For many workers, the holidays are a much-anticipated time of year, when they look forward to taking some much-needed r&r away from work. But for others it means stress, headaches and a managerial nightmare. Managing workloads and company productivity between Thanksgiving and new Year's is an annual challenge for management and employees.
Each December, with most employees taking some amount of time off, companies operate with a significantly reduced workforce, putting company products, profits and client service at risk. Fortunately, there are specific actions that both management and employees can take to better manage holiday schedules and maintain company efficiency - while still enjoying time away from the office.
According to a recent survey of 100 employees across a variety of industries and positions, the No. 1 challenge employees face when trying to secure time off is managing expectations with clients and customers while they are out.
The first fundamental step in managing these expectations is to understand client behavior and workload. Rather than scheduling time off solely based on balancing a company's own staff schedules, the task should be done with the clients' schedules and workloads in mind.
Towards the end of the year, do clients experience vacation-driven lows, or is it a steady workload throughout the season? It's also possible that client needs actually increase during these months. First understanding client demands for each season will help a company better prepare and manage its own workforce, and ultimately serve the client more effectively.
When a client workload remains stable or actually increases during December, actions need to be taken to sustain those client demands while enabling employees to take their earned vacations. Tap into additional resources, such as hiring interim professionals for a few months. Complete certain projects well ahead of schedule, before Thanksgiving hits.
From the employee's perspective, before taking time off each should develop a plan to address anticipated client needs. They should present the plan to a manager and, once approved, communicate it to both coworkers and the client, so that everyone is on the same page.
Share points of contacts, the status of projects, and who might be covering certain tasks while others are out. Be clear about what will and won't be done while employees are away from the office. This communication helps the staff left working in the office feel empowered and confident to tackle the tasks at hand that may be out of their comfort zone. Clients know exactly what to expect and there are no surprises.
BRING YOUR 'A' GAME YEAR-ROUND
Load and capacity planning is critical to remaining productive and efficient. Standardizing workflows, routines and work instructions enables a company to plan for the annual vacation periods so that work output is predictable and reliable for the entire year, not just for December.
Cross-training of employees offers companies advantages for the full calendar year, not just during peak vacation seasons, which also includes the summer months. Equipping co-workers to handle tasks while others are away from the office helps maintain levels of production and service. Successful cross-training ensures minimal disruption to company operations when planned and unplanned absenteeism (i.e., sick days) occurs, as well as employee turnover.
FIGHTING FOR TIME
Co-workers often have to compete for time off at the end of the year when multiple people want the same week or days off. From an employee's standpoint, working with co-workers, rather than against them, on this point will work in their favor.
Being flexible with the requested days off and willing to coordinate days with others goes a long way.
If two co-workers can agree on different time off and coordinate work coverage, it makes the manager's job much easier to grant the requested time off.
Think of managers, too, who also want to take some time. If an employee doesn't need specific days off, for example, offering managers first choice could come back to the employee tenfold.
READY AND RE-ENERGIZED
Employees truly enjoying some quality rest and relaxation outside of the office is the real measure of success here. Staff then comes back refreshed and eager to put forth a renewed effort towards their work.
A little bit of planning will make sure your company runs optimally, and profitably, all holiday season long.
Frank Fenello is managing director of UHY Advisors in Atlanta. Reach him at ffenello@ uhy-us.com.
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