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Top 3 Tips for Staffing the Office during the Holidays without Upsetting Employees and Looking Bad

Summary: With some proper planning and these tips, keeping your office staffed during the holidays will not be a problem.

Use these 3 tips to keep your office staffed during the holidays.
 
"You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.
"If quite convenient, sir."
"It's not convenient, and it's not fair… A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."
--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Thankfully, times have changed a bit since the days of Ebenezer Scrooge. The year-end holidays are not so much a luxury as an expected benefit for employees everywhere.

But what about businesses that have to remain open during the holidays? The idea of letting every employee have a day off on Thanksgiving or Christmas just isn't practical in many fields, such as healthcare and the media. And there are many other businesses that (wisely or not) choose to stay open on those days.

Holidays, Folly Days

What's a manager to do when every employee wants to take time off for the holidays, but not all can? How does one choose which staffers are granted their wish—and which are forced to work? The answer varies, but one key point to keep in mind is this: Be fair, be consistent, and be upfront about your staffing policy.

There are no legal requirements regarding staff holiday and vacation time, but all employees are entitled to equitable treatment. If an employee is obligated to work on Christmas Day while his or her coworkers are granted time off, that employee also is entitled to a day off at some other point.

Some businesses follow seniority guidelines when determining which employees are given time off on a holiday. There's nothing wrong with that, unless your workplace experiences low turnover and the same poor sap winds up working every year.

Other managers take a "first-come, first-served" approach to time-off requests. This can work, but only if all employees are informed of the policy at the same time and have an equal opportunity to put in their requests.

There are some offices that randomly draw staffing assignments during the holiday season. Again, this is fair on the surface—unless the aforementioned sap happens to draw the short straw more often than his or her co-workers.

To avoid unneeded conflict and heartache, your best bet as a manager facing vacation requests during this time of year is to confront the issue as early as possible—and let your employees weigh in with their thoughts during the process. Nothing diffuses resentment better than allowing workers the opportunity to help make decisions that affect them directly.

Staffing with Style

Having said all that, here are some ideas you may want to consider as you tackle your holiday staffing issues:
 
  • See if any employees are willing to work on holidays in exchange for time off at a later date. Many of them may actually agree to work on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day if the future reward is worthwhile. Plus, many families celebrate on days that fall around—but not exactly on—the holiday, usually because of traveling schedules and/or traditions. Find out now. It could go a long way toward solving your problem.
  • Offer more pay for holiday work. This has long been a perk enjoyed by folks protected by unions—better pay for less-than-ideal work shifts. There's no reason why you couldn't do likewise, even in a small office environment. Money talks.
  • Make your holiday policy crystal-clear, and make it visible. The best time to do this, of course, is during the hiring process. Each and every time you bring someone on board, outline how the office is staffed during the holidays and how vacation requests are handled. Doing so will prevent complaints and hurt feelings down the line.
Finally, once a decision is made, stick to it. I once had an employee who was scheduled to work Christmas Day. The schedule was posted six weeks in advance. No problem. Everyone's on the same page, right? Wrong. Three days before Christmas, his brother announces that he's coming into town to visit—all of a sudden, the schedule "just has to be changed." No, it doesn't. Changing the schedule at such a late date would have affected other staff members. It's okay to have empathy; but before you act on that feeling, take into account how that action will affect your other employees.