Juggling Vacation Schedules In The Busy Season
As the weather begins to get warmer, many people begin to imagine long, lazy days spent on the beach. Others daydream about visiting exciting foreign countries or a getaway in a mountain cabin surrounded by greenery. Whatever the preference, vacations can be awesome. Many experts also agree that regular downtime is necessary for employees to maintain top performance and efficiency. Idan Shpizear, owner and founder of 911 Restoration, a damage cleanup and restoration company based in Los Angeles, California, wholeheartedly embraces that approach.
“Giving employees the time they need to recharge their batteries is crucial to the long term stability of the company. Sure there are times during the summer months when the office can become a bit of a ghost town, but if you have a stable environment that caters to your employees needs, they are usually capable of scheduling vacation time around whatever work they need to take care of,” he stated.
Establish a Vacation Policy in Advance
But how do companies allow workers to take time off during the busy summer vacation season without bringing operations to a grinding halt? For companies that are union shops, policy for scheduling vacation time for workers may be largely determined by a collective bargaining agreement. With or without such an agreement, much conflict about scheduling time off can be avoided by establishing a consistent vacation policy for the company that is clearly communicated to new hires to avoid later misunderstandings. Maintaining clear lines of communication among workers about scheduling vacation time is also essential, according to Shpizear.
“It is best to encourage a culture that allows people to talk about their plans for everything – including vacation time – long before it ever happens. This way a solution can be found for the problem before it becomes a bigger one,” he said.
Determine How to Prioritize Vacation Requests
Many companies prioritize vacation requests strictly by seniority. Other employers, including Shpizear, prefer to take a “first come, first served,” approach – resolving potential conflicts by granting the request of whichever employee asked first. Such a system helps to ensure that the same people don’t always wind up getting last dibs.
“It is usually better to give time off to those who ask for it first rather than through seniority because disenfranchising someone on their vacation is a quick way to make an employee feel like they aren’t a truly full member of the company,” Shpizear claimed.
An alternative approach to ensuring that everyone is on the same page is to allow employees to work out any conflicts in vacation scheduling among themselves. In a small company, such discussions can take place among all workers. In larger companies, discussions can take place among workers within departments or divisions.
In any event, flexibility is key. Allow employees as much latitude as possible in scheduling their time off, whether they choose to take their vacation time all at once or split their days off into short getaways scheduled throughout the year. Otherwise, management and owners risk negating the purpose of vacation, according to Shpizear.
“There should never be restrictions on how vacation time is spent . . . Regulating vacation time will only make for unhappy employees who then bring that unhappiness to the workplace where it will cause problems that aren’t worth the added work the company would get by being draconian about how vacation time is spent,” he insisted.
Fill the Gaps for Absent Employees
Once a policy is in place, the challenge remains of how to handle the workload of workers who are out of the office. While many workers stay in touch with their workplaces via mobile devices, doing so may prevent them from truly decompressing. Hiring temp workers to take up the slack is a time honored tradition for covering the workloads of vacationing employees, and for many companies, it’s a good strategy. But some workers perform vital functions that can only be handled properly by someone who is already familiar with how the company works. In such instances, Shpizear favors taking a proactive approach.
“It’s best to have as many solutions as possible set up before the time period comes where those solutions might be needed. If this means having the person who is going on vacation train someone else in the specific duties that might be needed in an emergency, then that is a solid way of taking care of the problem,” he explained.
If the decision is made not to hire temp workers, management should divide the work of vacationing employees among several other workers, rather than expecting one overburdened individual to take on the entire additional workload. Employees who are taking on extra work should be rewarded – either with extra pay or with some other desirable perk. Management should also do as much as possible to make the workplace as pleasant as possible – perhaps hosting lunches or scheduling an optional outing for employees who are in the office.
Dig Deeper when Employees Fail to Use Vacation Time
Americans receive an average of 10 paid days off plus six federal holidays per year, according to the Washington, D.C. based Center for Economic and Policy Research. This stands in contrast to the European Union, where workers are guaranteed no less than 20 paid days off per year. Some individual European countries grant workers as much as 25 or 30 paid days off annually.
Even with this skimpy allotment, many American workers are tentative about taking vacation time. A survey of employees who receive paid vacation time conducted in 2014 by Glassdoor reported that Americans used only about half of their allotted vacation days and other paid time off. Much of the hesitation on the part of workers stems from lingering uncertainty caused by years of recession and a sluggish, largely jobless recovery.
As a result, some employers may be faced, not with too many workers who want time off at the same time, but with workers who refuse to take time off at all. However, employers and management should not view such circumstances as advantageous, even if workers insist that they neither want nor need time off, according to Shpizear.
“Employers should never force an employee to take time off, but if they don’t use it (vacation time) throughout a yearly basis, then that should be a sign to the employer that there is something amiss with the company culture and not necessarily the employee,” he insisted.
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