Running Your Business

6 Tips for Managing Holiday Time-Off Requests


  • Holiday time-off requests can be overwhelming as employees tend to want the same days off

  • Try alternating major holidays and providing incentives for your employees to use vacation time during the year

  • Don't make assumptions or use a strict seniority system to determine who's working


Posted by December 2, 2018

Holiday time-off requests can be overwhelming. Everyone wants the exact same days off, and may submit their requests at the exact same time. So, how do you manage to keep your employees happy and your business running?

It’s not easy, but there are some things that you can do to make it easier. Not every solution works for every business, but take a look at this list of six helpful suggestions.

1. Alternate Major Holidays

If your business is open on major holidays, managing vacation requests can be extra difficult. Alternating holidays can be a useful approach. So, if one person gets Thanksgiving off, then they have to work Christmas or New Year’s Day.

If your business isn’t open on the holiday but is on the days surrounding it, the same principles can apply. For instance, if John worked on the day after Thanksgiving, he gets priority for the day after Christmas over Sue, who had Black Friday off.

2. Be Honest With Your Hiring Practices

If vacation time during the holiday season will be limited, make sure people know that from the very beginning. Yes, it may cause some otherwise good candidates to walk away, but the people you do hire will be prepared. Those who live close to their extended families often prefer to use their vacation time at other times during the year, so limited December time-off won’t be a big deal for them.

In some industries, this is obvious: if you are hiring for a hospital, people know that things don’t stop over Christmas. But they may be surprised if you’re an accounting firm. Be honest.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

Some business owners may consider having Jewish employees work the week between Christmas and New Year’s while letting Catholic employees take it off. While this might seem like a logical approach, consider the fact that all employees’ kids have the exact same days off from school, and this may be the only time they can travel to see grandma (regardless of whether or not they celebrate Christmas). Don’t prioritize requests based on assumptions or when you think employees might desire the time.

4. Give Encouragement to Work During the Holidays

You can give bonus pay to people who work on major holidays, or have particular time periods cost more vacation time. (For instance, every day off taken in December could subtract 1.25 days from an employee’s PTO bank.) Things like this often sort out your problem for you. If John wants the holiday pay, he’ll be willing to work. This allows Sue, who really wants it off, to take the time.

5. Encourage Vacation During the Year

Many companies have “use it or lose it” vacation policies, but employees can find it difficult to get time off at other points during the year. Make sure that requests are approved for vacation at other times. Also tell your managers to follow up with employees who have large quantities of unused vacation time. This can prevent having multiple time-off requests come through right at the end of the year.

6. Don’t Use a Strict Seniority System

Lots of companies use a seniority-based system when determining who gets the high-demand days off. While this seems logical, it can mean that the same three people get Christmas off every year. That is likely to be demoralizing to the newer staff. Stick with a system that allows everyone an opportunity.

Holiday time-off requests don’t have to be a disaster for productivity. Planning in advance and providing the right incentives can help you get through this busy time.

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