NEW YORK -- With Memorial Day just weeks away, many people are thinking about taking time off during the summer. Small business owners need to be planning too, to be sure employee vacations don't cause strife in the workplace or a drop in productivity.
Human resources professionals say the time between now and late May is when small companies should be doing their vacation planning, and, if they expect to need temporary help, begin recruiting. Owners also should be considering their vacation policies, creating a written document if they don't already have one, or making necessary changes to an existing one.
A vacation policy, like any other policy affecting the workplace, is designed to provide a sense of stability. Vacation policies should detail how much time off staffers are entitled to, when they're allowed to take it, the process they need to go through to get time off approved and how conflicts with other staffers' requests will be handled.
"Employees need to understand what they have to work with," said Mary Massad, managing director of recruiting services for Administaff Inc., a Houston-based company that provides human resources outsourcing.
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A vacation policy also should help eliminate workers' concerns about favoritism. If, for example, vacation is granted by seniority, staffers will understand from the get-go that those with the longest tenure get to pick first.
"Having a policy in place in advance that you can consistently apply across the organization is key to maintaining a culture of fairness in the organization," said Jay Keegan, CEO of Adams Keegan, a Memphis, Tenn.-based human resources management firm.
But consistent shouldn't be confused with draconian.
"You want to remain flexible," said Massad, who recommended that a vacation policy be considered a set of guidelines.
She noted that in offices where there's an atmosphere that encourages cooperation and camaraderie, employees are likely to help sort out the conflicts among themselves.
Some companies, because of the nature of their work, have to prohibit vacations during peak periods. In the summer, an air conditioning repair service probably can't let skilled technicians take much time off. The solution, Keegan said, is let workers know when they're hired that there are blackout periods.
"Having everyone know that part of their employment at the front end, you can insulate yourself from the organization's productivity falling off during a critical time," he said.
Part of vacation planning is figuring out how the work is going to get done when staffers are away. It's particularly critical because of the thin staffing at many small companies, Keegan said.
"One person being out can dramatically impact the productivity of the organization," he said.
There are several solutions. One is to ensure that employees are cross-trained so they can all step in for one another. You'd need that contingency plan for staffers' illnesses, emergencies or jury duty. Massad said cross-training benefits more than the company as a whole: "It's great for employees -- they get to learn a new job, they get to sharpen their skills."
You might also consider temporary help, and this is the time to be looking.