Tips for Managing Employee Holiday Schedules

Ah, the holidays.  Things start heating up in late October with plenty of candy and family parties.  Next comes the food and shopping adventures of November followed closely by a host of celebrations to round out the year in December.  While this season can be full of memories, fun, and excitement, it can also put a strain on companies and business continuation.

From hiring deadlines to simply keeping the doors open, the holidays present a unique set of scheduling hurdles that can task even the most experienced manager.  Without further ado, here we delve into a few handy tips for managing employee holiday schedules to help reduce stress and let both employers and current and potential employees enjoy more time with family and friends.

Communication is Key

First things first; when it comes to navigating holiday schedules its important to keep the lines of communication open between all levels of the employee hierarchy.  From entry-level staffers to upper-level management, all team members should have a way to communicate their preferred dates for time out of the office and then track them in a central source.  

Monitoring who’s out and when doesn’t need to be a costly or time-consuming process.  Modern email programs such as Microsoft’s popular Outlook solution allow team members to create or share calendars with both admin professionals and each other.  While a decision maker will need to step in and resolve overlaps, often times employees will be able to make their own decisions and manage workload and time off efficiently if they have a common mechanism for communicating with other group members.   

Start Scheduling Early

Along with communication, early and upfront scheduling of holiday out of office requests can help eliminate the burden and ease concerns for both employees and management.  Instead of waiting until late October, start having the conversation about fourth quarter time off expectations in September or earlier. A department or company-wide email can help set the stage and will often prompt people to start planning or communicating their plans for holiday vacation and travel requests.  

Kicking off holiday scheduling early is also a great opportunity to communicate company expectations for staffing needs.  If you’re in a retail sales based field, you may need additional staff to help navigate the uptick in demand during the busy holiday shopping season.  Likewise, if you’re in a service based sector there may be a drop in business overall that means fewer employees will be needed to keep the regular business running.  While this is a good opportunity for one-off and year-end projects to be performed, it also means that depending on your industry you may have more or less flexibility with the number of bodies needed to perform essential functions.  Make a plan well in advance of October and then communicate this to your staff as early as possible to help get the scheduling ball rolling.

Establish Order of Precedence

When all is said and done there are bound to be conflicts when dealing with holiday out of office requests.  With this in mind, it’s important to have a company or department policy for who’s request will carry the most weight and why.  While a first come, first served policy may seem the most democratic, this may not be the best fit for your individual employee dynamic.  

If you find that your group has chronic procrastinators or that there are a host of hurt feelings for denied holiday requests, you may want to consider a hybrid model of precedence for out of office scheduling.  Factors such as seniority or title can be used to add or subtract weight to an individual out of office request. Regardless of what method you use, remember to maintain open lines of communication and stick to your guns about decisions once they are made.  This will help avoid hurt feelings and will squash any appearance of favoritism if the policy is applied equally and consistently.

Keep Your Options Open

Our last, but certainly not least, tip when it comes to navigating holiday scheduling is a decidedly modern option brought about by advances in technology and telecommuting solutions.  Nowadays there are a host of software and hardware options that allow employees to “remote in” or work from locations other than their office. If you find yourself in a staffing pinch, consider allowing employees to work from home, a sister office, or another remote location for all or part of their vacation.  

Travel days are often a large part of any out of office schedule.  Allowing your employees to get work done during these periods will not only resolve your desire to keep work flowing, but it can also make for happier employees who don’t feel as if their vacation time is being wasted on unproductive plane trips or driving time.

Have additional tips for navigating the holiday scheduling season?  Drop us a note in the comment section and let us know how you navigate keeping employees happy while maintaining business over the hectic holiday season.