Summer is in full swing, and for many that means one thing: vacation time. PTO is a vital employee benefit that gives your workforce a much-needed break, keeps them engaged, and maintains a healthy work-life balance. However, managing employee vacations can become a huge challenge for HR and departmental managers. How do you deal with multiple employees being out at the same time?
Studies show that U.S. workers only take 51% of their allotted time off. Organizations who grow accustomed to employees taking much less time off than they are allowed can lull managers into a false sense of security. This causes a small panic when multiple employees suddenly desire to take their full time off, and results in reacting to a problem instead of proactively working to prevent it.
Managing employee vacations during the summer or any other high-profile time of the year requires strategic planning in advance. A solid plan must be made that can theoretically accommodate every employee taking their full allotment of PTO time. Human Resources often takes the wheel here, instituting and carrying out the policies that keep your company thriving year-round. There are a number of strategies to consider:
Setting and Communicating Policies
Set detailed vacation policies and communicate them clearly. How many people can be out at once? How is that tracked, and who approves time off requests? While the onboarding process is an ideal time to first educate employees on PTO policies, reiterate them at least once per year for all staff.
Seniority vs. Rotating Systems
Seniority is often used as the deciding factor when too many employees desire the same time period off. Unfortunately, that can become frustrating for an employee who started only six months after their coworker in the same position as it can bar them from taking a specific day off for their whole career. Alternatively, consider a rotating system of priority where someone different has the first selection of time off. To avoid those with deep company experience from feeling slighted, these rotations can be contained within certain levels of employees such as those with one to three years of tenure, those with four to six years, and so forth.
Whether it’s planned or not, many of your employees likely end up working a little bit during their vacation time. Being frank about this and creating a plan, especially for long vacations, can help. Whether that means the employee spends half an hour each day replying to emails or just hops on the week’s three most important conference calls, a working vacation can still allow an employee to take time off while ensuring the tasks that rely on them most don’t get overlooked.
Incentives for Working Normally
When you’re nervous about your business operating smoothly during a high-profile vacation time like the week leading up to or after the fourth of July, then providing an incentive or perk for those who work normally can help. Some employers may offer a monetary bonus or gift cards, but alternatives can simply be a catered lunch, company barbecue, or even granting them an extra PTO day for use during the fall.
If your business has certain time frames that are so vital to success that it would be difficult to allow much PTO time at all, then instituting a blackout period is an option. This puts vacation time completely off the table for certain days or weeks except in extenuating circumstances, ensuring your business is 100% staffed when it needs to be most. It’s a strategy that can be done at the departmental level as well; just beware that instituting too many blackout periods can defeat the purpose of PTO by lowering engagement and causing frustration. Use sparingly.
The opposite of a blackout period, completely shutting down the business for certain days surrounding holidays or certain slow weeks of the year can be a huge perk for employees and immediately erase most of the problems of managing a staff during the week of Memorial Day, fourth of July, Labor Day, etc. A common practice in manufacturing, businesses in other industries are finding shutdowns do in fact work for them too during slower periods.
How many of your employees have taken half a PTO day just to make a doctor’s appointment, or a full day because their child was sick? If possible, allowing employees to work remotely can be an alternative. Even if they are 75% productive because they are watching their child at home, granting a handful of remote working days can still get output from employees who otherwise would have taken the day completely off.
Instituting flexible scheduling in the summer is another answer to keeping employees refreshed while still maintaining a high level of productivity. That could mean allowing employees to shift their work day earlier or later, or just instituting shortened hours on Fridays for the month of July.
No matter the strategies you consider utilizing, managing employee vacations takes finding out what works best for your workforce and planning appropriately. Doing so improves engagement, retention, and even the recruiting of new employees. Stay on top of your PTO policy and watch employee work-life balance and productivity increase alongside the summer temperatures.