As the end of the year approaches, it’s not uncommon to see lots of empty desks throughout the office. For many, it’s the most popular time of year to take off to travel or spend time with family and friends. But for many employers, this poses staffing challenges when too many employees request off at the same time. Employers have to manage not having the office look like a ghost town, but also keeping employees happy.

Why is this so important?

Taking time off from work is instrumental to improving employee productivity, and ultimately your bottom line. How so? Taking vacation can make employees more resilient in the face of stress. Time off to rest and relax can improve employees’ productivity, creativity and collaboration. Recharging improves focus and relieves burnout. Overall, employees report being happier at work when their company encourages vacation use. And who doesn’t want happy employees, especially during the merriest time of year?!

10 ways to manage time off requests during the holidays

Here are some best practices to help you balance your employees’ needs and expectations with company needs during the busy holiday season.

Planning ahead is the new black

The best defense is a good offense. Be proactive and plan as far ahead as you can for the holiday season. Determine how many hours will you need covered and how many employees will you need to cover those shifts. Will you need to hire extra employees or cross-train current employees to manage the workload?

Early bird gets the worm

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to honor everyone’s time off requests during such a busy time of year. Using a “first come, first served” policy makes the process fairer. Employees should know ahead of time that they need to submit day off requests as soon as possible. Ensure this policy is clearly communicated to all employees. Try setting early deadlines to encourage employees to determine their vacation plans as early as possible.

Pay more, and don’t skimp on the perks

If you require your employees to be at work during the holiday season, it’s a nice gesture to offer a holiday or end of year bonus, pay differential and/or other incentives (like casual dress, early release, or holiday parties) that can take the sting out of having to work during the holidays.

The more the merrier

Hiring seasonal staff can alleviate the burden of increased holiday traffic for businesses in certain industries like retail. Oftentimes college students are home for the holidays, and this offers a good opportunity for them to make some extra cash. With some training, they can be valuable and productive members of your team.

WFH: Work from home

Working from home is a great alternative for employees that must work during the holidays. They can have the flexibility of working from home and being closer to their families and friends, without interrupting work projects or missing deadlines.

Stagger Time-Off

If everyone can’t take off at the same time, consider staggering days off. For example, some employees can take off the week of Christmas and another set can take off for New Years. For hourly employees, employees can alternate morning and night shifts to accommodate holiday plans. Another option is to rotate schedules year-to-year, so that employees who took off this year for Christmas, will be in the office next year.

Make it clear as crystal

If you have stringent or specific PTO and holiday policies, make them clear before hiring. All policies should be clearly outlined in an employee handbook and verbally understood so everyone is on the same page. If employees have questions about the policies, they should feel comfortable asking their managers or HR representatives for guidance.

Fair play

Going along with that, set your policies and stick to them. It’s bad form to start the year off with one policy and then change the rules halfway through. This also means policies should be applied as fairly and as equally for all employees. Some companies use seniority as a basis for making decisions like these. Others may make them on a team basis, as opposed to companywide. But no matter, what, ensure that no one person or group of people is excluded or discriminated against.

Floating holidays. The next best thing?

A floating holiday is an attractive option for employees who don’t celebrate traditional holidays and would rather save that time off and use it during another time of year, or for anyone looking to reallocate days to another vacation. Employees can trade these traditional holidays for another day of their choosing.

There’s no ‘i’ in team

If these options don’t work for you, and you feel like you can trust your team, leave it up to them to manage time off and work responsibilities. This option works well for smaller or close-knit teams. They can determine how to split up work and manage holiday time off without causing disruption in service.

Whatever process or policy you choose, tracking employee schedules and time off requests is challenging. XcelHR’s modern timeclock, TimeMD, tracks time and makes scheduling employees a breeze. To learn more about TimeMD, click here. To request a demo, click here.