While many of us are looking forward to the most wonderful time of the year, people professionals and business owners will be preparing for staffing chaos.
As Christmas approaches, employers will likely anticipate a surge in annual leave requests from employees eager to spend the holiday season with their loved ones. This annual tradition of requesting time off during the festive period to celebrate with friends and family and recharge and relax is coupled with the rush to use accrued annual leave before they ‘lose it’ come the new calendar year.
Statistics indicate that annual leave taken in December 2022 in the UK had almost DOUBLED (90%) from the previous month and were up a whopping 48% from the average amount of annual leave taken during a month on average that year.
And this surge, while understandable, often places a significant administrative burden on HR and creates logistical challenges in the form of understaffing.
Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, explains how to calm the Christmas chaos:
“Depending on the industry, December can either be a quiet period of scaled back productivity—or the complete opposite.
“Some businesses, like factories for example, may wish to impose a shutdown over the festive period—but to enforce employees to take annual leave during this period, they’ll need to give double the amount of notice for how long you want them to take off. For example, two weeks’ notice should be given for enforcing one week of annual leave.
“Whereas other sectors, particularly delivery services, retail, and hospitality will likely need all hands-on deck to meet the increased demand. In these scenarios, it’s best to communicate with staff ahead of time the expectations around working hours. You may wish to implement a cap on the number of people on annual leave per day and make your annual leave request process simple and known.
“Allow annual leave where you feasibly can of course, but if that’s just not possible, you may need to decline requests to keep those wheels turning. But remember you must manage requests fairly, and not automatically favour one individual or group over another. Often, the best course of action is first come, first served. Many fall into trap of feeling compelled to prioritise parents of young children. But this is not necessarily the case, and in fact, can lead to unfair treatment and even discrimination claims.
“Let’s get real: most people don’t want to work over Christmas. But there are ways to make the prospect seem a little sweeter and to keep morale high. Consider paying extra to incentivise your employees, or catering a lunch and allowing casual dress for those that will be spending their time in the office. You could even ensure that those staff whose annual leave requests were declined this time, first refusal for next year, or during another popular period.
“If you’re finding there are many employees vying to use up their stash of accumulated holiday come the end of the year, you may need to ensure they are having ample breaks throughout rest of the year. That’s why frequent reminders for employees to use their holiday, particularly once the summer rush is over, will help you avoid an influx of annual leave requests later in the year.
“Another way to remedy this is by implementing a policy where employees can take over unused leave to the next calendar year which lessens the probability of people requesting a lot of leave over December. Although this may in some cases be even more problematic with even higher volumes of annual leave to manage.
“Thankfully gone are the days where employers need to rely on outdated paper-based systems that sees requests pile up and be difficult to keep on top of. Absence management software provides ability for employees to take into own hands and request leave which can then be digitally approved or defined in a click by a manager. And to avoid understaffing issues, caps can be implemented to ensure that you’ve got appropriate cover at all times.”