Does an employee's mere mention of the word vacation send chills down your spine? The chaos caused when staffers are away for a week or two can put any entrepreneur into a panic. But it doesn't have to be that way. With a little planning, your company can run smoothly--and your employees can enjoy their vacations without too much dread of returning to work.
Peggy Isaacson, a human resources consultant in Orlando, Florida, suggests you start by creating a master vacation calendar. "At the beginning of each year, find out who already knows when they want to take their vacation and mark it on the calendar," she says. "Of course, not everyone will know what they're going to do that early, but just asking will often get people thinking and planning."
You should also establish policies that dictate how many people can be off at the same time and how to settle disputes over vacation time. "Don't wait until it becomes an issue to make that announcement," Isaacson cautions. "Make sure people know what the policy is."
Proper scheduling is a first step, but how do you make sure that service and productivity levels remain consistent when employees are on vacation? "Cross-train thoroughly so no job is left undone while someone is on vacation," Isaacson says. "Write procedure manuals so everyone will know what to do. Don't let yourself get in the position of having to tell [customers] whatever they want can't be handled until so-and-so gets back from vacation."
It's also a good idea to meet with key employees well in advance of their departure and plan for their absence by finding out what projects they're handling, what issues are pending, and the answers to whatever questions may be asked while they're gone. Make sure you have access to all their files and information. You may even want to ask senior staffers to provide phone numbers so you'll be able to reach them if there are emergencies--but don't use those numbers unless you absolutely have to. "Employees are entitled to--and need--time off," Isaacson says. "No one should be so indispensable to your business that you can't let them take a vacation."