The best way to manage holiday time off? Know your people

Employee cooking with daughter at kitchen counter enjoying holiday time off

Well, it's here again — that time of year that seems to always sneak up on us. We get excited for the November season, the change in weather, the smells of all the home cooking and then BAM, we forget that everyone in our workforce wants time off during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a sustainable business model where we could shut down production, our emails, work in general, just to spend time with those we love? Of course there are some companies able to do this, but it’s not realistic for most. So the real question becomes what's the best way to manage holiday time off? Spoiler alert — it goes deeper than just the age-old first come, first serve method of time off approvals.

We need to look at our holiday time off strategy as an opportunity to make our people feel valued, treated fairly, and that they belong at our organizations regardless of who they are. The good news is with three simple mindset shifts HR pros everywhere can start making it happen. Here’s how:

1. See the whole person

The first point I want to make here is simple — not everyone celebrates the same holiday. Shocking, right? That said, though, many holidays still fall around the same time of year, but rarely on the same day. If employees are willing to share which holidays they celebrate, let’s take the time to proactively recognize this for them. We can take action.

For hourly team members, HR can work with managers to build schedules that take people's varying holiday times into account so that they may not even have to take time off. With the right HR technology, this can even be as simple as looking at time off trends and scheduling preferences for your people over the last year and anticipating their needs based on shifts they swapped or past time off requests in the holiday season. And an even easier step is to ensure you can set up a digital holiday calendar that everyone can access to get a heads up view of upcoming holidays so you can easily communicate around them and stay ahead of the curve.

Side note: This doesn’t just revolve around holidays either. Think about your employees who have children, busy lifestyles, or are incredibly active in philanthropy. We can be proactive in leveraging life-work technology to ensure that these individuals can remain satisfied in their personal lives as well as professional. Time data means more than just who's on a shift at what time or who has or hasn't clocked in. With strong solutions in this area that see across the whole employee life cycle, it becomes possible to get smart and anticipate when our people may be fatigued or even frustrated enough to consider leaving the organization. And then because of that it becomes possible to have conversations before issues occur and help employees feel you have a transparent, inclusive culture that shows true care for their specific needs.

2. Be fair in scheduling

This may sound like a no-brainer to a lot of HR folks — of course you'd want to have fair schedules. But if you think about it for a second, what does that actually mean, and what does it require if you're going to make it happen? Luckily, like I mentioned in the last point, this can actually be fairly straightforward with the right tools.

A critical component to a happy workforce is understanding how and when and employee wants to work. This also helps you set good limits that are still sensitive to employee needs.  Of course, we want to give our people all the time they want, but that’s unrealistic. Staying within your defined PTO/leave policies and using your data to predict shift schedule demands and flight risks, and actively providing moments of relief are all critical components in helping employees know when they're most needed and more importantly when they aren’t so they can spend time doing things they love.

3. Understand how time off impacts your culture strategy

You would think something as simple as approving time off wouldn’t impact culture, but it really does. When someone doesn’t get their time off request approved, or worse when it doesn’t even get viewed, how does that make them feel? We’ve immediately made our employees feel as though they are not a priority or valued to allow them to do the things they need or love to do. More importantly, did we have the discussion with the individual as to why the request was rejected? In times of a talent participation shortage, clear and effective communication both in-person and electronically allows us to home in on employee needs. It’s how we respond to those needs that gives your organization the power to continue to thrive.

If you're unsure of how you're doing in the areas of time off approvals, scheduling, or other key operational processes that could affect how your people feel about working for your organization, make sure you're asking them about it. Helping your employees feel heard is a major part of a successful engagement strategy. And as I've been saying this whole time, whether it's the holidays or not, invest in flexibility both in your time and scheduling processes and beyond. It's expected now with all we've been through in 2020 and 2021 and will be key in attracting and retaining talent.

Conclusion: Don't lose your focus on people as you try to manage holiday time off

Isn’t it funny how this happens every year at the same time? Let’s take a step back and remember how important this time is for people to recharge and enjoy time with others. In doing so, we have the ability to change the lives of so many by being proactive in how our time off, scheduling, and other processes operate. By getting to know our people and scheduling fairly, we have the power to impact both their wellbeing and the bottom line.

If you need help getting the time you need to focus on important HR improvements like this, take a look at our recent report on the state of HR at small to mid-sized businesses. It will arm you with all the facts you need to make the case to your leadership team for the tools you need to make a difference.

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