Many managers will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the vacation season. While recognizing how important it is to encourage people to take time off, keeping the business running smoothly can be a challenge over this period.
A survey my firm ran earlier this year found that almost half of U.S. workers don’t take all of their earned vacation time and another half of workers check in remotely while they are away. One of the reasons that people give for not taking their time off or for logging in over the break is the fear of work building up while they are away.
Work does build up; most people are familiar with that sinking feeling a huge pile of unread emails can engender when they come back in after some time off.
And most business leaders will be familiar with a similar twinge of unease when they look at the vacation planner and find that several key people are all away at once. Most businesses will end up with periods when all the high performers seem to have headed off together and there is a risk that the revenue will suffer.
With the summer vacation season at an end and the winter holidays around the corner, this may be a good moment to think about three key ways to manage paid time off.
- Give people a reasonable amount of vacation time and encourage them to take it.
There is a fashion in some tech firms to offer the perk of unlimited vacation time. Personally, I think this is a bit of a gimmick — in many of these companies the culture dictates that people don’t take much time off. And it certainly makes it harder to plan — you can’t offer people unlimited time off and then tell them they can’t go away at the same time as Joe and Charlie. Giving people an entitlement and encouraging them to take it is a better basis for encouraging them to plan their time off and spread it over the year.
- Set guidelines about the amount of notice required for vacation requests.
Managers can ask people early in the year to book their vacation dates. Protocols can be set about the number of people in key teams who can be off at any one time. Think about the teams and skill sets and how to spread the load across the whole summer.
This is another argument for a diverse workforce; having people in the workforce who aren’t all at the same age and stage is more likely to lead to a wider spread of vacation preference. For instance, older people who don’t have school-age children often prefer to vacation outside of peak season.
- Look for opportunities to shake things up.
A collision of vacation requests may be an opportunity for someone to try out a different role or to work across a different discipline. Offering staff who don’t go away at peak holiday time the chance to try out a more senior role could be just the incentive you were looking for to encourage talented staff to stay put and take a break at a different time.