than August 1st and no later than October 1st.  This gives you, the employer, ample time to review all requests and necessary staffing levels, and identify areas
where there may be a problem.

Have a plan for managing requests
If you have opted for the first come/first serve option, make sure you stick to it without fail. Some employers also use a seniority system for granting requests. If multiple requests from one department are received, the person with the most seniority will be granted the vacation time. In this scenario make sure you consider the turnover rate of your most senior staff, if this is an area of low turnover, the same people may receive time off year after year, while others do not. I’ve heard of some employers who do a raffle system, where employees in the same department each get a raffle ticket and a certain number of tickets are drawn from a hat.  Determining the system you use is going to be based on knowing your employees and what makes sense for the business. My advice, don’t wait until you have a problem to develop the plan. Have that plan in place before hand so there’s no chance of someone seeing the policy as showing favoritism.

Schedule as early as possible
The sooner employees know what their calendar is going to look like the better! If you are able to post it well in advance, then employees can make travel arrangements. Of course, I’d make a note on there that it is subject to change due to business needs – just in case you have unexpected turnover or a deadline is suddenly moved up, etc.

Consider alternative options
Are there other options to cover the holiday needs? Perhaps you can offer a holiday pay differential for those employees who do work the holiday. Are your business needs something that could be filled by seasonal or temp help? These may be options to allow extra flexibility to your full time regular employees!

No matter how you handle time off requests, unless you are shutting down completely, expect that some people may have to work during the holiday season. Do your best to do something special for these employees. Consider buying
everyone lunch or handing out prizes. Lastly, make sure your senior leadership is setting an example. If all of the managers are taking time off and the hourly employees are stuck working, it could be a big blow to company morale. My recommendation: Make sure you set similar expectations with those in leadership positions as you do with employees.

‘Tis the Season!