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Where is Everybody? Managing Employee Absences During the Holiday Season

December 22, 2015

By: Crystal Spraggins

It’s the holidays, and it won’t be long before the sense of urgency your employees normally demonstrate takes a marked nosedive.

It’s only natural. Right on cue with the holiday parties, company-sponsored gift exchanges, and daily influx of seasonal treats most employees will start to slow down as they look forward to time away from work.

As the manager, how do you handle your employees’ requests for time off? Regardless of the holidays, you’re still responsible for seeing that work gets done, and some departments—such as Finance and HR—will experience workload increases as they scramble to meet year-end deadlines even while preparing for the year to come.

But employees have been known to get grumpy if not downright hostile when they can’t use “their” time. How should you decide who gets to leave and who must stay?

Here are a few suggestions.

Develop a System and Stick with It

Many companies have rules about how much notice employees need to give when requesting time off, but others leave these decisions to the manager's discretion. If that’s the case at your company, you’ll do well to develop your own system (whether based on seniority; first come, first served; or some other parameter), communicate it to your staff, and stick with it.

Be a Facilitator

A well-functioning team is likely capable of organizing itself around the issue of holiday employee coverage, so let your employees give it a shot. Be available to help facilitate any sticky areas, of course, but if Sue is okay covering the office so that Marty can fly home to be with family (even though Marty didn’t give the customary notice because his plans only came together at the last minute) let her. 

Be Flexible

The line between work and home has all but disappeared over the last few years, especially as smartphones have gotten more popular, and checking email has become a national obsession. If work from home would allow your employees to meet personal and work obligations, consider allowing it—ditto for a temporary part-time schedule or flexible hours. 

Plan for a Slow Down

If at all possible, avoid assigning big projects or deadline-driven work as the holidays approach. You’ll be less frustrated (and so will your employees) if you avoid the possibility of certain conflicts even occurring.

Offer Special Incentives

If you can afford it, and it makes sense for your business, offer special incentives to entice employees to work when they otherwise wouldn’t. Special incentives could include spot bonuses, differential pay, or increased paid leave to be used at a later date.

Be Nice

Much has been written about the “nice” boss who can’t get the job done because he cares too much about being liked, but let’s face it—no one wants to work with a jerk! What’s more, employees will go out of their way to accommodate a boss they like and respect. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to fret the schedule.

And, finally, when all else fails …

Let It Go

If your department can survive on less than a skeleton crew, do yourself a favor and decide that stressing about who won’t be around as the year comes to a close is a worthless waste of energy. The holidays are a once-a-year event, and no matter how much everyone does, there will always be more work! So, for these few weeks, give in to the reduced pace as you wish your staff, “Happy Holidays!” Come January; it’ll be back to business as usual.
It’s understandable if employee leave requests are beginning to turn you into a bit of a Scrooge, but there’s no reason to lose your holiday spirit! Instead, follow our tips for managing employee absences, and then go ahead and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.

What are your tips for managing employee absences during the holidays?

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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