I run a catering business in a midsize metropolitan area. The end-of-the year holidays are a very busy time for us. We maintain a staff of 15 full-time employees, including an office manager, scheduling director, kitchen and bar supervisors, and a client manager. Each person plays a vital role in our organization, but there is little overlap in responsibilities. We also have a regular group of about 36 part-time staff, each working about 20-30 hours per week and having some scheduling flexibility. If necessary, like for larger events, we also bring in extra workers, using a temporary staffing agency.
Here’s our dilemma: at least five of our full-time employees and more than a dozen of our part-time workers have let us know that they need significant time off during the Christmas and New Year’s weeks. We’ve tried to implement a first-come, first-off policy, but this seems unfair in some situations. For example, one person who hadn’t requested any time off just found out that his father has advanced-stage cancer, and isn’t expected to live much longer than a few months. Another is engaging in what feels almost like job blackmail: her boyfriend bought her a surprise trip to Aruba, she’s threatening to quit if she doesn’t get the time off, and she’s a vital, full-time employee that will be difficult to replace.
What do we do to survive this holiday season?
-- Holidays Equal Lotsa Problems
What a dilemma! Good for you for having a formal request-off policy for popular vacation times. But as you’re realizing, sometimes it’s not possible or feasible to adhere rigidly to even a great system. Emergencies happen, and you can make exceptions – but be sure to document your reasoning in their personnel file and your attendance record system. (An integrated HR and HCM system that keeps all your scheduling, payroll, and employee documentation in one place makes this recordkeeping a snap.) That way, you’ll protect yourself against allegations of unfairness in the application of the request-off policy (which should be written to take into account that management has the final say in approving requests off).
To some extent, it makes a lot of sense to keep your current employees happy and accommodate as many requests off as possible. Obviously, you won’t be able to accommodate everyone, but retaining existing employees is much less costly than hiring and training new ones (especially for the ones that play pivotal roles in your organization).
Here are a few ways to survive the holiday requests off:
Obviously, certain staffing requirements are event-specific (you can’t serve dinner weeks in advance of a wedding that hasn’t happened yet). But it might be possible to do certain things farther in advance than normal, like planning out the holiday schedule a month or more in advance rather than two weeks, or stocking up on supplies in greater quantities to reduce having to plan and place orders during the busiest period. Do as much as you can, as early as you can, to lighten everyone’s holiday workload and free up resources.
Also, look into ways that you can automate certain tasks that aren’t time-specific but take up time. Set up auto-pay for company bills like rent, utilities, and insurance. If you routinely place orders for supplies, set a recurring order for your repeat necessities at regular intervals. Automating your payroll and scheduling systems can save many hours of time and immeasurable amounts of stress, both during the holidays and beyond, and can make sure that schedules stay up-to-date for everyone, even if you make last-minute changes. StarGarden’s workflow automation solutions can help your employees focus on helping your business grow and thrive – and also allow them to take time off to rest and recharge.
You mentioned that you already use a temp service when you need extra staff for events – why not consider using them for other positions? Even if a temporary hire can’t do the same job as your full-time position, he or she may be able to triage a request or issue until the regular employee returns or another employee can step in.
If you’re struggling to fill holiday shifts for on-call or part-time employees, sweeten the pot. This can be as simple as offering more per-hour pay for these shifts, or you can be more creative. For instance, offer an incentive program that anyone working a certain shift will be entered in a raffle to win a pedicure or foot massage, or a gift certificate. For full-time employees, you might offer a creative trade: if they agree to work on a holiday, they earn extra PTO time to use in January or February of the new year (or during whatever your less-busy season is). Make efforts to make in-office work more appealing, too, with perks like free lunches or happy hours.
Offer deals to clients around the holidays that are win-win arrangements that make it easier on your staff. For example, offer a discount if they finalize their meal and drink choices extra early (allowing you to schedule an automated order before their event). Offer a discount for advance payment in full, rather than having to handle it during the busiest time (freeing up a lot of time for your accounts receivable manager) – or offer to not bill them until the beginning of the next year, if your business can bear the delayed payments.
Finally, HELP, there are some things you may just have to let slide a little while you’re a little short-staffed. Obviously, things like payroll and health and safety issues demand continued vigilance … but if the office gets a little messy or disorganized, and the Christmas decorations hang around until February, that may be a price of keeping your employees happy and preventing overworking.