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The Summertime Crunch

Our latest workforce survey reveals that 69% of US workers polled plan to take off time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  This obviously presents challenges for employers who seek to keep their operations running smoothly throughout these peak vacation months.

According to our board member Steve Hunt, what employers should NOT do is discourage employees from  using their vacation.  This is especially true when managing employees in high stress jobs who might readily forego vacation if they thought it could adversely affect their careers.  There is quite a bit of empirical research showing that vacation plays an important role in keeping people physically healthy in terms of managing stress.   People who do not take vacation are likely to suffer decreased work performance and satisfaction over time.  Vacations really do allow us to “recharge” and avoid burn-out – as such they can be thought of playing a similar role for ensuring a long-term, effective workforce as ensuring employees’ work schedules allow them to get a reasonable amount of sleep.

All that being said, there are practices that organizations and their employees can use in the summer months to balance the needs of the business with the employees’ need to take their well deserved time off.    The following suggestions are offered by our board of advisors:

Organizations and Managers:

  • Should have a formal (ideally written) policy regarding time off requests
  • Should provide workers with paid time off – to refresh themselves and to help avoid absence abuses – and should encourage workers to take that time
  • Should collaborate with their teams to optimize the fulfillment of worker’s requests for time off
  • Should avail themselves of automated scheduling and analytics tools (for workforce/staffing planning) to ensure that managers have visibility into worker availability and can plan for shift coverage
  • Can use absence management software to provide workers with accrual information and managers with a consistent means of tracking time taken
  • May need to consider creative sourcing and/or temporary workers to cover for vacationing workers – especially this summer when the availability of visas for foreign temporary workers is held up in Congress as part of the ongoing wrangle over immigration reform.  Here in Massachusetts, tourist businesses on Cape Cod have stepped up their high school recruiting to cover for the loss of workers from Eastern Europe.
  • Should plan work initiatives with the higher rate of vacationing workers in mind; avoid launching major initiatives when resources will be scarcer.
  • Consider flextime policies (e.g. 4 x 10 hrs days) during summer months.  One of our board members indicated that a large public company he worked for experienced a drop in absenteeism for employees on the summer flextime schedules compared to those who remained on regular schedules.
  • Can implement shift schedules for hourly employees that result in a lower likelihood of employees taking unexcused absences.  A great example is manufacturing companies that move from 5-day, 8-hour schedules to 12-hour shift schedules.  There’s a popular pattern (12-hrs) called the “every other weekend off” schedule, in which employees never work more than 2-3 days in a row and get Fri, Sat, and Sun off every other week. Absences go way down for companies that implement this schedule, compared to more traditional schedules.  It doesn’t require any more people and results in the same level of production; it’s simply a more employee-friendly schedule.
  • Should seek insight into how to address staffing coverage in summer months by looking at historical trends of both labor drivers AND vacation time booked.  Doing this requires quite a bit of discipline and analysis, but once the models are in place, you can re-run them with little additional effort.


Employees:

  • Need to understand that their company needs to manage through popular vacation times and that managers are within their rights to refuse vacation time when the business needs call for it
  • Can help their management by anticipating the business problems caused their absence and doing what they can to mitigate the problems; i.e. finish projects before departure, acquire coworker agreements to cover shifts, meetings, etc.
  • Be proactive in anticipating the impact your absence will have not only within your own department, but cross functionally as well.  Let your internal and external stakeholders know about your planned absence well in advance so that their planning can be adjusted accordingly.
  • Take your vacation – and be as disconnected from work as possible while doing do so that you can recharge your batteries.  In his recent post in Workforce Management, John Hollon talks about the increasing trend of workers staying connected throughout their vacations- which about 25% of us do.

Learn more about managing through the summertime crunch in this podcast:

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Pat #

    Thanks for this timely post.

    I recommend when managers are creating goals for their employees they create three separate goals:
    -performance or project goals
    -development goals
    -vacation goals

    When employees know that their manager supports their time to unwind from the day-to-day stresses of work, they actually perform better. In addition, the manager can plan the department’s deliverables better knowing when their employees are off.

    Finally, the manager needs to plan their own vacation time. They too need to step back away from their management responsibilities to replenish their spirit.

    Pat

    June 3, 2008

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