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Preparing for employees' vacation time

If employers aren't smart about vacation scheduling, the

If employers aren't smart about vacation scheduling, the work can pile up and overwhelm those left in the office. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/demaerre

Employees' taking a break from work can mean a breakdown at the office if employers aren’t smart about vacation scheduling.

That’s especially true during peak seasons like summer. This summer employees are planning to take an average of 10 days off, according to a recent survey by Accountemps, a division of staffing firm Robert Half.

“I think vacation time for employers can be a stressful time,” says Rich Deosingh, New York district president for Robert Half.

But, with proper planning, it doesn’t have to be.  

 Employers should encourage their workers to have vacation action plans in place, says Deosingh, that include a list of everything that needs to be handled and any issues that may arise. The employees also might assign delegates to handle projects and cover emergencies in their absence and  prepare out-of-office email and voicemail messages that provide a coworker's contact information for urgent matters.

 Employers also need a system in place where employees can request vacation time in advance, says Deosingh.

Some companies require annual  notices of estimated  time-off dates for the entire year, but most want at least a two-week heads-up from employees, says Jennine Leale, chief executive officer at HRPRO Consulting Services LLC in Rockville Centre, a human resources outsourcing firm.

Whatever  the policy, having staggered vacations is important so that, for example, one department doesn’t have multiple key people off at the same time, says Jeff Agranoff, HR consulting principal at Grassi & Co., a Jericho-based CPA and business advisory firm.

“Too often employers let employees 100 percent decide when they take vacation,” he says. “You need to have an approval process to make sure it makes sense for the business.”

Cross training is also important, he says, so you’re not just reliant on one person to do a certain job and work can continue in his or her absence. At Grassi, there’s at least one backup person for each key role at the firm.

This also helps in the case of unexpected absences or employee departures, says John Coverdale, president of The Center for Workplace Solutions, a  human resources management firm in Blue Point.

“I call it micro succession planning,” he says, noting it’s a good employee development opportunity. “Employees want to learn and enhance their skill sets.”

He advises clients to consider having employees shadow one another. It doesn’t have to be a formal process but could be in advance of a known extended vacation.

It’s wise to set expectations and document policies up front, says Rick Maher, president of Mount Sinai-based Turning Point HCM, an outsourced HR firm.

This includes laying out the mechanics of taking a day off, such as  priority  based on first come/first served or seniority, and, if needed,  the certain dates or times where there might be no approval for vacation time, as in the case of accounting firms during tax-filing season, he says.

“You need a well-thought-out policy that reflects the realities of the business and that is thought through practically to cover any contingencies,” says Maher.

 Regarding employees' checking in when they are away, most experts agree this shouldn’t be mandatory.

"It really depends on the position,” says Leale, noting many higher-level managers will check in anyway.

But consider that they should be entitled to their downtime and perhaps arrange a scheduled check-in that they agree to and that works with their personal time, she says. And remember it may not be possible in certain circumstances, such as in travel abroad.

Bottom line, she says: “The employee, as well as the company, should be involved in preparing for time without them while they’re away.”

Lazy days of summer

A recent Accountemps survey found nearly six in 10 workers (58%) save their vacation time for June, July and August.

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