October 1, 2011

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Article

Home for the Holidays?

Businesses Deal with the Headache of Holiday Scheduling

John Coon

October 1, 2011

Holidays offer an annual dilemma for many businesses. Staffing requires a balancing act where managers and business owners must find a way to offer employees time off, while ensuring business operations continue to run at full speed.

A Team Effort

Scheduling time off for employees can mean different things to different industries. Some businesses are able to offer a plethora of paid holidays, while those times of year simply mean extra work time for other businesses.

In industries such as healthcare, employees understand working on a holiday simply comes with the territory. Healthcare is a 24-hour operation and employees work around the clock, 365 days per year.

“I think a lot of them understand it is part of the job,” says Bruce Dent, human resources director over the rural region hospitals administered by Intermountain Healthcare. “They understood when they took the job. It’s something they’re not always really excited about, but they understand and they’re willing to share that responsibility with others.”

Intermountain Healthcare does its part to ensure a balance between holiday time off requests and fully staffing each hospital. Each department manager has the latitude to set a schedule rotation that includes an appropriate skill mix. Employee experience and ability is also considered. The schedule allows employees of each department the opportunity to have their time off request considered, while simultaneously ensuring the hospital remains fully staffed and functional during the holidays.

Each department works hard, Dent says, to create the right mix of staff at the right times so they are well equipped to handle any emergency situation that could arise. One thing hospital employees are made to understand right away is they can expect to work their share of holidays—even if they work in departments such as food services or patient registration.

“We share that information during the hiring process,” Dent says. “Through the [job] posting and through the interviews, we make sure that it’s clear. As part of their orientation when they come on as new members of our team, we share that information with them again.”

Helping employees understand expectations and plan ahead for the holidays is an approach also taken by Ace Disposal.

The waste management company experiences some of its heaviest workloads around the holiday seasons. While drivers are given Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off, they are expected to work the days preceding the holiday and the days following. Managers at Ace Disposal outline expectations from day one so there are no surprises. Employees are also compensated with additional schedule flexibility during other times of the year.

“We do allow our employees to have the flexibility to have other times of year off,” says Steven Richards, human resources manager for Ace Disposal. “It is about finding the right employee that is willing to work. But I think that the number one thing would be educating our employees on what we have to do as a group and as a team to get the job done.”

Ace Disposal strives to balance busy schedules around the holidays by bringing in several “float” drivers who are tasked with filling in for drivers who are given time off during those periods. This accomplishes two things, says Richards. It keeps the pickup routes fully staffed and it allows employees an opportunity to spend certain holidays with their families.

“If we have people tell us months in advance what they are wanting to do, we can plan around it,” Richards says. “We can plan around the routes. We can make adjustments so they can take the time off that they need.”

Crunch Time

A little planning goes a long way even in industries that traditionally enjoy plenty of paid holidays.

Mountain America Credit Union recently implemented an automated time card system. In addition to tracking daily hours worked, the system allows employees the ability to electronically submit calendared time off requests and allows managers to map out such requests weeks or months in advance.

Each manager has latitude in deciding work schedules for their branch. Still, Mountain America makes an effort to offer an environment where work does not intrude into family life. Managers strive to help employees maintain a healthy work/life balance.

The end result, says Lynn Stephens, senior vice president of human resources, is employees who are happy and loyal to their branch. “If you’re willing to be flexible, then what I’ve seen is employees are willing to be flexible.”

While banks and credit unions enjoy many paid holidays, staffing branches around those times is not always a breeze. Serving customers and members is a top priority, and foot traffic increases as members make transactions to deal with holiday expenses.

Stephens says a good manager works to strike a balance in these situations, so employee needs are met along with customer needs, rather than simply following the letter of the law.

“When you get into very rigid rules about things, it doesn’t allow for the human element in really addressing people’s needs,” Stephens says. “You have to use good judgment, obviously. That becomes key.”

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