Tripping Out

Do employee vacations wreak havoc on your business?

Does an employee's mere mention of the word vacation send chills downyour spine? The chaos caused when staffers are away for a week or two can putany entrepreneur into a panic. But it doesn't have to be that way. With alittle planning, your company can run smoothly--and your employees can enjoytheir vacations without too much dread of returning to work.

Peggy Isaacson, a human resources consultant in Orlando, Florida, suggests youstart 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 onthe calendar," she says. "Of course, not everyone will know what they're goingto 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 atthe same time and how to settle disputes over vacation time. "Don't wait untilit becomes an issue to make that announcement," Isaacson cautions. "Make surepeople know what the policy is."

Proper scheduling is a first step, but how do you make sure that service andproductivity 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'tlet yourself get in the position of having to tell [customers] whatever theywant 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 theirdeparture and plan for their absence by finding out what projects they'rehandling, what issues are pending, and the answers to whatever questions may beasked while they're gone. Make sure you have access to all their files andinformation. You may even want to ask senior staffers to provide phone numbersso you'll be able to reach them if there are emergencies--but don't use thosenumbers unless you absolutely have to. "Employees are entitled to--andneed--time off," Isaacson says. "No one should be so indispensable to yourbusiness that you can't let them take a vacation."