Getting Your Business Holiday Season-Ready

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 20/05/2024

This piece focuses on the negative impact the holiday season has on businesses across the majority of sectors and how to minimise it. We will explore the causes of the issues and advise you on optimisation options.

The holiday season is something every employee is looking forward to. A well-deserved time to rest, unwind and forget about work stress. However, very often it's the exact opposite for businesses. To them, the holiday season means increased stress, a smaller workforce, potential project delays and much more. But here’s the catch: it doesn’t have to be stress-inducing. Especially because the holiday season happens at least twice a year. 

Not to mention, the majority of workers save up their days off for these specific dates. This often leads to multiple people submitting their leave requests for the same time frame, leaving the company shorthanded and understaffed. How do you make sure you don’t find yourself with no one to fulfil day-to-day asks and still keep everyone satisfied? The solution is easier than you think and we will talk it through in this article. 

On the other side of the issue, we have workers who stubbornly refuse to take time off and it affects their efficiency in the long run. We will also be exploring how to address this issue. All in all, the key purpose of this piece is to help you find a healthy balance when it comes to managing time time off. There are ways to make reduce the stress of the holiday season without sacrificing your work quality nor your employee satisfaction. With the right tools in place and a well-thought-out approach, it will never cause you a headache again. 

Why is the Holiday Season Stressful for Businesses?

The biggest issue that comes with the holiday season is that it leaves businesses short on staff. The remaining workers have to shoulder a bigger workload, which can affect both the flow and delivery of the projects. In other words, the holiday season normally causes disruptions in business operations.

If not handled correctly, the restrictions put in place by a shortage of workforce can have negative effects on multiple areas of the business. From the relationships with the clients to direct loss of revenue. In other words, while you are legally obliged to provide your staff with time off, it should be done with strategy in mind. Granting a holiday every time it’s requested, especially during busy periods, can lead to a disaster. 

With all that in mind, the true reason businesses find the holiday season stressful is the lack of preparation for it. It is not as difficult to navigate it even with a limited workforce if you plan ahead. However, most businesses are under the impression they can ‘wing it’. Unfortunately, the reality often proves to be different, sending companies into serious losses twice or more a year. So, what can you do to avoid that? 

The Ins and Outs of Holidays

The concept of time off is an easy one. However, some aspects aren’t often talked about. To become efficient in holiday management and optimisation, you need to be familiar with them as they address some common issues. So, let’s dig into all the nitty-gritties of holiday to make sure you have all the knowledge you need. 

Minimum Holiday Entitlement is Non-Negotiable  

It is mandatory to provide your employees with a national minimum holiday entitlement, which ranges based on the country your company is based in. It’s important to understand that what it stands for is the number of days off the employer compensates and not a limit to how many days off the worker can have overall. Many companies have a policy which allows workers to take additional time off but they will not be paid for those days. That can range from company to company, whereas minimum holiday entitlement is non-negotiable. 

However, the problem doesn’t lie within there not being enough compensated days a year. Quite the opposite. With the ruling mindset that promotes overworking and glorifies consistent 24/7 productivity, most workers don’t claim their full holiday entitlement. When that happens, unclaimed days are meant to roll over into the next year but the number is usually capped. All in all, despite compensated off-work days being mandatory by law, barely anyone takes full advantage of them. It is not a punishable offence as long as the option is there, but it is in your best interest the days are claimed. Even if you have to enforce them. 

Enforcing Time Off

You read that right. Sometimes your employees, no matter how desperate they are, will stubbornly refuse to use their holiday allowance. Whether it’s to impress you with their dedication or being overly determined to meet their quotas, this is not a good practice. Not only does it lead to burnout and resentment but also instead of bringing better results, it hinders productivity and performance. If that’s the case, you can and should enforce time off to give them time to recharge and recover. 

However, as with most things in the workplace, forced measures are rarely welcomed. Before using your authority, you should always try going down the communication route. Explain to the worker you believe is in need of a holiday why you are concerned and how this is for their own benefit. It’s important to make it clear this is not a punishment nor is punishable, but rather that you’re coming from the place of care. If that fails, you are in the right to force them to take time off. Alas, it has to come with a notice period of a number of days you will be requiring them to stop attending work for. 

Planning Ahead

There are two main holiday seasons every year: the Christmas period and the early summer, when school ends. Given they are recurring at the same time, you have ample time to plan how to keep your business afloat during them. Begin by looking at the former years. How many workers did you have on hand? How busy was your business? Did you face any challenges? Answering these questions can help you get a general idea of what were your major struggles, additionally offering an opportunity how to address them moving forward. For example, if you need a certain number of employees but still must grant time off to some, you may consider hiring temporary workers. 

Depending on your industry, however, you may have unique times when business picks up, as well as periods when the majority of your workers will try to get time off. And, sometimes, these two coincide. In case the dates are different and you can’t plan for specific days, your best bet is to have a general strategy that is not time-bound. There are also many tools available on the market to help you not just create the said strategy but also support yourself and the workers during those busy periods. 

Optimising Your Business for the Holiday Season

As we’ve mentioned before, to reduce the stress caused to your business operations by the holiday season, you need to plan ahead. Holiday management is a process, meaning it can be optimised. It touches on both external and internal aspects. If you don’t know where to begin, the following sections will guide you in the right direction.

Communicate Potential Disruptions to the Clients

A common mistake people make in both business and personal lives is assuming others know and understand what is going on. Just because you are entering the holiday season does not mean the client will automatically know you are working with a reduced workforce. This is something that needs to be communicated, or else be ready to face disgruntled emails/calls or general displeasure if things don’t get done on time. Or if they lack in usual quality. A simple heads-up can save you from all that. Your clients also run businesses and find themselves in similar situations - they are very likely to be understanding if you simply warn them in advance. And less forgiving if it comes as an unpleasant surprise. 

In addition to that, depending on how time-sensitive the project is, this can also present an opportunity for you and the client to work out how to expedite the work before the holiday season begins. For example, you may prioritise different tasks based on your team’s availability. Or you may reach an agreement of putting certain things on the back burner, completing them once the workers overseeing them are back. Once again, many things will be trickling down to communication and its efficiency. If done correctly, how you handle potential delays and disruptions can even strengthen your relationship with the client, exposing your human yet trustworthy side to them.

Centralised View of Team’s Availability

It can be tricky not to put yourself in a position of running short on staff when there are multiple holiday requests rolling in. It is very human to forget, especially when affairs such as booking time off are mostly handled using emails. As anyone would know, things are quick to get lost in the inbox. And so, if you’re relying on your email and your memory to book your staff’s holiday, you are under a high risk of accidentally leaving yourself shorthanded. The best solution is moving this specific procedure to a centralised location. A dedicated platform that can handle both time off requests and approvals is usually designed to also provide an overall view of your company’s availability for a selected time frame. Equipped with that, you will be able to estimate whether you can grant a holiday without leaving the business understaffed. 

Additionally, having visibility of who is off and when, you can plan your actions well in advance. As we’ve already discussed, the first step would be notifying the affected clients. Second, it would be wise to evaluate how much work would be left behind by those going on holiday and what is the best way to distribute it across the remaining team to minimise the backlog. Most of the systems aren’t limited to the request time-off either. They also include other sorts of absences such as parental leave, sick days, public holidays and others. On top of offering convenience in booking holidays, designated software can expose absenteeism patterns, allowing you to weed out attendance issues. 

Shift Scheduling Solution

Another way to take the burden of trying to manage the holiday rush manually is to employ a shift scheduling solution. Although it’s mostly relevant to companies that run on a shift-based module, it can benefit the traditional 9-to-5 companies too, especially when they employ contractors to fill in the gaps. Instead of having to think over timetables that don’t clash with legal regulations, align with everyone’s time off and don’t result in too much overtime for some workers, a shift scheduler can take over that task. Some of the solutions already come as a part of holiday management systems, while others can be easily linked with them. Either way, the data regarding staff availability will be taken into consideration when building shifts.

We recommend throwing the timesheet solution into a mix too. It will help you make sure your employees don’t work more hours than they are contracted to and that they are getting paid correctly if there are differentiating rates in place. Some vendors have identified these three tools as working best in tandem and therefore offer them as part of the same package. Another benefit available as part of some shift scheduling solutions is that the process of finding a replacement worker for a shift won’t need your involvement. The tool will either assign the next available employee automatically or your workers can volunteer to take over a shift that’s freed up.

Managing Leave Requests with Ease

We’ve already touched upon the issue of double-booking holidays due to it being tricky to keep track of the requests when they come through to your already busy inbox. But that’s only one issue. Sometimes, holiday requests go unnoticed, sometimes you acknowledge them but forget to act, and various other scenarios. They all lead to the same result, however: your employees are unhappy and you need to make decisions hastily. Often they don’t work in your favour, which again takes us back to poor planning.

A holiday management system, on the other hand, keeps these requests in one place and is organised the way you want them to be. Be it by the submission date, the person’s name, the number of days off request, the date window, or other filters you may be relying on. You can also organise the system by creating custom groups based on departments or specific teams, and assigning them custom approvers. At Timesheet Portal, the one submitting the leave request can choose who their approver is when there are multiple ones. The approvers also don’t need to log into the system to make their decisions. Once the request is in, they get notified via email and can either approve or reject the submission from there. 

Key Takeaway 

The holiday season is stress-inducing to many businesses as not only does it make them operate at reduced capacity but also throws them into admin chaos. Balancing out schedules, ensuring the projects don’t suffer and not overworking the remaining staff are the most common issues. However, there is a solution to this. Doing some planning beforehand can work miracles. And it’s not a complicated process. 

First of all, you need to acknowledge that holiday is very important for your overall company’s success. Even if there are periods that put a strain on the business. Workers are legally entitled to a number of paid time off for a reason. Resting is crucial to keep productivity up as it ensures your workers are refreshed and inspired to deliver their best performance. Sometimes, however, you will find yourself needing to enforce time off - and it’s okay.

What needs to be understood in order to eliminate holiday season-related stress is that holiday management is a process. And just like every process, it can and needs to be optimised. There are tools created specifically for that, like centralised calendar-based systems and shift schedulers. Additionally, it can make a big difference to communicate your lesser operational capacity to your clients beforehand.

Are you still finding yourself running around like a headless chicken every holiday season?  Let us help you get your ducks in a row. Let’s talk.

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Timesheet Portal online software provided by Anfold Software Ltd, a registered company in the UK.