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The Summertime Crunch

June 2, 2008

As the official start of summer approaches, the minds of employees everywhere begin to wander toward that age-old question: “What days should I take off from work?” According to “The Summertime Crunch,” a new survey sponsored by The Workforce Institute at Kronos® Incorporated and conducted online via Harris Interactive®, a whopping 69 percent of respondents employed full time plan to take vacation time between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year. While these folks hit the beaches, pools, and lakes around the United States, their co-workers are trying to keep things cool at the office and keep track of who’s working when.

A scheduling nightmare

With large numbers of employees out enjoying the lazy days of summer, finding people to hold down the fort in the office can be a struggle. In fact, 21 percent of full time employees that have vacation time say they have been denied time off because a co-worker had already requested it. Sounds like a clear sign that employees should request time off well in advance, right? Well, not necessarily: 45 percent of those that have vacation time said that their employer does not have a policy regarding advance notice for vacation time — so it’s hard to know when you need to get that request in.

“Employees who are denied requested vacation time are not going to be happy,” notes Joyce Maroney, director of The Workforce Institute. “It behooves organizations to be up-front and set a clear policy for time-off requests. Have a proactive discussion with your group to uncover when people want time off and how can you make it work for the team.”

While only 37 percent of survey respondents that have vacation time say their employer uses an automated system to track or schedule vacations and absences, a full 59 percent said they have to coordinate their time off with co-workers before they go. This creates a challenge for employees who may not have adequate visibility into who will be in and who will be out.

“Having an automated system makes it easier for a manager to see who’s in, who’s out, and who’s qualified to cover for a particular co-worker,” says Maroney. “It can make a seemingly Herculean task much more manageable. Interestingly enough, employees seem to get this, as our survey showed that 41 percent of full-time employees that have vacation time think their employer has benefited or would benefit from using an automated solution to track vacations and absences.”

It’s not only the weather that’s unpredictable

While trying to keep the schedules of planned absences straight, managers will also be faced with a more unpredictable challenge: “Seasonal Absence Syndrome” (SAS), otherwise known as employees calling in sick to enjoy a day off. Fifteen percent of respondents employed full time say that they anticipate calling in “sick” to enjoy a day off from work. And this number may be a conservative estimate given that 37 percent of full-time employees surveyed say they have called in “sick” to enjoy a day off from work in the past.

“While planning for a busy vacation season can be a challenge, it pales in comparison to the bind employers find themselves in when large numbers of employees are absent unexpectedly,” says Maroney. “Best practice organizations ensure that their employees are given ample paid time off from work allowances so that they are not dipping into sick time and leaving their employers in the lurch.”

Survey methodology

“The Summertime Crunch” survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Kronos Incorporated between April 23-25, 2008 among 2,033 U.S. adults aged 18 and over, of whom 1,092 were employed full-time and 1,015 of those had vacation time from their job. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the Harris Interactive online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Workforce Institute’s opinion
Organizations should set a clear policy for time-off requests. Have a proactive discussion with your group to uncover when people want time off and how can you make it work fairly for the whole team.
Use an automated system for tracking absences and for scheduling shifts to see who’s in, who’s out, and who’s qualified to cover for a particular co-worker
Anticipate employees calling in sick unexpectedly to enjoy a day off.
Give employees ample paid time off from work to relax and recharge their batteries.

To see more suggestions, visit Joyce Maroney’s Summertime Crunch May 31st blog.

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