Managing time off is an important part of management in general but it is especially crucial in the context of running a small business. If two people go on holiday at the same time and you only have two employees, your company’s output will be non-existent. So here’s a series of tips and tricks on how to make leave work.
Setting time off allowance:
How much you set as standard in employee contracts depends on your business. Obviously there are legal minimums but in order to be competitive and not encourage employee resentment, you probably don’t want to just be following those limits!
The best way to determine how much you set is to think about how you compare to other businesses in your industry, look at what the benchmark is and then decide if you want to be on-market or generous. You can of course go below market, but that risks sending the wrong message to prospective hires. A difference of one or two days won’t usually change very much, so unless you are set on being more generous then your peers, it’s probably easiest just to follow their lead.
Some organisations even manage to make unlimited holidays work. Unlimited holiday allows employees to take off as much time as they like as long as they fulfil all their tasks and plan accordingly. Rather surprisingly, because of the pressures of the modern workplace, many employees who supposedly benefit from unlimited holidays will actually take fewer days off than their peers who have a rigid leave policy. When it’s left up to them, people are often scared to ask for more time off. Though adopting an unlimited leave policy can be a good statement about trusting your employees, it’s too easy to lose track of who has taken leave and for people to get overwhelmed. Some people are bad at booking time off, might be single or don’t have friends in the city. So if there’s no mandatory leave, some people might not take any. CharlieHR trialed an unlimited holiday period for a while but ultimately decided against it, here’s the full story of what was learned.
Managing time off requests:
Be wary of clashes. Try to avoid having multiple people on the same small team being away at the same time. If your business works to strict deadlines, managing time off requests badly risks over-burdening those who aren’t on holiday and leading to your company underdelivering or missing targets.
Another strategy when dealing with time off requests is to think about whether you want the team’s holidays to be spread out evenly across the year so that the company can always work at the same capacity. This tactic will also minimise the likelihood of multiple employees holidays’ clashing. Conversely, if business is always really slow during the summer months, you might want to encourage as many people as possible to go away at that time. Many e-commerce companies will strongly discourage employees taking any substantial time off during the fourth quarter, because that is the busiest and most vital period for them.
You have to keep in mind that there is always, necessarily, a minimum capacity required to keep your organisation running. It’s easier to stay on top of when people are off when you’re a small team, but once you start to grow it fast becomes overwhelming. As soon as your organisation grows to 10 to 15 people, problematic clashes can arise, and this is much sooner than many business leaders assume. Keep a calendar, a time off spreadsheet or use a software like CharlieHR.
Be really fast when it comes to approving time off requests. There’s nothing worse than your colleagues being made to wait and miss out on cheap flights. And there’s no excuse for not reacting quickly from the employer’s side other than laziness. If there’s a clash, say so immediately and see if there’s any room for flexibility.
For whatever reason, people generally feel quite nervous about asking for time off. So being responsive and as accepting as many requests as possible sends a great cultural message.
Time off as management tool:
Holidays can also be a useful tool to reward people who have been working overtime or who have put in hours over the weekend. It should be seen as an important part of your companies’ compensation package. Holidays can be distributed like bonuses, rewarding excellence or loyalty. For example, many companies have policies in place whereby for every year an employee works at a company, they accrue an extra day of annual leave.
The communication around time off is also really important. Remind employees to be vocal about when they’re going away and have an updated rota or calendar available for all to see. It can be incredibly frustrating to be halfway through a project and finding out that your key collaborator is going away the very next day.
Festive break or no festive break?
The festive break, the time between Christmas and New Year, is given off by many companies. CharlieHR has such a policy, but it really does depends on what sort of business you run. Some companies that operate year-round just won’t be able to afford that slow down in output. But outside of e-commerce, it’s a generally quiet and relaxed time of year.
When people come back from the festive break, you can usually sense a huge increase in motivation. There’s a special energy around the office because the whole team has had time to refresh and recharge. It’s also the least stressful time to take off because there is less work going on at other companies, customers will often be on holiday, and the anxiety related to catching up when you get back into work will be absent because everyone has been off at the same time.
However, do be aware that if you push for a festive break, it will be perceived as unfair to then see those days off as counting part of employees’ time off allowance.