‘Tis the Season…for time off requests!

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With the holidays approaching, companies can expect an increase in their employees’ time off requests. At no other time of the year do companies field so many requests for time off. Workers in the U.S. took an average 17.2 days of vacation in 2017, the highest level in seven years. While being able to use time off during the holidays is essential to employee satisfaction, companies may struggle to find fair ways to approve these requests while also staffing for the holidays. Handle it wrong, and it could negatively impact business – not to mention hurt your culture and your brand.

“Accommodating your team’s time off needs and requests while balancing the needs of the client can cause tremendous stress for organizations,” says John Larson, Chief Strategy Officer of Cohesion Consulting, an IT staffing and consulting company. If it’s not managed properly it can not only prevent the business from delivering what clients and customers need but can also create internal conflict, he says. To prevent any problems this year, Cohesion’s staffing experts weigh in with tips to manage time off and still meet the needs of the business.

Set clear expectations. Set clear expectations about time off so employees know what to expect before they submit their time off. With these expectations in mind, you can still encourage your employees to use their time off while following the guidelines provided to the entire team.

Communicate scheduling needs. Discuss scheduling early on with your team so they understand how many employees need to be at the office each day during the holidays or post holidays. When you involve your employees in this process, you set clear expectations and stay on the same page, so they are not left out in the dark.

Set advanced notice expectations. Establish clear guidelines for how far in advance employees need to put in their time off requests. If employees are aware of the process, they are more likely to get their time off requests in on time, which means your managers can start planning for holiday coverage in advance.

Communicate your approval plan. There is a high likelihood you will encounter exceptions, special circumstances, or employees that submit their time off requests with little or no notice.

You may consider using one of the approaches below to manage requests but whichever approach you use, be fair and consistent!

Use a Holiday calendar. A well-organized calendar that shows which days are available for employees to request off helps to provide clarity. The calendar can display which days are available and employees will then be able to determine if their desired days off are still available before submitting their requests.

Seniority. While this process rewards your seasoned employees, you will want to also ensure your newer employees don’t feel like they are not able to take time off.

First come, first served. Strategies for handling holiday schedules will vary given your business and situation. However, the earlier you raise the topic, the more likely you will be to get the time you need. Although being the first one to ask for time off isn’t necessarily a guarantee, it does give you more flexibility with your negotiation.

If you are running a business that needs to be staffed 24/7 year-round, one way to ensure coverage over the holidays is to give workers off on a first come, first served basis. Along with a first come, first served policy is capping the number of people that can take off during the holidays.

Work from home. If your employees are able to accomplish their tasks at home, then you may consider giving them this option if you can’t approve their time off. For many companies, pretty much everybody has the capability that enable them to work remotely. If your staff doesn’t have to be on site, letting them work at home is a productive way to get things done.

Staggered schedule. You may not be able to keep a full staff during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you have to close early or provide a reduced level of service. For instance, you can have someone work in the morning during the holidays and another worker takes the afternoon shift. The idea behind a staggered employee vacation schedule is to always have coverage, and at the same time, give employees time off they need to be with family and friends.

Blackout period. For some businesses, particularly retail, the holidays are the busiest time for them, which means they need a full staff. If your business falls into this category, a way to prevent employees from taking off is to have a blackout period where no one can take off. It’s a good idea to inform employees way in advance of the blackout policy so they aren’t blindsided come holiday time.

Things you may want to consider before the end of the year, check your vacation or personal leave allotment to be sure you have the time available to use. Also find out if your company has a "use it or lose it" vacation policy, which could mean you have to take days off from work prior to the end of the calendar or fiscal year or forfeit them. Finally, ask for time off sooner rather than later. Short notice or no notice may impact coverage needed for the client or project and put the manager in a difficult situation to have to cover for you. Early planning, good communication, and a fair, consistent process goes a long way to ensure employee time off needs are met and client service is strong.

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