Business owners don't have to see red during the holidays as long as they manage their staff right. At no other time of the year do companies have to field multiple requests for time off. Handle it wrong, and it could cripple the business at an otherwise busy time of year -- not to mention hurt your culture and your employer brand.

"It can cause tremendous grief for organizations," says Samuel Tanios, president and chief executive of Human Elements Consulting, the human resources consulting company. If it's not managed properly, it can not only prevent the business from delivering what clients and customers want but can also create internal strife, he says. To prevent any problems this year, human resources experts and business owners weigh in with their top seven tips to manage employee holiday time off.

A woman in a Santa hat laughs at a ccomputer screen; a Christmas tree is in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Plan in advance. Many industrial businesses have their holiday schedule planned well in advance, and there's no reason any type of business can't do that, either. According to Brian Koniuk, a principal at the Hackett Group, manufacturers typically require employees to plan out their vacation for the coming year so they know in January who is working what holiday and who is off for the entire year. In other industries, like healthcare, Koniuk says schedules are made three to five months in advance.

2. First-come, first-served. If you are running a business that is busy during the holidays or needs to be staffed 24/7 year-round, one way to prevent employees from taking off in large numbers is to limit the amount and give workers off on a first-come, first-served basis, says Pat Sweeney, human resource manager at Old Colony Hospice and Palliative Care. "If they know they are going to want to be off over the holidays, they know they have to ask for the time off way in advance," says Sweeney. She says that starting as early as September, supervisors can notify the staff that requests for time off have to be made as soon as possible. Hand in hand with a first-come, first-served policy is capping the number of people who can take time off during the holidays.

3. Stagger the schedule. You may not be able to keep a full staff during the holidays, but that doesn't mean you have to close early or provide a reduced level of service. To combat that, Kathy Harris, managing director of recruiting firm Harris Allied, says to stagger your employee vacation scheduling. For instance, you can have someone work in the morning during the holidays while another worker takes the afternoon shift. Another option: Have one employee work Monday and Tuesday and another Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The idea behind a staggered employee vacation schedule is to always have coverage, and at the same time, give employees time off during the holidays.

4. Keep a pool of part-timers. If you are operating a business that picks up during the holiday season, or you know a lot of your staff will be gone during that time, it's a good idea to keep a pool of part-timers that you can tap when you need extra help, says Gary Shouldis, a small business consultant, coach, and owner of a gymnastics center. "We have a pool of part-timers that we know can work the holidays," says Shouldis. "Whenever we hit the holiday period or periods where we lose part of our staff, they come on." According to Shouldis, it's a good idea to keep in contact with these part-timers year-round so you'll know their availability ahead of time. Another option is to post a job in anticipation of holiday hiring.

5. Offer a holiday pay differential. For some people, money talks even if it means they won't be with their family during the holidays, which is why offering a holiday pay differential can keep your business staffed. According to Sweeney, it should be something that is part of the company's structure and not something you offer just to entice an employee not to take time off. "If you're in a business you know there are a lot of requests for time off, you can have some differential built in," she says.

6. Institute a vacation blackout period. The holidays are the busiest time for some businesses, particularly retail, which means they need a full staff if not more. If your business falls into this category, a way to prevent employees from taking time off is to have a blackout period where no one can do so, says Tanios. If an employee wants time off during a blackout period, he or she would need to ask well in advance, and it would be at the manager's discretion, says Tanios. It's a good idea to inform employees of the blackout policy from the beginning so they aren't blindsided come holiday time.

7. Let employees work at home. These days, pretty much everybody has a laptop, iPad, or smartphone that enables them to work remotely. If your staff doesn't have to be on site, letting them work at home during the holidays can be a productive way to get things done without having to bring in additional staff. Working at home is a viable option only if the business lends itself to it and there's a way to ensure the employees are actually working. "In this day and age, working from a virtual office anywhere is possible," says Sweeney.

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