This time of year tends to be peak season for annual leave. And juggling multiple requests can be difficult. If not managed properly it can leave you short-staffed, or dealing with grumpy workers. What can you do?
By Paul Rattray.
There was a story doing the rounds of the mainstream media a little while ago, explaining how to turn 20 days leave into 55 in 2020.
Turns out, it can be done. Depending on which Australian state you call home, a little tricky public holiday manoeuvring could snag an employee up to 55 days off in the coming calendar year.
We’ve written before about the importance of leave – it’s crucial for ensuring the wellbeing of employees – helping to ensure that their productivity, engagement, job satisfaction and general happiness levels remain high.
And in fact, some companies which can’t compete salary-wise offer employees more than the basic legislated annual leave as a ‘perk’. This can be a good idea – research has shown that ‘leave bonuses’ also promote loyalty and trust.
But when you run a small business, with a tightly- run team, balancing annual leave entitlements without letting the general day-to-day operations fall behind can be difficult.
So, what do we recommend?
Chances are, if you’re running a small business then everyone will be already working at capacity, so any reduction in team numbers can place a strain on business as usual.
The key is making sure you have a forward view of operations – looking ahead by 12 months at least. It’s opportune to do this alongside your annual budget. This will identify critical busy periods where all hands are needed on deck, and quieter periods when staff can be encouraged to take breaks. Of course, this time of year is the annual shut-down for many businesses and staff are enforced to take a chunk of leave at this time.
But managing at other times throughout the year is not so straight forward. Consider putting ‘leave’ as a topic for discussion on your regular staff meeting agenda, or creating a shared calendar. Encourage staff to let you know if they’re planning leave (even if the arrangements are only tentative) as soon as they can, so you can work around it.
Most people realise that leave is subject to approval, but providing a central reference point this can encourage everyone to work around each other and select dates in advance.
Simply remind team members that while you value their leave, in some instances – for example, if they require a full month or longer – they may need to be flexible and negotiable. Help the whole team to understand that large chunks of proposed leave can impact everyone – and ask them to help identify ways to alleviate this impact. Internships or work experience opportunities for students can be a cost-effective alternative to temporary hires, if appropriate.
Of course, it’s also likely that some roles within the team have natural areas of overlap (this tends to be the nature of small business, people know that job descriptions can ‘stretch’ from time to time when all hands are needed to pitch in and meet a deadline, or to cover for someone else), and this can definitely be used to your advantage, temporarily, to cover leave.
When you have a good workplace culture where people truly respect and value each other, holiday planning is easier. For example, during school holidays some parents may simply need to take time off. When you are open and transparent about what everyone wants and needs you can avoid date clashes.
Encouraging long weekends as well as extra time around public holidays will assist in two ways: By helping to maintain adequate staffing levels all year round, and also ensuring people are regularly getting time to rest and relax. It will also ensure that people are using their leave. Because if a substantial number of team members don’t take their leave, it can accrue and this can result in an additional financial burden for your business, putting unnecessary pressure on your cashflow. This is best avoided.
Leave plays an important role in helping employees to maintain work/ life balance. And with a little forward planning and good internal communication processes, you can manage absences without too much hassle.