Monday Mornings with Madison

Managing Staff Vacations during the Dog Days of Summer

The temperature is anywhere between a sizzling 82 degrees and a scorching 102 degrees, from Montauk to Miami and from Dallas to Des Moines.  Kids are wrapping up their summer break from school.  Families are heading to the shore, water parks and lakes to cool off or up to the mountains to relax.  Adventure seekers are cruising, sailing and soaring to far-off destinations.  Vacations abound.

Meanwhile back at the world of work, far from the summer fun, businesses continue to function.  Customers continue to place orders.  Goods still need to be delivered and services must still be provided.  As staff takes time off, summer vacations inevitably place a burden on those who remain behind to carry the load.  Companies must be careful in how they handle summer vacation requests and manage staff leave time.  There is a fine line between being so permissive with leave time that business suffers and being so rigid with vacation requests that employees aren’t able to get a much-deserved break to rest and recharge their batteries.  Walking that fine line is the challenge.

The Summer Vacation Juggle

There is a multitude of ways that managers can handle the summer vacation juggle.  That can range from tremendously flexible to painfully rigid, and both extremes tend to be bad for business.  On the one hand, vacation time is offered as a fringe benefit for a reason. Studies have shown repeatedly that people need a mental break from work to rest and play.  Yes, even adults need time to play… a time to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.  On the other hand, customers generally have little patience to wait for what they want / need from a business.  A business that cannot deliver its products / services in timely, consistent way will lose sales and possibly customers.  So what is a company or department to do when, in the dog days of summer, half of the staff requests time off?

First, leadership and managers need to understand that part of managing is accepting that you can’t please everyone all the time.  That said, there are many ways to minimize summer vacation conflicts.  Here are some tips.

1.  Establish / Communicate the Vacation Policy from Day 1

Lay out the company’s vacation policies in its Onboarding Manual and/or Employee Handbook.  It is best to make this clear from the outset of hiring, when an employee is learning about the company’s culture.  In the policy, specify peak work periods during which vacations may be prohibited or restricted. If there are any conflicts with major religious holidays or prior commitments, discuss them during the hiring process to prevent issues later.  The manual should also clarify management’s right to rearrange employee vacation schedules to meet genuine business demands and changing market conditions.

2.  Require Vacation Requests In Writing In Advance

Most problems can be solved with enough time and careful attention.  However, last-minute issues create a scenario for panic and unnecessary stress.  To avoid fire drills, set a deadline for submitting vacation requests that gives the department enough time to project how absences will impact productivity and deadlines. Depending on the business, this could be anywhere from a week to a year in advance. Those who plan ahead and submit early get priority over later or last-minute requests.

If vacation or holiday breaks cannot be avoided or juggled sufficiently to avoid impacting business, then the business should warn customers of upcoming delays in service.  In China, for example, clients of manufacturing companies are told to expect up to an additional month of delays for orders placed just before or during the period of Chinese New Year.  During that time, many Chinese take extended vacation time to visit family in other parts of the country.  Vacations can last from two to four weeks.

3.  Plan for Absences

If coworkers can cover for one another’s work, those taking time off should be asked to provide a summary of work in progress, major responsibilities, key contact information, how to access related files, and other pertinent data to meet crucial deadlines.  A checklist of needed items should be provided to the soon-to-be vacationers to help them focus on what they need to set up / leave behind.  The responsibility should be on the person going on leave, not the manager or the coworker covering, to leave details of how and when to complete unfinished work.

Often one person’s work is too much for one single person to handle.  In such cases, it helps to distribute the vacationing employee’s load among several colleagues. This keeps one unfortunate person from carrying the full load of two.

4.  Provide Incentives to Work during Peak Time

One way to get employees to work during peak vacation periods is to offer premium pay, bonuses, or other incentives, especially when excessive employee absences can hurt business.  For example, retailers can offer time-and-a-half comp time for those willing to forego vacation time from Thanksgiving to New Years Day.  Real estate lenders and Brokers might offer incentives for employees to forego vacation time at month end and year end, when many deals are closing.

5.  Be Flexible

Employees in identical positions should be allowed and encouraged to trade off vacation dates among themselves, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize deadlines, schedules or work quality.  Of course, managers should monitor and approve such vacation arrangements to ensure that arrangements are fair and no one is taking advantage of those who may be more timid or less assertive.  Arrangements should also be fair and not repeatedly favor certain people.

6.  Staff Properly

While there is a constant desire to be lean with staffing during economic downturns, companies should be wary of continually working with a skeleton staff.  Besides vacations, there are many other variables that can affect workload and staffing such as illness during flu season, unexpectedly harsh weather during winter, and surges in demand as the market improves or as sales and promotions impact demand.  It is important to have adequate staffing to be able to handle the peaks and valleys of staff resources.

By putting these measures in place in advance, no company or department should find themselves sweating it as their staff takes vacation time this summer.   Come Autumn, employers and employees will find themselves recharged and ready to do their best.

Quote of the Week

“The ant is knowing and wise, but he doesn’t know enough to take a vacation.” Clarence Day

© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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