Planning Ahead for the Holidays and Employee Vacations

Gina Deveney
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Employers in the United States aren't required to offer their employees vacation time. However, employee vacation time contributes to a culture in which workers feel valued and respected for their efforts. This is especially true during the holiday season. The holidays are a time for friends and family and hopefully for a bit of a break from the daily routine. Unfortunately, this season is also the busiest time of year for retailers, along with many other sectors of the economy. Learning to plan for the holiday season will help your company face the twin challenges of increased work tempos and an elevated demand for employee vacation time.

If your company is involved in retail sales or serves the retail sector, you already know how busy things get during the holiday season. Meeting those demands calls for your whole team to be at work, focused, and productive. Given that the holiday season rolls around at the same time every year, it's possible to mitigate the lost work hours by having the HR department set a fair, transparent company-wide policy well in advance. If it becomes company policy that vacation time will not be available around Thanksgiving or Christmas, employees will be able to schedule their vacations with the blackout dates in mind.

It's a good idea to work with the union—if any—to craft a policy that's clear, reasonable, and fair to everybody. When employees sense that they're a part of the process rather than passive victims, it will enhance the respect they feel for the policy and improve morale. Take care to explain in the preamble to the written policy exactly why vacation cannot be allowed during the holiday rush. Giving explicit reasons for blocking vacation time will go a long way toward encouraging employees to take ownership of the policy as plain common sense.

For vacation time that's available at other times during the year, it's still a good idea to have a written policy. Obviously, no company can operate if some critical fraction of the workforce all decides to take off at the same time. Vacation time will have to be assigned, with a blackout imposed after some threshold has been reached. Assigning available vacation slots by seniority—especially during the holiday season rush—is a common practice here, and it's one that most workers can acknowledge as fair.

As an HR professional, the people who make up the heart and soul of your company are your business. Keeping them happy, productive, and loyal is a reliable way to contain absenteeism, discipline problems, and turnover. While business reasons may make it necessary to impose caps on the amount of time employees take for vacation, the process can be done in such a way that the business goes on running smoothly.

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