No matter what the holidays bring to mind for you and your employees, chances are it will involve time off.

Depending on the size, format, and scope of your company, it may be easy to work around everyone’s holiday schedule, but if you’re a small business owner, clustered time off requests can be especially difficult to manage.

You need to keep the doors open and the lights on. But you also want to keep your employees happy. Some days, finding that balance can seem almost impossible. But there are ways to keep your business moving and give your people the time off they want and deserve.

1. Offer incentives

If your business needs to be fully staffed on holidays, your team might be more amenable than you think. The key word here is need.

If you’re in retail, hospitality, transportation, or manufacturing, you may have to keep things running no matter what day it is. But there are other companies who choose to stay open regardless of how busy they are. And this is where resentment can seep in.

They say you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Not that your employees are flies. The point here is if you really do need to stay open, you shouldn’t just pound your fists on the desk and demand that everyone stop whining get the hell back to work. This isn’t the way to elicit employee goodwill, foster an atmosphere of teamwork, or get volunteers to cover shifts.

If you want a full staff of team players, you’ll need to communicate in a way that that makes them feel valued and appreciated. And this where incentives can help.

Offering incentives is a great way to acknowledge that your employees are going above and beyond, to say thank you, and to provide a little something in return.

Incentives can cover a lot of ground. From free food to bonus pay to additional time off later, employees who feel like their holiday work is being recognized and appreciated are much more likely to show up— and with a good attitude.

2. Embrace the personal holiday

The images, views and traditions that surround various holidays are personal. Valentine’s Day can spark intense feelings of love-- or dread. Some folks absolutely love Halloween! Some people turn off the lights and hide. Come December, many people look forward to gathering around the Christmas tree. Others? Not so much.

Some people celebrate religious holidays that aren’t as mainstream as others. And some people have a near-religious devotion to other events like the March Madness, Spring Training, or the World Series.

This is where personal holidays can come in very handy.

Have someone on staff who wants to celebrate Shavuot, Diwali, or Pioneer Day? Allowing them a few personal holidays in the bank will allow them to do so without worrying about how to make it happen.

Or maybe you have a team member who doesn’t get that excited about Easter, but lives for the Super Bowl. Offering personal holidays allows this person to have choices.

When it comes to holidays, one man’s Thanksgiving is another woman’s St. Patrick’s Day. Allowing your employees to celebrate the ones that mean most to them will go a long way toward making them feel appreciated.

3. Ditch the use it or lose it

Use it or lose it vacation policies are designed to encourage employees to take vacation— and reward employers when they don’t. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize these two concepts are working against each other.

These kinds of policies can be especially inconvenient in fast-paced work environments, where employees will often wait for a “less busy” time to take their vacation days.

But of course that less busy time never comes.

As the end of the year approaches, employees realize they are about to lose their days and employers end up with an onslaught of time off requests all at once. At the time of year when everyone else wants time off as well. Scheduling nightmare, anyone?

4. Be fair and flexible

Time off. Everybody wants it and only so many people can take it at once.

To make sure popular vacation times are doled out in a way that seems equitable, come up with a system that doesn’t favor any one group too much. Basing vacation purely on seniority seems like a pretty fair system, but if your organization has very low turnover, it can feel very unfair. Imagine being that “new” employee who has 10 years in at the company, but has never gotten New Year’s Eve off.

Consider creating a rotational holiday calendar or a lottery system to ensure that you don’t end up with all of the same people taking the same days off every year.

Once you’ve got that system down, allow room for flexibility within the ranks. If two employees both want to switch days or trade shifts, don’t pull out the rule book and wave it around. Sure, there may be some instances where it doesn’t work for some reason, but these kinds of side deals can often make things easier for everyone.

Your employees found a solution that made them happy, and you didn’t have to do a thing. Except maybe change that clause in the Employee Handbook.


Photo by Ekaterina_Minaeva