Managing Holidays in a Small Business

Posted by

Matt Green

on 08 Jul 2024


Holidays are important for employee well-being and productivity, but managing them in a small business can be tricky. We have some simple tips to help.

Managing Holidays in a Small Business

Seasonal holidays are a double-edged sword for small businesses. While they often bring a surge in sales, they also present some real challenges.

Christmas, Easter, and the summer are peak times for employees to request time off, which may lead to staffing shortages and greater compliance risks.

The resulting long hours and increased workload can lead to employee burnout, impacting morale and productivity.

Despite these challenges, small businesses can successfully navigate the holiday season with careful planning and strategic thinking. And remember that a happy and well-rested team is a productive team.

8 Tips for managing holidays in a small business

1. Create a holiday policy

Establish a clear and fair holiday policy outlining entitlement, request procedures, and blackout periods (if any). This will ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid confusion.

Try to accommodate reasonable holiday requests whenever possible by encouraging employees to request holidays well in advance, especially during peak times. This allows for better scheduling and workload distribution.

Regularly assess your holiday management practices. See what's working and what can be improved to ensure a smooth process for everyone.

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2. Create flexible working policies

Consider offering flexible work options like remote work or compressed workweeks to minimise disruption caused by holidays.

Those with childcare responsibilities may appreciate the opportunity to work from home rather than use holidays. Equally, flexible working hours may help accommodate staff juggling their time during school holidays.

3. Define holiday procedures

Whether a team member is off for a day or two weeks, they must know their responsibilities to their colleagues.

Standardise out-of-office reply messages, ensuring an appropriate person can easily handle queries. Relay races of queries not only cause customers irritation but also waste valuable and scarce staff time.

Ensure that those on holiday create a handover document (which can be checked against your responsibilities map). It needs to detail who will be covering what tasks and if there are any deadlines during the holiday period.

4. Manage workloads

Day-to-day tasks will always need to be covered during holiday absences. However, some work may be medium or long-term in nature.

If you know in advance key staff will be on holiday, then plan around their absence.

This does not just mean the person who is away, but also those expected to cover their duties. Ensure that deadlines for longer-term projects are not in popular holiday seasons.

One obvious example is mandatory training; avoid scheduling longer courses or stick to microlearning courses only!

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5. Map responsibilities

Responsibilities maps are enshrined within UK financial services through the SMCR - not as a gimmick, but because they work. The idea is simple and can be as low-key as a spreadsheet.

You list all the key tasks your business engages in and who is responsible for each. Then, you can ensure that each is covered by another person during holidays or sickness.

6. Cross-train staff

Once you have your responsibilities map, you can fill gaps through cross-training, creating a more versatile team that can cover for one another during absences.

This reduces the risk of overlooking key tasks or facing a knowledge or skills gap when someone leaves for another job.

It is also a great way to upskill staff and facilitate career progression.

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7. Hire temporary staff

One way to cover tasks while employees are on holiday is to hire temporary staff.

While a flexible solution, hiring temporary workers may mean higher wages, more mistakes, and even complaints or fines. This means they must have adequate training and supervision.

Based on your responsibilities map, you can reduce this risk by cross-training permanent staff to cover the more complex work and using temporary staff only for simpler tasks.

8. Harness Technology

Affordable HR software options are available for small businesses. A calendar app, spreadsheet, or basic HR software can help you streamline requesting, tracking, and approving leave. This gives everyone a clear view of who's out and when.

Project management platforms and instant messaging apps can help to keep your team connected and ensure smooth knowledge transfer during staff absences.

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