As the holiday season approaches, more people will start requesting time off during what for many businesses is one of the busiest times of the year. A standard vacation policy for small businesses can help you handle employee time off requests and ensure that the holidays are as productive as any other season. All you need is a plan. Here’s how to decide what yours should look like.
How to Manage Vacation Time for Employees
When everyone wants the same day off, it can be difficult to field requests in a way that’s fair and reasonable. You can approach managing vacation requests from several angles.
- First come, first served. If multiple people want the same time off, the first to ask gets it. End of story. The benefit of this plan is its simplicity. It requires no decision from the manager and erases the possibility of playing favorites. However, it also means that an aggressively prepared employee can request a holiday off for the next six years, and they’ll get it unless a manager steps in.
- Work this year, get next year off. This can work well for specific holidays. If your business is open on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day, ensuring that no one has to work the same holiday two years in a row might be a crowd-pleaser. That said, keeping track of this beyond a few key dates a year can get messy — if you choose this option, get very comfortable with your favorite spreadsheet program.
- Weighted vacation days. If December is your crunch time, offering employees who work the entire month without taking any time off an extra vacation day or two in January should ease the flow of vacation requests. Have a backup plan ready, though — sometimes, not even incentives can keep a workforce from wanting their Thanksgiving turkey.
- Seniority. The employees with the most seniority get first pick of vacation days. This is popular in many organizations, and it gives employees a reason to stay with the company. It can also alienate your newest employees, though, so expect some pushback if you go this route.
How to Keep Employees Engaged in the Office Over the Holidays
A standard vacation policy for small businesses can ensure that employees are at the office, but it can’t promise they’ll do their best work while they’re there. If everyone wishes they were somewhere else, productivity will drop.
Employee engagement sometimes comes at the intersection of two seemingly contradictory factors: allowing employees as much time off as possible and making sure the boss is there as often as they can be. The former lets your employees know you care about them and want them to be happy. The latter lets them know that those in charge are willing to sacrifice to make the business successful and encourages employees to do the same. It’s tempting to give yourself the best holiday days off because you’re the boss. But nothing screams “I don’t care about you” like keeping your employees from seeing their families so you can go on a three-week holiday cruise.
If the majority of your workforce wants a certain day off, it might also pay to weigh the benefits of keeping the business open against your employees’ needs. It makes sense for a retail organization to be open on Black Friday — but is the same true of Thanksgiving? Maybe your clients tend to slow down the week leading up to New Year’s, or maybe your store doesn’t get many customers until the afternoon on Christmas Day. Take a look at how your company’s activity has fluctuated over the last few years before making a decision.
The end of the year can be a stressful time for small businesses, and the only antidote is planning. Don’t procrastinate on work and reports. If business is booming but all of your employees are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, give them the support they need to get through their expanded holiday season workload. Provide meals if people have to work late, and think about rewarding your workers with a holiday party, depending on your company culture.
Above all, treat your employees with respect. Good management does more for employee engagement than any vacation policy ever will.
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