Managing time off is a sensitive subject for any small business owner. If you don’t get it right, you risk either burning out your team or facing an empty office. Neither option is good, so what’s a small business owner to do?
To help you avoid being understaffed or causing resentment among your employees, here are five tips on how to manage employee time off when you have a small business.
1. Manage Your Employees’ Vacation Expectations
As a good workplace leader, you should remind employees that, while you’ll be doing your best to take everyone’s preferences into account, there’s no guarantee that everyone will get the vacation dates they want. Not only do you need to consider the needs of the team, but you also can’t ignore the needs of the business. Other factors that can affect availability for planned time off include:
- Time of year: Different businesses have different “busy seasons.” Your employees should be aware that the company can’t afford to have too many people out on leave during these times.
- Minimum team size: Some teams simply cannot function at all without a minimum number of people. For example, a sales team of two or three people will need to work together to ensure that there’s always at least one person in the office.
- Major initiatives: Occasionally, your business will be in the middle of a big project or change, such as an M&A deal, and there may be less room for personal time off until the end. That said, once the project is over, reward your employees’ hard work by being more generous about approving time off.
Finally, remind employees that they shouldn’t make any non-refundable bookings until after the vacation dates are officially approved.
2. Pick a System for Giving Out Vacation Time
There are many systems you can use to decide who gets first dibs on time off, each with its own pros and cons. We’ll look at three popular systems: seniority, random drawing, and first-come, first-served.
Whether you decide to adopt a seniority rule, first-come, first-served rule, or a random drawing, be fair about your system for scheduling time off. If your team senses that you’re bending the rules and making exceptions for your favorite employees, you’ll destroy a lot of built-up trust and goodwill.
- Seniority Rule Favors Long-Term Employees
The most senior employees get to pick their vacation dates first. Note that “senior” employees are those who have been working for you the longest, regardless of their actual age.
On the one hand, using the seniority rule to manage employee time off is a good way to reward the hard work of your most loyal employees. However, it can also be frustrating for newer employees if they feel like they’ll never have a chance to get the vacation dates they want.
If you’re looking to reduce junior employee turnover and quickly boost motivation in the workplace, then it’s better to try one of the other systems.
- Random Drawing is Fair Across the Board
The good thing about a random drawing is that it puts everyone on a level playing field — any employee is just as likely as the other to have the first pick of vacation. While this is arguably the fairest system, it’s also inflexible in that it doesn’t help employees with major vacation plans like weddings, honeymoons, or big international trips. It’s better to save random drawing for times when there’s no other way to resolve a vacation scheduling conflict.
- First-Come, First-Served is a Good Middle of the Road Plan
A good compromise between the seniority rule and a random drawing is to adopt a policy of first-come, first-served. That way, employees with major vacation plans, like a cruise or international trip, are more likely to come to you early and “lock in” their vacation time. Employees with more flexible vacation plans are likely to come to you later and pick one of the other remaining dates with no problem at all.
3. Respect Everyone’s Vacation Plans
Everyone in your business is entitled to their own vacation time. While some employees might be excited to treat themselves to an exotic resort, others might prefer to just stay home and read or catch up on house projects. Whatever your employees decide to do during their personal time off is exactly that — personal. Once you have an established system for assigning time off, don’t be less willing to approve someone’s vacation time just because their version of time off isn’t what you would consider a “proper” vacation.
On a similar note, avoid the temptation to contact employees when you know they’ll be at home or easily reachable. Give everyone the vacation space they deserve! If you do, your employees will come back more relaxed, rested, and ready to be productive after their vacation.
4. Rotate the Big Holidays for Employees
A major source of stress for employees and business owners alike is deciding who can take off for the major travel holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year, and spring break. In some cases, you may be able to please everyone by closing the office for a few days during these times. But if your business needs to stay open during the holidays, then someone will need to stay behind.
Whatever system you choose for deciding general time off, have a rotation system in place for these major holidays. So, if one employee can’t take a long Thanksgiving weekend, make sure that they’re able to do so for Christmas or for Thanksgiving the following year.
5. Have a Clear Absence Plan for Employees
One of the most important aspects of managing employee time off for small businesses is to plan ahead for absences. Like effective goal setting, effective vacation or absence planning is critical for the long-term success of your business.
First, it’s always a good idea to meet with your employees in the time leading up to their vacation. Are there any important tasks that only the employee knows how to do? If so, have them prioritize those specialty tasks before they leave and delegate more generalized tasks to someone else on the team. That way, there’s a lower chance that you’ll be stuck waiting for an employee to come back before you can complete some critical project.
There should also be an agreement about who will take over the employees’ responsibilities. For instance, if your assistant manager usually manages shift schedules, is that something you can take over while they’re on vacation? Alternatively, is there an opportunity to delegate responsibilities to a junior employee that can gain some management experience under your supervision?
If an employee works with clients, they should change their voicemail greeting and set up an out-of-office email message explaining:
- That they’re not currently available
- When they’ll be back in the office
- Whom to contact for urgent matters (name, email, and phone number)
This is especially important if you’re managing a remote team since clients won’t always know how to contact someone else in the company.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Time Off
As a small business owner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working your employees as much as possible because there’s always a fire to put out. But remember that the best way to build a staff of productive, loyal employees is to give them the time off they deserve. At Confie, we value our people and culture above all else. Get in touch with us today to learn more or give us a call at (714) 252-2500.