"Many thanks for your outstanding contribution at our Annual Meeting. You faced a demanding audience and you performed with distinction." —Walter G. Shnee III, President, Million Dollar Round Table


Dealing With Time Off

For small businesses with few staff, an unexpected request for time off can be disruptive. Production can stall, service can suffer, and the owner begin to hyperventilate. Refusing the request can create hostility and decreased performance. Lean can quickly become understaffed when one person is away. According to Olstein Staffing Services, Inc., of Melville, New York, 54% of North American companies report that under-staffing is pinching profits. That is up from 46% last year and 40% in 1993, when the temporary staffing company first asked the survey question. Even scheduled holidays, particularly those lasting two or three weeks, can stretch resources to a breaking point. Accommodating vacations and time off requires planning.

Have a Written Policy

Develop a formal time-off policy with contingency arrangements. Be sure that all employees and new hires understand your policy on the timing and length of vacations. Determine the time-off policy for maternity and/or family emergency leave. How will you handle sick days, jury duty, and voting? Think ahead to how you will make a decision when a conflict arises, such as two employees wanting the same time off—say, during the holiday season. All policies, of course, must conform to state and federal laws. A written policy, even in a very small company, protects the owner from accusations of favoritism or discrimination. Also, having it in black and white protects against people saying they did not know or understand the policy.

Create a Contingency Plan

In creating a contingency plan for short-staffed days, be sure to get input from your employees. They will come up with creative solutions, and are more likely to have a vested interest in its success if they have had a hand in designing the strategies. One of the most common solutions is to ask employees to fill in for absent coworkers. For this to work effectively, it is important that employees are cross-trained. That way, when the worker who routinely does a particular job is absent, customers are less impacted by the difference. Keeping up on the changing nature of each person's job is also important, so cross-training needs to be ongoing. Consider Temporary Help Be cautious about using employees to fill in as your only fallback option because it is easy to overwork people. If the absence will be protracted, it may be more economical to pull in a temporary worker. Small business owners have more places to turn to for temporary help now that these services are more diverse than ever before. Temporary agencies provide highly skilled individuals for a flexible amount of time. Another source for workers is college students. If you choose someone who has just begun, you might be able to get the same worker for a number of summers prior to graduation.


Keep resumes on file, and call back those interested in working for you. Often, if they have not secured a full-time position, they would be happy to work for a few days while they job hunt.

Be Appreciative

When employees cover for an absent coworker, acknowledge their contributions. It generally means that they have worked harder in taking over the extra job along with their own responsibilities. If a bonus is not possible, then a public indication of appreciation, a small gift, or a short note goes a long way. Think about other ways to reward employees for the extra service. This is a great opportunity to be creative.

Flexible Vacation Options

If your work is seasonal, or has a predictable busy cycle, you may decide that vacations during that time are not allowed. Depending on the nature of your work, it may be helpful to encourage shorter breaks more often rather than longer, consecutive breaks.

When All Else Fails

In the good old days, it was just the owner washing bottles, licking labels, cleaning the facilities and doing marketing. When staff are away, it may just be you again—along with your spouse, partner, kids, best friend, in-laws, or anyone else you can beg or convince to help.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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