Every year, small and medium-sized businesses face the same year-end quandary: how to give holiday time off fairly to employees without creating a staff shortage during the last quarter. Or how to handle a significant number of staff members with holiday allowance remaining, but very little time left in the year to use it. And of course, everyone wants to take their time during the holiday season. A good business balances the need to maintain proper staffing levels year-round while being as fair as possible to all employees, knowing that too many off at the same time creates customer service chaos and fourth-quarter frustration for the finance and accounting department.

Determine who picks first

Decide who will get to choose their time off first based on a predetermined strategy. Whether it’s how long they’ve worked there, or names drawn from a hat, change the strategy annually to keep it fair and fun while remaining favourable to your company’s customer service and production goals.

Calculate Christmas staffing needs early

Look at last year’s figures and your current numbers, and base staffing needs on both most recent and last holiday’s sales, promotions and orders. Also decide on days and hours of operation during the holiday season. Does demand justify working a 40-hour work week, or is it sensible to curtail days and hours, still meeting customer needs while providing time off to employees?

Request time off preferences early for best selection

Ask employees to determine their holiday time off needs as early as possible, and send written requests for what’s needed. Set and stick to a deadline for requests; any requests arriving after deadline receive approval on a first-come, first served basis.

Consider using a temporary/seasonal agency to fill openings

Temporary workers gladly fill the need when regular employees take time off. They’re happy for the additional pay, the opportunity to add to their CV, meet new people and learn new skills. Consider university students on holiday and pensioners without local family looking to fill the time off with meaningful work, a pay cheque and new relationships. Contact previous employees and gauge their possible interest in short-term employment; they’re a dependable workforce requiring less training. Partner with a temporary staffing agency early to manage emergency holiday employment needs.

Consider time away from the office vs. time off

Do you have staff willing to work a few hours daily from home while taking time off? Whilst not strictly considered time off, this strategy saves employee stress over the holidays by removing their office commute and providing time to shop and spend time with family and friends, while ensuring timely completion of projects and rapid response to customer queries.

Offer perks/bonuses for holiday help

Sweeten the deal for those working over Christmas with a special office lunch, organisational gifts for their desks (high-quality pen holders, paper trays, notebooks), electronics accessories (chargers, earbuds, phone cases), thermal spill-proof mugs, gift cards for food shopping or restaurant dining. It’s an extra measure of “thanks for your help at this time of year!”

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