Heating Up: How To Handle Summer Vacation Requests

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As the weather heats up, many workers will be interested in taking time off. This can be a fluid process for some employers, but for many, including small businesses, it can cause headaches for management.

Today’s leading employers encourage time off and want employees to take time away to recharge, rest and find that work/life balance. That being said, it’s not always easy to accommodate vacation requests, especially around key holidays such as Memorial Weekend or the Fourth of July. Throw in the annual summer trips to the lake, cabin or favorite family vacation destination and many offices can struggle with finding a full team in place during the hot summer months.

And there is no doubt, at some time, conflicts will occur. Jason in accounting will have a wedding planned at month end when payroll is due. John and Stacey on the IT team will both want the same few days off, even though a new software launch is expected to take place at the end of the week. Kim and Mike, the two administrative assistants, are good friends and want to head to a summer festival together, leaving the front desk staff short-handed.

It’s a headache good managers want to try to avoid. It starts with planning – well in advance, says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled office and administrative professionals into front office and administrative assistant jobs

“The key is to have employees schedule their time off in advance and make sure you don’t have too many people out at the same time,” says Hosking. “Managers should ask their employees to submit their requests for time off as early as possible. The earlier managers can determine which employees will be out, the sooner they will know if they need to make arrangements to maintain required staff levels.”

Each organization needs to determine what a fair program is for granting time off and ensure this policy is communicated to – and understood by – all employees, says Hosking. There are a number of software programs employers can use to manage time off requests, such as ShiftPlanning, Replicon, Time-Off Manager, Advance  Systems and TrackSmart. An article titled 7 tips for preventing employee vacation scheduling nightmares on Tracksmart.com stated: “First, accept the fact that you can’t please everyone.”

Among the seven steps, the article stated:

“Discuss your employee vacation policy during the hiring and orientation process and provide employees with written vacation policies and procedures. Highlight the 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 at that time to prevent surprises later on.”

In addition, the article stated the importance of setting a deadline for submitting vacation requests in order to project how employee absences might affect production schedules and delivery dates to resolve any conflicts.

If a lot of people are eyeing the same vacation dates, some organizations have systems in place to grant time off requests based on either a first-come, first-served basis or by tenure within the company. When a lot of employees request time off, it can be a good idea to use temporary professionals to fill in gaps and maintain productivity, says Hosking.

“Companies should contact a staffing firm immediately once it’s determined interim assistance is needed,” adds Hosking. “The earlier you contact them, the more likely they are to identify and provide you with the ideal candidate for your needs.”

What other aspects can employers take into consideration? Here are five steps for managing summer vacation requests:

  1. Be fair: One of the biggest complaints – and frustrations – for employees is when they feel management is playing favorites – perhaps granting those they have a perceived better relationship with all the time off requests they put in. There is nothing that can sap workplace morale – and productivity – more than a frustrated employee who feels they are not getting a fair shake when it comes to time off and vacation requests. So many employees have left work to contact a friend or family member, saying “my boss won’t let me off” for the days requested. It’s a fast track to an unhappy employee. But with strong policies in place – and a clear understanding of what those policies are starting at orientation, it can help remedy any potential problems.
  2. Communicating time off policies is key: It’ a good idea, especially with smaller staffs, to send out a staff wide reminder email outlining vacation policies and encouraging team members to send in vacation requests well in advance of peak periods (summer/holidays). At that time, also include a link to the employee handbook or vacation policy manual, for review. On the downside, this will result in a flood of requests coming through that HR will now have to manage, but by getting the process started early, conflicts, hopefully, can be avoided.
  3. Ask managers/supervisors for help: When there are staff meetings, remind employees to plan ahead. Also, ask company leadership to relay these policies in group or individual meetings and to emphasize that the company values time off but at the same time, staff must be in place to keep the business and operations running. Get team members to work with each other before submitting requests, if possible
  4. Consider other perks: One way to place more value on time off is to consider offering half-day Fridays during the summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day is common), or give employees the option of working from home once a day during the week, such as Fridays or Mondays. These perks can help feel like the company values the employee’s life away from work, which can lead to more understanding if not all vacation and time off requests can be met. When those requests can’t be met, it’s best to ask the employee what they would consider a fair trade-off.
  5. Ask team members for additional support: If team members can work with each other to cover when others are out, and understand they may require some extra work or duties in a co-workers absence outside their daily responsibilities, then it can help keep things running smoothly and allow those who are away totally unplug – resisting the temptation to have to check in or check email while away. Encourage employees to totally unplug from all things work related, only contacting in case of emergency. When team members can work together to coordinate time off requests. Plan a meeting with co-workers before you leave for any extended period of time, to outline any project concerns.

“Staff members should ensure things run smoothly while they are away,” says Hosking. “Updating colleagues on the status of assignments and showing them how to access critical information can keep projects on track.”

It’s nearly impossible to meet every vacation or time off request, no matter what time of the year. But to avoid summer headaches, plan well in advance. Now is the time to put vacation plans in place.

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