June 22, 2008

It’s Sum, Sum, Sum, Sum…Summertime

By Paul Bieber

Bar-B-Ques, ball games, family picnics, long weekends, and of course, vacations. Vacations are great. Everyone remembers their favorite trip or place they went on a vacation. As a business owner or manager, your take on vacations usually is ‘a scheduling nightmare’. Here are some tips that may help every business.

Vacation is not a mandated benefit. Some companies don’t offer vacation, especially to part-time or contract workers, but there are three reasons you want to offer vacations: A good vacation program allows you to hire and retain the best employees; most employees come back from vacation with their batteries recharged and are ready to perform at their best for the company; and managing a vacation schedule allows leadership to cross-train and observe other members of the company.

That’s the textbook in me writing. Let’s get to what we in the glass industry can do to help ourselves with proper vacation scheduling. The most common vacation schedule in the United States is two weeks during the summer, as that is when the kids are out of school. If everyone wants their vacation in the summer, you may find yourself without enough people to staff your business needs.

In your employee manual, or just your vacation policies sheet, you may make any rules you want. There is no federal guideline. If you want to offer vacation only in the fall and winter, your quiet season, that’s OK. You might not hire or retain great employees, so you have to strike a balance.

Set a number of employees, by company or department, that can be on vacation at any one time. For instance, you have six field glaziers, you might say no more than two at any given time can be scheduled out. The single best way to set the schedule is based on employee seniority. It is the simplest and prevents any other problems. Ask for a vacation schedule early in the year, by February if you can. People may say they can’t make their plans this early, but others who take a planned week will want to get reservations early to save money on travel and hotels.

So, ask for a schedule by February 15th. If there are conflict dates, or too many people in a week, talk with the group and tell them that the most senior people get the requested weeks, and ask the others for their next choice. A week later, hand out a note with the scheduled vacations. After that, fill in requests only as they meet your minimum staffing requirement. Please don’t make the mistake of allowing someone to beg for a closed week. This will only hurt the rest of the company.

It is OK to allow one week during the summer, and the other week sometime during the rest of the year. If an employee has earned more than two weeks, only the first two weeks should go into the advance schedule. A person with a month off should not hinder the rest of the group.

An extremely common situation is the employee who asks to work through a vacation week, earning an extra week’s pay. If you accomodate this request, you should allow for one of an employee’s two weeks. Remember, you are now paying this person for 53 weeks, not 52, and your budgeting is getting a hole blown in it.

Never, ever grant an employee to work through their entire vacation, most especially any employee that handles cash, your checkbook, pays bills, invoices customers or places vendor orders. You want them away for week and you want someone else to learn and do their job. Why? So that when the customer says, they normally get an order at half price, your alarm bell goes off. It is a major warning when a financial person says they want to work through vacation. This is the time to be suspicious.

You should also have a policy on returning from vacation. If someone is due back on a Monday, they should be back and ready to work. If someone drives from 500 miles away all night Sunday, and comes to work looking like they are half-asleep, send them home, without pay. The old joke about having to go back to work, so they can recover from vacation, is no joke when it affects your company’s productivity.

I always have a hard time with the employee who calls at 8:00 on Monday morning, saying they will be late because their flight came in late. Being on vacation is not an excuse for being unreliable.

The most common vacation-earning schedule is:

•First Year – one week earned

•Second Year – two weeks earned

•Eight-Ten Years – three weeks earned

•Fifteen-Twenty Years – four weeks earned

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to match other companies or industries. We are not high-tech or education. I have seen many glass companies that offer vacations to three weeks, and just a very few who go to five weeks.

One of the biggest decisions in vacation policy is: when is a vacation earned and eligible to be taken. Is it after one year of employment, and then take one week during the second worked year? Or is it one week earned and taken during the first year? There is no correct or right decision. If you tend to hire employees for long-terms, then go with the earn and take in the first year. On the other hand, if you turn people over, then wait until one full year worked to earn the vacation.

What about when an employee leaves you–do they get their accumulated vacation? Remember, it is not covered by federal law, so you may pay it or cancel it. (some states may have other policies). I know some employers who forfeit accrued vacation when an employees resigns. This may make an employee think twice before quitting after a disagreement in the plant; but for the most part, this just causes ill-will, which is transmitted by the ex-employee through out your community. We paid all accrued vacation after confirming hours worked in the last pay period, and after all company materials, (phones, safety gear, etc) were checked back in.

If an holiday occurs during the employee’s vacation period, make it optional if the employee gets the following Monday, or another day of their choice.

Some companies let employees take a vacation day or two in advance, in effect loaning them the days ahead of when they are earned. This is really a win-win situation. You give the employee something they are going to earn in a short period of time, the employee thinks you are really accommodating, and you can still with hold a day’s pay from their last paycheck if they quit the week after the vacation. Do this when it is within a month or two of actually earning the last day, and to an employee you want to reward.

We’ll talk more about vacation scheduling when winter vacations come up for scheduling, later in the fall. To all, have a great trip, wherever you are going!