A woman sits on the floor in front of a Christmas tree. On her lap is a laptop on top of a cream-colored pillow. The woman wears a dark green sweater and types on the laptop. On the floor around the woman and the Christmas tree are a few boxes wrapped in silver and gray paper, tied up with string, and decorated with pinecones.
If your company's products or services allow for employees to work remotely, consider offering the option to employees you need available during the holidays. — Getty Images/Oscar Wong

The end-of-year holidays can be a tricky time for small businesses. On one hand, November through January is often the peak shopping season and the window when restaurants and retail merchants can capitalize on sales. On the other hand, you and your team are ready for a break. Many employees save their paid time off for this part of the year when schools are on holiday and many clients are also on leave.

No matter whether this is your busy season or a quieter time, it’s likely that you’ll need to adjust your work scheduling during the holidays. Here are some things to consider as you fill shifts and approve vacation requests over the next few weeks.

Start planning early

Setting up employee schedules around the holidays can be a delicate balancing act. Start planning early to make sure you can accommodate as many requests as possible while still covering your shifts.

Ask each individual which holidays are most significant for them, as well as whether they’re willing to work on certain holidays in return for having others off. “This approach creates a sense of teamwork and togetherness, instead of pushing everybody to follow their own agenda,” wrote Hubstaff.

Use these conversations to also establish if there are specific days that must be worked no matter what. Clearly setting these expectations early helps your team adjust their own plans. Make sure you also communicate how employees should submit their vacation requests and if there’s a deadline by which they should ask for approval.

Consider offering company holidays

Many service professionals experience a natural lull in business during the holidays. While retailers and the hospitality industry get extra-busy, the opposite is true for law firms, real estate agencies, accountants, and other service providers.

It may actually be financially wise to close your business altogether during the holidays. If you can afford to, consider offering the whole time off during this season. Weigh the costs of staying open — including utilities and other overhead — with the benefits of improved morale and the chance to recharge by closing your office.

If you’re going to make do with less staff over the holiday period, ensure those who are rostered on are prepared.

Kate Stacey, Connecteam

Hire seasonal workers

Seasonal workers can help fill in when your full-time team is on leave, or if you anticipate serving more customers than usual during the holidays. Bringing on additional hands to help is a good way to prevent burnout.

However, hiring seasonal staff when most people would prefer to be on holiday is always a challenge. Other businesses will also be looking for part-time workers to manage their own employees’ holiday time off. Prepare early by advertising your staffing needs on social media accounts, getting the word out among your employees, and encouraging employee referrals with an incentive.

[Read more: 7 Ways Your Business Can Get Ready For Black Friday (It's Not Just for the Big Guys)]

Offer a remote work option

If you know you’ll need people to be available during the holidays, consider offering flexible work or remote work. Finding ways to work flexibly helps everyone. “People will enjoy the opportunity to spend more time around the house, to take care of errands in-between work tasks, or to travel and work from another location entirely,” wrote Hubstaff.

Many companies already have a remote or hybrid work policy. Revisit this policy with your team to determine if anything needs to change during the holidays. Some employees may need more flexible hours to accommodate school holiday schedules, for instance.

Provide cross-training to cover skill gaps

Availability is just one part of scheduling during the holidays. You also need to ensure whoever is on call is equipped to handle running the business. “If you’re going to make do with less staff over the holiday period, ensure those who are rostered on are prepared. Provide them with any training they might need well in advance and ensure the employees taking leave prepare handover instructions where necessary,” wrote Connecteam.

One way to do this is by pairing seasonal or entry-level employees with more experienced managers. You can also provide rotational job shadowing in the weeks leading up to the holidays to make sure everyone learns the ropes.

[Read more: 5 Things Retailers Are Worried About for the Holiday Season – And What They’re Doing to Prepare]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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