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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vacation Micro Management

Need an opinion. I am an owner of a small-mid size consumer and auto finance company. We currently staff 6-7 full time employees. I was having a recent conversation with my office manager/supervisor regarding our policies on vacation. In a nut shell we offer 2 weeks of paid vacation from April through October. The supervisor has just earned a 3rd week for reaching 5 years (anniversary date) with the company. The only stipulations other than the months vacation can be scheduled is that 1 full consecutive week be taken and for those having 2 weeks, the second week can be split into a 3/2 or 2/3 day format allowing for some flexibility. I’m not a fan of that and would prefer that all vacation be taken in full one week increments M-F. I have kept the split format for the second week as a perk for my employees. Previously we also did not allow vacation to be taken at “month end” either because of the process we go through to close out our month. Due to some better and more efficient software the process is cut to a 1/3 so now we allow vacation to be scheduled around that time. Another perk in my opinion that I agreed to at my employee’s request. I also ask that vacations be posted by April 15th of each year so proper planning can be accomplished.

We recently had an employee to schedule his full week’s vacation Wed-Tues kinda screwing up two weeks if you know what I mean and now has two other split time vacations scheduled. This was an oversight on my supervisors part for not catching it but not intentional. At explaining “again” why we keep this format I restated that this is the reason I am a proponent of consecutive weeks not splits. Other wise if you’re not careful you’ll have folks out every week of the summer doing these mini vacations. I made the off color comment that it kinda goes back to them being a bit spoiled. She made the comment that this was the strictest vacation policy she had worked with before.

Sorry for the verboseness of this but I wanted to paint you a picture. In your experience as an HR professional does it sound like my vacation policies are “strict”? Being the owner and knowing that I try and perk them as much as I can in other areas too; I was quite offended at that comment and I guess am looking for an outside opinion. THANKS for your time!


I think you are thinking about this a little too much. What's the point of vacation? Honestly. Why give vacation at all? Well, because people wouldn't work for you if you didn't and because, drum roll please, people perform better if they have a break from time to time.

Now, I know nothing about the auto financing world, but I can't imagine that the winter months are so furiously busy that no one can take a single day off. So, why limit vacation time to the summer only? If part of the problem is having people out of the office, spreading it out over an entire year should help with that problem. Then you have less of a chance of two people wanting to leave at the same time.

What do you do when someone's brother-in-law decides to get married in February? Or someone's first grandchild is born in December? Are they not allowed to take any time off? Now, avoiding a gathering of inlaws might be a perk to the job, but what grandmother is going to want to hold off visiting the new baby, who happens to be in Keokuk Iowa?

On the number of days at a time, taking a week off consecutively does have some benefits, among them being an opportunity for fraud detection and a true chance to rest and relax. Requiring people to take the remaining vacation in one two and one three day chunk seems pointless.

You state that one employee "screwed" up two weeks by going Wed-Tues. Again, not knowing anything about car financing, but I can't see why this is. And what's wrong with a mini vacation? In fact, if my job is to cover for you while you are out, I'd much rather have you gone one day at a time than 3 days in a row. If you are just going to be out on Friday, most likely you'll work extra hard on Thursday and then anything that's not pressing I can just hold for you to do when you get back on Monday. If you're gone for 2, 3 or 5 days in a row, then I'm forced to do more of your job, which puts pressure on me.

I don't like more pressure on me, and neither do most of your employees.

If I were you, I'd loosen the hold on vacation. Let people take their vacation when they want to. (Although I do agree with a no vacation for the last week of the month/quarter/whatever super busy time you have, rule. That's good business sense and responsible employees wouldn't ask anyway, except in extreme circumstances.)

I think you'll find that it won't be nearly as disruptive as you fear. Most people want to do a good job and appreciate being given control over their own lives, as much as possible. You say that you spoil them. Excellent. Spoiled employees are happy employees (as long as you are also providing feedback and improvement plans and goals and all that other fun stuff that comes from being the boss). You want spoiled, but not rotten employees.

Have a marvelous vacation yourself. Switzerland is nice this time of year.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is one insane holiday policy. It sounds like you are maybe understaffed if your company cannot absorb a simple thing like an employee taking one day off. This is a recipe for employee resentment. I wouldn't work for you, and you'd be missing out - I'm a great employee! But I'm also an adult and don't need my holidays controlled with an iron fist the way your company does. I have, in all my years and after a quick poll of some friends here, never heard of such a holiday policy!

DM Andy said...

Coming from Europe, the concept of "spoiling" employees by giving them 2 weeks paid vacation does seem strange. European Union law gives 4 weeks paid as a bare minimum.

From what you've experienced in Switzerland, how do you view more vacation time from a US prespective?

Anonymous said...

"Strict", worst, whatever word you want to choose. That vacation policy sucks.

The only thing I've ever heard that's somewhat close is my friend that's a co-manager of a national grocery chain. He has to take his vaca in full week chunks.

But since he has the grocery sched (works 5 days a week, not M-F, but a random 5 of the 7 days) the problem of the random day off his not a problem:

Needs a random Wed off? Just schedules Wed as one of his off days that week w/o having to use vaca.

Anonymous said...

Is this person serious? "Spoiling" people by providing two miserly weeks of annual vacation and then slap a series of really weird and random conditions to being allowed to use them? That would be totally illegal where I come from. I can buy the end of month condition, although I would probably ask people nicely to avoid it, unless really necessary, instead of forbidding them (since that would be illegal too)- most employees would respect that since they would understand why.

I can understand the difficulties of a small company and I appreciate that it is apparently legal where this person is trading, but what you do then is thank your lucky star for having great employees who would still work for you despite this. You don't go off on a rant on how you are spoiling them, when what you are doing is exactly the opposite.

Does this person have any contact with reality at all? Does he/she really mean to come off as self righteous and miserly as he/she sounds?

//Jessica

Volly said...

Flexibility is the way to go. All you have to do is make sure the software and hands-on management is in place and up to speed.

To all you commenters, though, it really could be worse. I work for a company right now that gives you one 5-day week of vacation (any five days, but still), for the first 5 YEARS you work there, and there is NO paid sick time. None, nada, zilch.

Best policy I've ever seen is "PDL," or paid days' leave. You accrue it throughout the year up to a certain amount, and then once you've got it accrued you can use it for ANYTHING you want -- anything from 2 weeks in Hawaii to an extra half hour at lunch for running errands.

Not every company has that, but there's a happy medium if you want to look for it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, your turnover rate must be phenomenal if others are like me 'cause I might work for you if I was desperate but only long enough to find something somewhere else. The word draconian comes to mind.

Ask a Manager said...

Wow. Just... wow.

Yes, your vacation policy is overly strict, and I have to think, based on your letter, that this isn't the only area in which you're unreasonable. Your attitude toward your employees (they're "spoiled" for not liking this ridiculous policy?) has to be spilling over into other areas too.

I wouldn't work for you, and I can't imagine anyone with options would either. And you want the people with options.

sabrina said...

That vacation policy is insanely tight-fisted and downright draconian (the word Scrooge comes to mind), and to characterize it as "spoiling" people... wow, are you in the wrong line of work. I would not even consider working for a firm that treated its employees so poorly.

class-factotum said...

It sounds like you are maybe understaffed if your company cannot absorb a simple thing like an employee taking one day off.No. He has 6-7 FT ees. One person out on vacation means he has lost 14% of his staff. If he hires an extra person so he can cover vacations (and this person is going to know everyone's job?), his expenses go up a lot more than the 14 weeks of vacation, or ~1/4 of the year, that he has people out. Running a small business is no walk in the park.

Just Another HR Lady said...

Flexibility is the key to managing employees today. To be honest, I would not work somewhere with this kind of restrictive vacation policy, I would feel like I was being treated like a child. Today (Thursday) is so beautiful outside, so I asked my boss if I could take a half day of vacation tomorrow (as I already have meetings in the morning). She knows that I manage my schedule around my workload already, so she told me to enjoy the afternoon off. One day's notice, and the manager was happy to give it, and it feels like a bonus to me. Easy.

If you had some kind of sound reasoning behind why you don't allow breaking up vacation or having to book your vacation a full year in advance, you might be able to justify the policy, but I don't see anything in your e-mail that would suggest that it's anything other than you don't like to do it. The "no vacations during month end, year end, busy times, etc." is pretty standard everywhere, so that would be fine to remain.

Try and show some trust in your employees that they will be responsible about vacation time and their workload, and in the end you still have control over approving or not approving the actual dates of their vacation so you can pre-plan for any absences.

Anonymous said...

class,

Your math doesn't follow. If losing 14-15% of your staff swamps everybody else, you're understaffed, no matter what it costs to provide that extra employee.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Speak of evil...! That is one awful vacation policy. I have worked in large insurance companies, startups, and in academic environments and I have NEVER heard of such bizarre constraints. I would not subject myself to a routine like that unless the alternative was starvation.

I like working in schools. Less money for what I do (IT, software development) but it's worth it to have flexibility and 4+ weeks of vacation time.

Anonymous said...

You do have an overly strict vacation policy. Give them their two weeks and let them decide when and how to use them. With the nature of your business (car financing) I am not sure why you only allow vacations April to October. The only thing I would not do is let employees take vacation days in less than one full day.

Anonymous said...

I think EHRL needs to share some chocolate with this person, and if that doesn't help him/her see the light, share it with the poor employees...

Kimberley said...

I hope that no one wants to go on a ski vacation! Also, it must suck to have to plan your vacation during the peak tourism season.

Yes, your policy sucks! I often tack on a day or two to a weekend so I can drive 600 kms to visit my aging grandparents. Your policy would not allow for that.

Also - what's wrong with bringing in a temp to help with the workload? That's what they're there for.

Anonymous said...

Evil HR Lady was entirely too kind in her reply. She must be getting soft. My head was spinning just reading all the stipulations set on the vacation policy. You are too strict with your policy and I'm certain your employees resent you for it.

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder what other kinds of things the OP "spoils" the employees with.

From the way the vacation policy is set up it's not that hard to imagine the OP "spoiling" the employees with bathroom and lunch breaks or perks like allowing them to eat at their desk when they work through lunch.

After all, the OP describes purchasing software that makes the closing process more efficient and timely as a "perk" that the OP gave their employees (this is like like saying - an automated cash register is a perk that stores give cashiers). Really, something that makes employees efficient workers and increases their output is a "perk."

With "perks" like that, who needs to be "spoiled."

-EB

Jedi4Pets said...

Just...wow.

Managers like you are one of the chief causes of Union membership drives. Be glad you're too small to be noticed.

I, too, have worked for established companies, start ups, and as a contractor. If I was interviewing and you told me about those restrictions, I'd just cut off the interview and walk out.

You need a sanity check.

class-factotum said...

If losing 14-15% of your staff swamps everybody else, you're understaffedIt depends on how much slack you want in your system. I like the idea of hiring a temp rather than overstaffing, although in my own selfish interest, I wish my husband's boss would build some slack into his staffing so my husband wouldn't be working until 3:00 a.m. to cover for his vacationing co-workers.

Susan said...

I'd hate to work for this person. Maybe your employees are not a efficient as they could be because they feel you hate them and control them like children. Where I work, we can take our vacation days whenever we want. We are discouraged from using it on certain days when work is usually heavier in volume, but we are not forbidden from using it during those periods.

Some employees could be encouraged to take a little extra effort at getting things together and not leaving a burdening amount of work for coworkers when they plan to use vacation. You could even make comments and suggestions in the performance review that either a certain employee "dumps" a load of work on everyone else when they go on vacation or that they leave things well organized and have things together and caught up before they leave. This is what my employer does.

Usually, I have everything caught up and ahead before I leave for vacation, even if it is just one day off. Due to the nature of my work, someone does have to cover my position while I'm gone, but I've done all of the thinking and planning for them in advance. They're literally filling my chair while I'm out and doing little more. As I value my job, I wouldn't want it to appear to my employer my work can just be absorbed by the others or my stand-in while I'm gone.

I'd absolutely hate working for this person who wrote this post. I'd dump my work and leave everything a shambles too because I'd be out the door, running down the road, screaming from the insanity of working for such a pompous employer.

class-factotum said...

Man! You people are harsh! Has it occurred to you that we might not have the whole story here? Has it occurred to you that this is a small business owner who has HIS OWN MONEY at risk? Maybe he's not the best manager in the world, but he is asking for help, not to be excoriated.

First, if you have only 6 or 7 people, you can't have people taking vacation whenever they want. Yes, his vacation policy can be improved, but this is not a Fortune 500 company with the attendant flexibility.

Everyone here is a key employee. And no, you can't staff up. Let's assume a payroll of $210,000, plus benefits, plus rent, utilities, insurance and then whatever taxes the local, state and federal government can suck out of you.

Whatever is left is what goes to the owner. There is not a lot of slack in there to add another employee unless you increase revenues $40,000 a year and that's going to happen right now, isn't it.

Second. I suspect that part of the reason for the April-October vacation thing is that the new auto models are released in October and that business really picks up then.

Third. Maybe this guy really does try to offer other perks. When you have only 7 people working, you do get to know them. My SIL works for a very small business and her boss lets everyone bring their dogs to work. That's something that would make me crazy because dogs aren't my favorite, but whatever.

My point is rather than being nasty to the person who wrote this question, you might want to offer constructive advice. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

If every employee is mission critical to the extent that their vacation must be strictly controlled, there is bad management going on.

What on earth is this person going to do when one of his employees gets pregnant? (Ok, let's be honest, I think we know the answer to that one and it doesn't involve following the law.) So what will he do if an employee gets hit by a bus? Or says "screw you" and quits because his boss isn't very nice to his employees?

As mentioned, there are other ways to add manpower other than hiring FTEs. Temps are one way, occasional part-timers or contractors are another.

Bat Girl said...

This guy is crazy...but I work for one even worse...no vacation days (paid or unpaid), no paid sick days and no guarantee that we get holidays off (unpaid as well) and though health insurance is offered the company doesn't contribute a cent toward the premium.

I also work a second job with no vacation, paid sick days and due to the industry we always work on holidays.

For both of these jobs I'm the Office Manager...not some sort of seasonal or entry level help.

From the employee perspective it's exhausting and demoralizing to never have a vacation.

Anonymous said...

Bat Girl: I'm stunned. Absolutely stunned. And I must surmise that this is legal wherever you are. I am sorry and I hope you find a better job soon.
//Jessica

Bat Girl said...

Well, I live in CA...so if it's not legal here please tell me! I'd love to a reason to force the issue...heck the guy didn't even have worker's comp insurance when I started here (I fixed that, and he bitched and moaned about the expense--really only 5 employees who sit on their butts all day, it's barely an expense). I just haven't been able to find where vacation is an employee right. And anonymous...this is temporary...I have to relocate in September.

Anonymous said...

Sir,

You sound like a completely out of touch dictator. In other relevant news to you, the earth is round, the planets revolve around the sun, and your workers cannot eat cake. Luckily I have the distinct pleasure of never working for you.

nuqotw said...

Yes, your policy is strict. In fact, your whole letter smacks of a sense that your employees' human needs and wants come second to conforming to company policy. How would you feel in that situation?

Your office manager did you a tremendous favor telling you that your policy is strict. You say this person has been working for you for 5 years. There are two possibilities: (1) She's incredibly capable, loyal, and responsible to have stuck with you through your policy / attitude or (2) She's the only person you can get because of your policy / attitude. If (1), she's not the type to complain to her boss about something unless it's a big deal, which means that the vacation policy / attitude really turn off employees. If (2), it's because your policy / attitude really turn off employees. It sounds like (1) based on your letter, since it doesn't seem likely that you would keep an employee who was not capable, loyal, or responsible.

Think of it this way - when your boss says to you "I have a major performance concern" s/he is doing you a tremendous favor: s/he is giving you a chance to fix a problem before it's a crisis. Now, if you say to the boss "You're spoiled because you're used to higher performance" you might as well pack your things. A much better choice would be something like "Thank you for letting me know. Are there some specific ways you can suggest I improve?". Frankly, few bosses are prepared for the reverse conversation, and few employees are brave enough to have it. The fact the your employee summoned up the courage to do it anyway tends to imply extreme discontent.

Clare said...

And I felt "controlled" when my employer told me I had to take one of my four weeks' paid holiday over a public holiday in August... (But bear in mind I'm in Europe where permanent employees have lots of holiday, sick leave, pension contributions etc.)

The manager may well have a business point for not taking holiday at certain times, but beyond that should offer flexibility to his employees. If you don't treat people with respect and consider their personal needs, they're going to end up resenting you.

Anonymous said...

wow, this is the most unbelievable vacation policy i've ever heard! how can you say someone can't take vacation for 5 MONTHS of the year? what possible valid business reason could you have for that? i've never head of such funky rules for vacation. remember your employees are adults, for goodness sakes, not preschoolers!

if there are so few employees, i would recommend having a calendar posted and ask people to give as much notice as possible on that calendar when their vaca will be, and ask that 2 people not take the same week (again, in as much as that can be controlled - in the case of a wedding or baby, like evil hr lady said, you just have to deal!). and for goodness sakes, let them spread out the days however they like, that's just silly!

Anonymous said...

It is not just in small business. I worked for a major theme park a couple of years back. They had a policy of no vacation in June, July, or August. When the chain was purchased by a VERY large corporation, they sent in some "consultants" to look at how the business was run. One of the first things they said was, "How can a business that has been around for decades not have figured out how to give their people vacation?" The policy soon changed.

Before anyone comments about how "crutial" it must be for all hands to be on deck in a park during the summer, it it the spring and the fall when they are short staffed and really need everyone there. The old policy also had us with next to no one there at times when the business planning processes were happening.

Truth is, if you have full time people, you have full time jobs. You give people time off and you figure out how to make that happen so as to retain your talent and get the job done. Talented people do find a way get both done.

Anonymous said...

What about employees that have kids who are off of school in December with no alternate child care??? Does this manager discourage people with young children from working for him/her?

Nous Sommes Amoureux said...

If he is really as bad as all of you are thinking he is, then I have to ask how he still has employees. There must be more to the story. His employees must feel some sort of loyalty to him otherwise they wouldn't continue to stick around. From his letter, he obviously is wanting feed back on if he should change the policy. The fact that he is seeking advise and an outside opinion gives him credit. In his mind he probably made that policy as the best thing for him and his company. He is now asking himself if it is the best thing for his employees. The goal here is to find a policy that balances both.

Anonymous said...

Most of the commentator's are out of touch with running a small business. Although I would not use the word "spoiled", I understand where the owner is coming from. Take 2 weeks salary time 6 people and add in three weeks salary of the highest paid employee and imagine that you are paying it of you salary instead of negotiating with upper management for the benefit. Now remember the cars are doing crap right now and this company is likely 20% or greater decrease in business. And that the decrease in profits comes out of this owner's salary as well. He is sacrificing a bunch to offer this benefit and it makes sense that he desires the employees to pitch in by making it convenient for him in scheduling. Although he is not going to foster goodwill with the strict policy. I would recommend that he offer two weeks vacation to employees whenever they want to take it. But if the schedule vacation in full week increments between April and October he will pay them. With so few employee I believe that he is not required to pay for vacations

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a company with this short-sighted vacation policy. Never again. After taking my 2 weeks 1 week at a time as required - during times I didn't want, actually, but were convenient for my employer - I asked for ONE DAY off to attend the funeral of an immediate family member who died very suddenly. My boss gave me incredible grief about it and in a not so subtle way threatened to affect my next performance review, even though my colleagues were more than willing to cover for me. He said it would "set a precedent." (Note that he himself had taken 2 weeks off - not counted against his vacation time - when he had a death in the family, and management regularly took a random day or two off at a time, whenever they wanted to.) Bottom line, I took the day off anyway and gave my notice the following week. FYI, I am now the owner of a competing firm and am able to hire stellar people partly because I treat them well and give them control over their deliverables. That way, they can take vacations whenever they want to as long as their work gets done. Works for us! Our P&L is the proof.

Anonymous said...

I am a small business owner. My employees get 4 weeks' vacation (paid) and they take them when they want. The OP is not realistic.

free credit repair said...

I agree, but it's not that I'd hate to work for this person. Maybe your employees are not efficient for the position they are handling because they don't feel that they are welcome to the company, maybe employees want to be treated in a special way.