Many businesses require some kind of operational hours over the Christmas period, but similarly most businesses have a workforce who all want time off at this time of year. So how do you balance the needs of the business with the happiness of your staff? Here are some tips to help you manage this difficult issue more smoothly:

Scheduling Christmas with shift work

It’s sensible to consider Christmas on a separate basis from whatever normal rota system you operate. The needs of the business and also of your employees are highly likely to differ at the festive period from a normal working week, and a separate system should help you ensure fairness, appropriate cover for the business and a trouble-free holiday period.

You could draw lots for the least popular shifts, offer incentives to cover unpopular working days, or develop a different system, but make sure staff are clear how shifts will be allocated at this time, because it can become emotive, and make sure whatever decision-making process you use is transparent.  Consider whether you will allow ‘swaps’ between members of staff who end up with shifts they are both happy to exchange.

Prioritise those with young families or not?

This can be a contentious one. In some workplaces when allocating shifts over Christmas or priority for annual leave bookings, those with young children are given priority. But is this fair? Of course parents want to be with their children on Christmas Day, but actually, many other employees will want to be with family at that time as well.

Adult ‘children’ may well be living far from their parents and immediate family, and see them infrequently, so spending time with them at this time of year is important. If all their family are getting together on Christmas Day and they can’t take it off because a parent in their team has been given priority, that is likely to cause resentment, particularly if it happens every year.

A system which allows every member of staff who wants to take time off/avoid a Christmas Day rota a fair opportunity to do so may well be better. Or at least if you are considering giving parents of young children priority, discuss it with the team. It may be that they are happy to do so, in which case that’s fine and can work well – non-parents may prefer to be off at New Year, or staff of other religions who may not celebrate Christmas might be happy to take those shifts. But imposing that kind of policy may cause a problem.

Other religions

Staff of other religions may be happy to cover those shifts which fall on Christmas Day, but don’t assume that’s the case. Many people of other religions still ‘celebrate’ Christmas or at least take the opportunity of time off work to spend with their family. You can still ask whether those employees are happy to take the lion’s share of work rotas during holiday times but don’t take it for granted.

Be flexible about cover

If you’re the kind of business which goes very quiet between Christmas and New Year but you do need some cover, think about how this can be achieved. Do you really need people in the office the full day every working day during that period? Or can you reduce hours a bit, allow some home working, or allow staff to be available for calls/checking emails while being at home with their families? If that kind of arrangement is possible, it can earn you a lot of goodwill as an employer.

First come first served for holiday?

Annual leave during the Christmas/New Year period can be a contentious issue. Many staff want to take some time off to spend with their families, but other than closure days, you are not necessarily going to be able to agree to what everyone wants.

It’s important to be fair, and key in this is having a system. It might be that Christmas annual leave dates are ‘available’ to be booked on a certain date and it’s first-come-first served. If you have long-standing staff you could come up with an arrangement whereby staff take it in turns year-on-year so it works out fair overall. Or in a small team it might well be possible to sit down with everyone and negotiate something between you all so that enough cover is provided and people get some time off which feels fair and works for their personal arrangements.

Be clear about arrangements

As with many aspects of being an employer, the most important thing is to be clear about what’s happening. Make sure staff are fully aware of how decisions about time off and shifts will be made. Clarity will significantly reduce the likelihood of staff feeling things are unfair or that favouritism is involved.

 

If you’d like some advice on managing time off during the upcoming festive season, do get in touch.