Small Business: Staffing for vacation time

Early planning and having a formal policy can

Early planning and having a formal policy can help prevent scheduling nightmares for employees' summer vacations, experts say. This is Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk. (Credit: Gordon M. Grant, 2009)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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With summer fast approaching, many companies have started their vacation scheduling.

This can be an onerous task for managers as they try to balance pleasing employees and having enough coverage to not be short-handed.

Early planning and having a formal policy can help prevent scheduling nightmares.

Explains Catherine Palmiere, president of Adam Personnel Inc., a Manhattan staffing and recruiting firm: "You still need a policy and procedure even if you're a small company."

You may not have a human resources department or team of managers to handle scheduling as larger companies do, but you can follow some of the same practices.

First, understand employees need to get away; do your best to accommodate their requests because they're the "lifeline" of your business, Palmiere notes.

 

Start planning early

Designate when employees need to file their time-off requests. If there are busy times when you need all hands on deck, you can designate blackout periods, Palmiere says, such as stipulating no vacations during August.

A formal vacation policy, says Diane Pfadenhauer, president of Northport HR consultants Employment Practices Advisors, should outline the basics such as the number of days off. It also should include something like "approval of your vacation request will be based on the needs of the department or the needs of the business," says Pfadenhauer, who writes vacation policies for her clients. This way you avoid lapses in coverage.

Time-off requests are usually granted either on a first-come, first-served basis or according to seniority, she says. Whichever you use, make sure employees are clear on what the determining factors are.

Empire National Bank in Islandia, which has 63 employees, looks at both seniority and when the request is submitted, says president Thomas Buonaiuto. "We look at the two hand in hand," he says, adding the bank has employees put their initial vacation requests in writing, which is advisable.

Empire starts its summer scheduling as early as February. The earlier the better, he notes. "You put the whole process in the forefront of people's minds so as they're starting to make plans they're aware they need to make sure they can get the time off," says Buonaiuto, noting there's some flexibility if a vacation plan comes up after the request is submitted.

Communication is key, not just from management to staff but among employees as well, notes Chris Campisi, branch manager for the Hauppauge location of staffing firm Robert Half International.

Key employees in a department may want to be off at the same time, such as the Friday before Memorial Day, he says. They may have to work out among themselves how they can take off while still having coverage for the department (i.e., perhaps splitting the day off with another employee).

 

Consider temporary staff

You could also bring in temporary workers for a day or two, says Palmiere, who has done this to accommodate staff requests.

And consider cross training employees to handle tasks in someone's absence. "You don't have to have everyone know 100 percent of a person's job, but if they know 20 percent to 30 percent of it, for the time the person is out they can at least get by," she notes.

Before an employee goes on vacation, create an outline of essential daily functions, as well as any necessary client or project follow-ups, Campisi says. Know "who's going to be handling coverage to assure it gets done."

 

Common Mistakes

 


Not planning in advance


Not communicating your policies and procedures to employees


Taking last-minute requests without backup coverage


Not being consistent with your policy


Not documenting requests in writing


Source: Chris Campisi, Robert Half International