Managing staff holidays at Christmas

The festive period can bring a range of HR challenges for any sized organisation. One of the main challenges is how to effectively manage annual leave. To ensure an organisation has sufficient cover, and staff engagement is maintained, the correct management of annual leave is essential.

Here are some common Christmas period problems that employers may experience and solutions that can help resolve any issues that may arise.

An increase in holiday requests

In these circumstances, an organisation’s normal policy for booking annual leave should be followed although a level of flexibility may be required. It is advisable that organisations try to accommodate leave requests where possible whilst ensuring they act fairly and consistently, whilst making sure there is adequate cover over the festive break.

A restriction on the number of people taking leave (this needs to be well communicated to staff)

Although it can be an extremely busy time for some organisations and a restriction might need to be put in place, for some other organisations it could be a time to show more flexibility and allow more people than normal off at one time. For example, if business is usually very quiet over this time of the year, an organisation may even want to consider closing between Christmas and the new year, which would be recognised as a significant gesture or employers may consider offering work from home or shorter hours when the business requires staff to work.

Competing requests for leave over the Christmas period and the employer must decide which requests to agree

If all requests meet the notice requirements, holiday should be decided on a first come, first served basis and all requests treated fairly and consistently. Careful management of this method helps prevent the same employees taking the most desired days off every year. Another option might be to let the people who do not get their first choice at Christmas or New Year to have priority when booking time off for their summer holiday. Whatever the scenario it is advisable that when an employer has competing requests they document the reasons for granting some requests and not others. An employer should be able to justify any refusal on non-discriminatory grounds.

Uncertainty over booking leave on key dates

Many organisations close early on Christmas Eve but it is advisable for an employer to let employees know in advance whether they need to book a whole or half day off if they want the day as holiday. Letting staff know when they will be able to go home in advance will ensure the extra time off has an even greater motivational impact.

Employee push back and refuse to take holiday

As most organisations operate a ‘use it or lose it’ policy, providing the employee cannot demonstrate that they have been prevented by the organisation from taking holiday, then unused holiday (apart from any pre-agreed carry over) will be lost. One option may be to legally enforce holiday by providing written notice of double the length of the holiday they will be taking. However, an employee cannot be forced to take unpaid leave or bring forward holiday entitlement from the following annual leave year if they have used up their current entitlement. 

The key is to have clarity of the business needs and to communicate with employees as early as possible. Undoubtedly, if an organisation is shutting down for a period over Christmas employees should have been informed earlier in the year. Ambiguity around annual leave can dramatically impact the motivation and engagement of staff and teams as Ryanair found out this year to their peril.

If you have got any concerns about whether you have got the right policies and procedures in place please contact Steve Sweetlove or your usual RSM contact.