The end of the year is a hectic time for most businesses. With the holiday season around the corner, employees are looking for a well-deserved break from work and time to relax with their friends and families.

For business owners and team leaders, establishing a fair vacation scheduling policy can feel like a struggle. It can be quite complicated to accommodate the wishes of all employees while at the same time balancing the needs of your business.

Holiday work schedules are often a sensitive issue that can have a big impact on your staff’s morale, as well as on overall team productivity. It’s also one of the most common major scheduling issues for businesses, no matter the industry.

This is one issue where a little planning and proactive communication can go a long way. With the help of solid, clearly-worded policy paired with useful tools, it’s possible to set up a practical and fair holiday work schedule. Here are easy-to-follow strategies you can use to get started.

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How to craft a fair employee schedule

How do you manage staff holidays? That’s a million-dollar question for a team leader every holiday season — and even during the rest of the year. These practical tips will save you from some otherwise inevitable holiday headaches.

1. Start by consulting with your staff

Since setting up the employee holiday calendar is a delicate matter, your best approach is to open a dialogue with your team early on. By doing this, you can have people involved in the process, allowing them to express their wishes and to learn the company’s considerations directly from you. This approach creates a sense of teamwork and togetherness, instead of pushing everybody to follow their own agenda.

Some of the questions that you can ask your employees include:

  • Which holidays are most significant for each person?
  • Are people willing to work on certain holidays in return for having others off?
  • What’s the best way to submit vacation requests in advance?

This conversation is also a good moment to inform your team if you intend for certain days to be worked no matter what, so that people have them in mind before making their own plans. Clear expectations now lead to less hassle down the road. Keeping employees in the loop is a key tactic to ensure they’re informed and engaged, even if some compromises are necessary.

Once you’ve collected people’s preferences, you can use them to craft preliminary scheduling. This asset can gradually evolve into the central planner for all of your holiday work schedules. If there are lots of overlaps in the vacation requests, you can also consider asking employees to work out a good option between themselves before submitting their formal requests to you.

2. Balance between spring/summer and fall/winter holidays

The question of how to manage staff holidays doesn’t pop up only around Christmas and New Year. Important religious and cultural holidays take place throughout the entire calendar year, and on top of that employees need regular work breaks in order to replenish their energy and have some personal time. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a year-round holiday time off policy.

One practical approach is to balance the vacation time of each employee seasonally — both for the spring/summer period and for the fall/winter one. When you’re gathering input from people, you can see the most important holidays for team members in the two respective halves of the year. Then you can adjust the scheduling with their preferences in mind, and by making sure that each person gets a break both in the first and second part of the year.

3. If you can, close your business on major holidays

It’s unavoidable that working on holidays is crucial for retail and a number of other sectors. However, if your type of business you’re in allows it, consider announcing certain days as company holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day are often seen as days to be with one’s family, so your employees will appreciate having that time off. You can also include a few other days surrounding the actual holidays as well, but that decision will depend on your business strategy and processes.

While it may seem like a stretch for the company’s bottom line, this is an investment in your employees’ well-being. The more that your people see that you care, the more motivated they’ll be in their daily work throughout the year. What’s more, a good rest always has positive effects on the overall productivity of the team.

4. Minimize staff shifts on other holidays

After consulting with your team members on which holidays are important for them, you can make a plan for the not-so-major holidays. Typically, businesses choose not to close for Labor Day, for example. If that’s your take as well, consider reducing the number of employees needed in the office on such days. They’re usually lighter in terms of tasks, and some people would prefer to work on those less-important holidays and then get a day off some other time that works well for them.

The best approach is to figure out the minimum number of people you need on a certain holiday. Then you have to take into account which team members have to be on duty, according to their skill set and position. With these factors in mind, you can make a few well-planned combinations and take the burden off the rest of your team. You can also offer reduced hours if you know you need some coverage but still want to have a lighter workload on certain days.

5. Use hands-on scheduling software

Setting up the holiday schedule for your employees, even when you have all the information and have made compromises with each other, can still be tough. There’s always a lot to keep in mind while planning, so it’s a great help to streamline the process with a time tracking and scheduling platform like Hubstaff. On top of holiday scheduling, the tool also handles payroll, logging hours, and budgeting, among a lot of other features.

Hubstaff offers easy employee scheduling that brings clarity for your team, and to your holiday work planning. It will also turn into an irreplaceable partner in managing your holiday PTO policy. People can easily check when they have to work, and they can do it on-the-go from any device. You can set time limits for different team members, as well as get an overview of employees’ individual schedules on top of your overall team scheduling. Best of all, you save precious time and can directly review and approve employee holiday requests right inside the platform.

6. Prepare employees to share responsibilities

Getting ready for the holiday schedule is a good opportunity to make sure enough people on your team know how to handle certain clusters of tasks. This will allow team members to take time off without worrying about who will cover them while they’re away.

Whether you’re minimizing staff for some holidays or creating a rotation schedule, it’s essential to get your team to split up and transfer responsibilities. If only certain people know how to complete a task, they should either instruct the rest or be scheduled in a way that one of them is around at all times. Thinking about these details in advance will save you a lot of stress later on.

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7. Offer bonuses for holiday work

People will find it easier to handle working on a holiday if you provide them with some incentives. Naturally, the most direct one is to offer paid holiday work. The bigger paycheck will help ensure you will have enough staff for highly desirable holidays. Other incentives can include additional time off after the holidays or other paid bonuses, like overtime pay.

8. Give a remote work option

If your business allows it, offering employees the option to work from home around and during the holidays can be a win-win for everybody. People will enjoy the opportunity to spend more time around the house, to take care of errands in-between work tasks, or to travel and work from another location entirely. This would also give them the flexibility that regular jobs often lack. At the same time, you’ll be sure that projects will not lag during the holidays.

While for some business owners remote work seems too complicated, it doesn’t need to be. Using time tracking software, you can have an overview of your employees’ schedules and worked hours even when they’re not in the office. Testing work from home around the holidays may even inspire a new, more liberal remote work policy in your company for the rest of the year.

9. Set up a holiday rotation schedule

In some fields, closing for the holidays simply isn’t possible — like for medical staff and retail. It’s not unusual for these professionals to work on holidays and even to take extra shifts when the holiday workload is heavier. The only approach in these cases is to set up a fair rotation schedule.

How to schedule holiday rotations? You have to ensure that the burden doesn’t fall on a few people only and that it’s evenly distributed. It’s also important to track who covers which holidays from year to year, so that each year different employees get key dates, like Christmas, off every other year. You can also consider using pre-made holiday rotation templates, if they fit your working style.

Get started with shaping your holiday schedule

Creating a fair employee holiday schedule can be a tough task. With a few basic tactics, however, you can ensure that team members won’t get frustrated and that you can continue operating your business in a way that keeps everyone happy. The key essentials to keep in mind are to set up a two-way communication with people and to use employee scheduling software.

Keep everyone on the same page, make it easy to stay on top of schedules and you’ll be making sure that everyone’s holidays are happy.