The holidays can be a difficult time of balance for business owners, no matter how large or small your company. All employees want to be able to take time off and enjoy vacation, but very few businesses can afford to shut down in November and December—especially online and retail sales operations.
Some employees are lucky enough to have entirely flexible positions. For example, if you employ freelancers who are managed on a per-project basis, they can simply finish their work before the holidays and you don’t have to worry about processing a formal time-off request. If employees already set their own schedules, their vacation time is their responsibility—as is finishing their work on time during the holidays. But not all businesses can afford to have such a low-maintenance structure.
The holidays are a time for demonstrating gratitude and appreciation, especially for the employees who keep your business running. You want to provide them with the bonuses and time off they deserve, but not to the detriment of your company’s reputation. Here are some tips for navigating vacation time for all employees while keeping your customers happy.
Consider an Office Closure or Vacation Black-Out
Some businesses, like retail stores, can’t afford to shut down around the holidays, but might be able to do it for a single day like Christmas or New Year’s Day. If you think you can manage a shut down on a major holiday without upsetting your clients and customers, do it—your employees will appreciate it and everyone will have a moment of rest from the mad busyness of holiday shopping season.
At the other end of the spectrum, a business owner might consider a vacation black out period in which no employees, regardless of status (CEOs included!), can take time off. The purpose of a vacation black-out is two-fold: it prevents hurt feelings or a sense of mistreatment and favoritism among the team, and it also ensures that your company has all hands on deck during peak operation times. For example, an e-commerce website might set a vacation black out for the days preceding and following Cyber Monday, to prepare for the influx of online purchases and then manage the returns and customer contact that will be necessary afterwards.
Create a Firm Policy and Stick to It
When it comes to holiday vacation time, policies are vitally important. It is imperative that everyone is treated as equally as possible. If you choose to implement any preferential treatment—such as giving preference to senior-level staff—that needs to be explicitly covered in your vacation time policy.
It can’t appear that any one employee is being favored. Something as simple as a “first come, first served” policy can be hugely beneficial in leveling the playing field. This also provides an opportunity for more senior staff members to request their days off first, while new employees might have to wait until next year to get their desired holiday time-off.
Create a clear, written policy for time off requests and ensure all staff have access to it and the opportunity to ask questions about it.
Sweeten the Deal
If you absolutely can’t give vacation time over the holidays, make your employees aware of this as early as possible. This will be hard news—most people will miss out on family gatherings at this time of year—so it’s important that you have a benefit to soften the blow. For example, instead of time off around the December holidays, team members will get additional vacation days in July or be paid time-and-a-half for their shifts that fall on major holidays.
As a business owner, it’s not only your responsibility to keep customers happy but also your staff. Simply refusing to let staff take vacation time off with no incentive is not an effective policy—it’s a quick road to losing all your best employees.
Allow for Compromise
If you have a smaller team, it can be a productive team-building exercise to let your employees figure out vacation time amongst themselves. As a manager, you set certain boundaries—everyone has to meet a certain number of hours each week or a milestone has to be met on a certain project—but beyond that, you let your team discuss with each other what is best for the company. Not only does this take the burden off of your shoulders, but it also encourages your team to be empathetic with each other and more generous.
Consider Alternative Arrangements
Work-from-home and remote work arrangements can be especially useful during the holidays. If there are employees whose jobs can be completed remotely, set up a system so that they can do this effectively. It’s a win-win: employees get to take their vacation, but remain productive for the company’s benefit.
If you’ve never taken a foray into remote work, do your research before the holidays. You will probably want to set up a project management software system so your team can stay securely connected while out of the office. You’ll also want to set clear boundaries about hours and availability for remote work.
Be a Good Boss
Balancing acts like this are the reason you’re the boss. As a business owner, it’s important that you find a way to keep all parties happy. Each of your employees will have specific wants and needs and you will have to manage them while keeping your company robust and healthy.
Remain flexible and recognize when something isn’t working. If you give the remote work arrangement a try and notice that customers complained about long wait times over the holidays, then you’ll want to consider a different arrangement next year. Keep communicating with your staff about their preferences and what they need. Use these tips and you’ll eventually find the perfect balance for your company’s vacation time.