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Monday, January 05, 2009

Year End Crunch

I work as an administrator for an accounting firm. Each December we seem to be understaffed due to vacation time to handle year end and month end client responsibilities. We are working to create a restricted vacation policy for the period of 12/15 through year end. There is no motive behind this other than the fact that we're an accounting firm, and by the nature of our business year end and month end responsibilities must be met. Do you have any suggestions for a fair policy?

Yes, HR gets whatever they want off and the rest of you have to suffer! Ha! Ha! Oh dear, I've had a little too long on vacation. (In fact, I'm actually tired of having fun. Well, having fun and cleaning out the basement.)

Yes, you see, my company shuts down between Christmas and New Year's so coverage isn't a problem, because we're all out. But, we're not an accounting firm. So, let's talk about a good policy.

Wait, let's ask a question. Why aren't your employees meeting their month end responsibilities? Because that's what I really wonder. In my set of beliefs, it doesn't matter what days you take off, you schedule your vacation around your work responsibilities.

I think you need a culture shift. Not that I'm advocating people selling their souls to the company. Not at all. I'm advocating people recognizing that their clients--their responsibilities--are important. If all your clients are taken care of, take a vacation. If not, well, you get to work!

But, then you could argue, what about administrative and support staff? They can't control what the actual accountants do with their clients and if there is no one to make copies then you've got troubles.

I also understand that clients are procrastinators and you can plan and plan and plan and promise your mother-in-law you will be there (and perhaps your mother-in-law will call you to tell you that it might be a good idea to bring a blanket for the baby because you, of course, wouldn't think that snow=cold and that babies need to be kept warm, but I digress), but the client will still call on December 23 with new requests and when you say, "is this everything?" they will say yes, but on December 31, they send you new "updated documents" via courier. So, yes, it's always going to be a problem.

But, this is predictable, so again, I have to go back to the old "you work when there is work to do." Which stinks. So, don't work for an accounting firm.

But, I haven't given you any new and exciting vacation policies. I don't have great ones. You can always do it by seniority, but if you have low turnover it makes the new people feel unappreciated and bitter. You can do it first come-first serve, but then you have people requesting vacation time for December in January and it becomes a big mess.

You can also limit December vacation altogether. Or close down December 24-26 and say that's it. Then clients know as well that you won't be available.

If I had to make a policy I would do it on a rotating basis. I would figure out the bare minimum of staff needed during December 15-31, and then have the other spots available for vacation. If you got to take vacation this year, next year you are last in line for vacation spots. You also limit the number of days they can take during that time period--3 days, or 5, so that more people get the opportunity to take off.

It's not pleasant, but that's why they call it work. Any other suggestions are welcome.

25 comments:

HR Godess said...

Our accounting department is not allowed to take off more than 2 consecutive days in the month of December. Not more than 2 employees in the department are allowed to be off at one time. We make sure everyone in the department puts in their requests by Nov. 30th then we go back and see who was off the prior year and discuss it with all the employees in the department. If someone was off last year but have out of town guests coming this year, you'd be surprised how nice the others are to forego their time off. They work as a team and I think that's the key.

jaded hr rep said...

In my surprisingly non-jaded answser: no hard rules exist in our Finance and Sales depts (or during any other month, quarter, year-end times), but each manager is responsible for getting his/her work done - which includes managing the teams to meet these deadlines. Vacation requests during peak business times - if they come at all - are managed on a first come, first serve basis. Otherwise, I think my managers have done an exceptional job in getting our employees to understand their responsibilities and being held accountable to them.

Anonymous said...

How about temp staff during the peak periods in december? consider accounting interns--they should be hungry enough to work during the holidays for the experience/exposure

jaded hr rep said...

Without more intimate knowledge of the business, process, or other relevant history - it's difficult to replace a seasoned worker with a temp/intern and expect the same level of productivity. In addition to adding to company costs, I've also found temps and interns often just as eager to take time off for holidays.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is forgetting one issue here for some employees - kids don't have school or (in some cases) daycare for two weeks during the holidays. How do you accomodate a single parent with no child care if you have restrictive vacation policies during the holidays (and not make the non-parents bitter about the "favoritism") Oh, how about letting them work from home!

Anonymous said...

I don't have a good policy, but my husband has worked at many companies that just doesn't allow him to take any time off in December. We all grumble about it, but at some point, we get used to it an learn that it's just the policy.

That said, if I were a single parent with a child who is not in school over winter break, I'd have to quit. That would suck.

class-factotum said...

How do you accomodate a single parent with no child care if you have restrictive vacation policies during the holidays

Why should this matter to the employer at all? Watching kids is not the employer's responsibility. It is the parent's. It wasn't my boss' job to worry about feeding my cats when I had to travel for work.

Ask a Manager said...

Am I the only one who doesn't understand what Steven's comment means?

Class factorum, one reason employers should care at least somewhat is the impact on employee morale and their ability to retain good people. I'm not saying employee needs should dictate everything, but they should at least be considered for that reason.

That said, I have no good solutions to offer up. My first thought is that the business should attempt to get as much done in advance as possible, but I don't know if that's feasible with accounting.

Evil HR Lady said...

Steven's comment went bye-bye because if you are going to just advertise on my site, you can darn well pay me.

The same goes for people who write, "Great post! For more information see [their lame blog]." Say something relevant to the discussion and then list your website. That's fine. But random "great post" or "let me tell you about my product!" comments go away.

Rosezilla said...

I work PT at a company that paid time and a half for anyone working between Dec 23rd and Jan 5th. They certainly had no issues filling the schedule.

Once you work at a place that has a "carrot" mentality, you see how dumb the "stick" method is. Even if your company is struggling, allow sweats, play movies in the lounge, buy some pizzas....

class-factotum said...

Manager, I agree -- as long as it isn't the childless employees who are forced not to take vacation because of someone else's child-care issues. (And in all fairness, the original commenter pointed this out.)

But someone complained to me recently that her previous employer had not been very accommodating when her kid had the chicken pox. "He didn't have kids! He just didn't understand!" I wanted to say, "No. He just knew that he was depending on you to get a job done and all of a sudden, you were unavailable to work, so his business suffered. You knew you had kids when you took the job and you should have planned for these eventualities and not been upset that he had not."

Anonymous said...

How do you accommodate a single parent with no child care if you have restrictive vacation policies during the holidays

The same way you accommodate any other special circumstances that come up: by expecting both employee and employer to plan around this as best as they can. If you know in September (or earlier) that your kids have 2 weeks off in December, and you yourself can only take 3 days' vacation in there, you plan around it -- whether that means arranging for a friend or neighbor to babysit, inviting Grandma over, planning to do some work from home, or some combination of the above.

Unfortunately, no matter how well people plan, emergencies still happen. This problem isn't unique to parents, either; other employees are bound to occasionally have a death in the family, become seriously ill, or be stranded by weather even when time off is restricted. If you've made every effort to arrange back-up child care, but then need to scramble at the last minute because (for example) Grandma broke her leg, well ... most reasonable managers and co-workers will understand that, and work with you as best as they can.

I become much less sympathetic, though, when the same person repeatedly has emergencies (whether child-related or otherwise) that leave others picking up their share of the work at crunch times.

Kelly said...

How about closing for 2-3 days around Christmas, say the 24-26 and giving everyone the paid holiday? Then, whatever other limits you have to set will seem a lot more reasonable if everyone knows they at least have those days off.

Anonymous said...

I find it unusual that an accounting firm wouldn't already be operating under the culture that Evil HR Lady suggests, but I don't know the size of the firm, which would probably be the best way to determine the best policy.

Unless it's a small firm, doing it by seniority wouldn't work, because turnover in public accounting is often very high [due to the workload and hours], and the people who do stay more than a few years generally will have the most client responsibility.

Mari said...

At least they don't have to work ON Christmas and New Year's, I work for a 24/7 dept that has to be there even when our manufacturing is shut down for the holidays. No overtime for that either. They should remember about all the emergency and health personnel that have to work too and are there for them if needed. So maybe in this accounting firm they need to think they are doing pretty good having Christmas off and work as a team as per the other suggestions, rotate years. Its what we do. They need to be glad they are needed and not getting laid off this time of year. I'm betting the age grouping of those doing the most complaining is under 40,its what my friend in administration sees. No, its not college anymore with a month off!

Evil HR Dictator said...

No plan is going to satisfy everyone. I like the idea of rotating the vacation eligibility. Another thing that might be considered is splitting the days in half. Some come to work for half a day in the morning, some for half a day in the afternoon. People at least get a half day off. Might be feasible in some instances.

Anonymous said...

The half day idea is good.

In a smaller firm [which this probably is since they don't seem to have a policy in place]rotation can probably work because most people will stay at least 2-3 years and they probably don't have a huge influx of new hires each year.

Brian W. said...

Mari, if I had been working for you during such a discussion, I'd start thinking of to jumping ship. Nevermind that I generally work the days around Christmas/New Years anyway because I don't mind it so much.

Rotating holiday leave sounds fine to me when there's a genuine business requirement - but to me, your reasoning/attitude is like nails on a chalkboard. Don't ask me to be grateful to have a job. Tell me how grateful you are that I do so such for you. If I'm a top performer, I could be somewhere else a month from now, regardless of the economy... and if I'm not, I could still run off once the skies clear a bit.

And yes - I'm under 40. But people of all generations chafe at being lectured and appreciate a little gratitude.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying having a job is a privilege, not a right. People need to be grateful they have an income. I met a woman the other day who was living out of her van because she got laid off and lost her apartment.

Let me also say a smart employer will take care of their employees and protect their investment in them.

The company I work for has a mandatory shut down for a week in the summer in order to help use up employee vacation days during our slow time. This helps to insure that employees are there when you need them because they don't have very many vacation days left when the end of the year comes around. They also publish the days they are closed to our customers so the expectation of service is maintained. When we do have people taking off at inopportune times such as the end of the year, the rest of us do what good teams do... we cover for them.

...and yup, I'm under 40 and I agree with Mari.

Brian W. said...

A job is neither a privilege nor a right. It is an agreement between two parties.

One woman residing in an automobile does not change this.

Annette said...

Brian -- just a guess, but you've never been laid off or looked for a job in a tight economy, have you? Gratitude goes both ways.

Compensation Consultant said...

I have two suggestions.

First, make sure at the recruitment stage that all potential employees understand that December/January are the busiest times of year, and while no one will have to work Christmas Day, nor can anyone take more than x days of leave at this time, as per policy. The same goes for leave around month-end (my husband used to work in accounting, and could never take the first or last week of the month off. Never.)

Second, accountants are well-paid professionals. Treat them as such. Trust them to arrange their working and leave periods around likely client demands, and to have a nominated secondary contact when they are on leave. But manage their performance. If they take leave at such a time that they can't or don't meet a client committment, that is grounds for a performance discussion (which could lead to no bonus, or no job).

Brian W. said...

Annette: Fair enough. I didn't mean to suggest that it's a one-way street; I initially meant to comment on just one half of the equation. Certainly, in the interest of being decent human beings, we should all strive to show appreciation where due.

I guess what I was really going for, though my own occasional problems with authority may have gotten in the way of posting this clearly, is some variant of the honey/vinegar business.

I did recently find a new job in the midst of this economic mess. I therefore feel justified in sticking out my tongue in the most juvenile fashion in I can muster. But I'll resist.

Brian W. said...

And one thing I wish I included in that last post...

Compensation Consultant: I think you win at HR. Well said. Especially the part about setting expectations during recruitment.

Anonymous said...

The only issue with that is that they would be at a recruiting disadvantage to firms that didn't have such a policy. In accounting, a lot of entry level people are in their early 20s, and for that generation, vacation policies are as important as salary.