How to handle staff requests for time-off during the holidays

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Non-profits and associations don’t have to see red during the holidays as long as they manage their staff right. At no other time of the year do companies have to field multiple requests for time off. Handle it wrong, and it could cripple the business at an otherwise busy time of year – not to mention it can hurt your culture and your employer brand.

Today, workers view benefits and perks of the job as important as the actual wage they’ll receive. The way you handle time off requests directly affect the type of people seeking to work for you.

Have restrictive time off policies, and you’ll struggle to find great job applicants. Make it unfair or difficult to get time off, and you’ll struggle to retain your employees. Neglect to make a policy and you’ll struggle to stay staffed during peak vacation times.

Time off is seen as directly connected to the quality of life, the freedom to maintain a healthy personal life away from work as the need arises.

Communicate Your Time Off Policies At The Start

Whatever route you take with employee time off, you must communicate it to all employees as soon as they are hired. If employees don’t know the boundaries you’ve set up for time off, you’ll have two results:

  • Some employees are going to ask constantly, for any reason, to take time off because there are no boundaries. This leads to resentment among the other employees.
  • Some employees are going to be too hesitant to ask out of fear their request will be denied because they don’t know boundaries. This leads to frustration and burnout.

Depending on your business, time off policies may be part of a union contract. You are bound by those policies, in that case. Otherwise, you may want to write some flexibility into your time off policies. That flexibility should include managerial discretion so that you allow for situations you can’t plan for ahead of time.

Put your policies in the employee handbook, make your policy accessible for employees to look up if they have questions, and cover it in your hiring interviews.

Set A Deadline For Requests

Every industry has different high-intensity seasons in which too much time off wreaks havoc for a business. Retail, for example, needs all hands on deck around the winter holidays.

For those times, you may want to set a deadline for when time off requests can be made. You may even want to take that a step further and set a time frame for when requests can come in. This is to prevent people from making requests for the following year when some employees that will be working haven’t even been hired yet.

If you set a request deadline, let all employees know at the same time. This matters, because you’ll likely get time off requests that can’t all be granted and you’ll need a process for deciding who gets their request and who doesn’t. Some of these methods are based on who asks first, which is only fair if everyone is equally aware they can make a request.

The most common method employers use to manage time off during holidays is the first-come-first-serve approach, followed by seniority.

  • First come first serve. Whoever submits their request first is granted the time off. This is why you tell all employees about the deadline at the same time, and with plenty of heads-up. You want to be flexible; some employees may consistently be first all the time and you don’t want the same employees stuck working every holiday just because they didn’t get their request in until the next day.
  • Seniority. This is best used with there are time off requests that, for all other reasons, are equally valid and conflicting.

Avoid what seems to be constant arbitrary managerial discretion. It reeks of favoritism, particularly if there is no specific reason for your decision as to who gets time off and who doesn’t.

Megan Van Petten
CEO & President
Van Petten Group, Inc.

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