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How to plan your company's vacation

Taking time off is fun. It's also important so that you and your employees can come back to the office refreshed.

But it's no picnic trying to plan the schedule.

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Well, quit singing the summertime blues. Here are 10 tips to help you schedule your employees' vacations and ensure your company remains covered.

1. Start early.
The living may be easy, but arranging summer business coverage can be tough. It's best to start early, says Alex Hiam, CEO of Alex Hiam & Associates, with offices in Amherst, Mass., and San Francisco. As the owner, you need to figure out how many people need to staff your business over the summer. Is the season a busy or a slow time for your company? Do you need staff for your office and for manning a booth at an important trade show in July? Sketch out your company's staffing needs before you meet with employees to discuss who wants time off and when.

2. Set up incentives.
If your business has slow or busy times, consider incentives to encourage employees to take leave during your off seasons. That's what Marcia Layton Turner's husband does. He owns a business that sells stoves and hearth accessories in the winter and play sets during the warmer months.

"Charlie had a problem with people wanting to take time off during the busy time of the year, spring for the play-set business and fall for the hearth business," says Turner, author of The Unofficial Guide to Starting a Small Business.

He's instituted a point system to remedy the problem. Employees are awarded a certain number of points toward time off. The catch? During the slow season, a day off costs a single point. When business is up in fall and the spring, it costs twice that.

Turner says the point system has worked out well since her husband isn't actually dictating when employees can take vacation time. "If they want to take off during his busy times they still can," she says.

3. Reach a consensus.
Vacations can be a touchy subject, particularly if everyone wants to take the same week off in August. Someone's going to get stuck covering the office. Don't wait for that to happen. "Share with your employees what your needs are and make it a collaborative problem that you solve together," recommends Hiam, author of the soon-to-be-released Making Horses Drink.

4. Age before beauty.
If group decision-making won't work when scheduling your company's vacations, consider instituting time off based on seniority. Let more senior people choose their vacation times first, Turner says. Just make sure you come up with a framework that's fair.

5. Keep score.
To keep the vacation scheduling process equitable, make note of who is getting time off and when. And be sure that if someone has to sacrifice this year by taking a less-than-desirable time for vacation, that worker gets first dibs next year, Hiam says.

6. Go as a group.
No, you don't have to spend much-needed time off with your employees. But it may be possible for all of you to leave at the same time. If your company typically faces slow sales times, such as the summer or between Christmas and New Year's, consider shutting down your business then. Just be sure to notify your customers in advance so they won't be caught by surprise and be inconvenienced.

7. Seek help.
If your staff will be spread too thin as employees take vacation, line up temporary help. "There are always young people looking to intern," says Denise O'Berry, president of the Small Business Edge Corp. in Tampa, Fla. "Call your local college or university or tap into your neighbor's son or daughter as a temporary worker."

8. Cross train employees.
Workers who are familiar with other employees' jobs can pitch in when colleagues take time off. This will ensure that your business will run smoothly even when critical workers are out. It's also fairer because no one wants to take a vacation and then return to a stack of work that piled up in his or her absence, O'Berry says.

9. Make sure you take time off, too.
It's important for everyone, including the boss, to take a vacation. If you're concerned about how your company will operate without you at the helm, start by taking short breaks before the "big one." And delegate. "Identify roles and responsibilities of those 'in charge' in your absence," O'Berry says. "Who will do what, when."

10. Bang the vacation drum!
Once you've got a system down, take advantage of your wise business vacation planning. Make sure that both you and your employees take a real break from the office.

"It's not a vacation unless you can really get away from the business," says O'Berry. "That means no computers, no voice mail and no checking in with employees back home."

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.



-- Posted: May 1, 2002




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