The British summer is officially upon us, bringing with it the perennial customs of holiday excitement, music festivals, sporting events and occasional disappointment about the weather.
For businesses, the summer months can be a time of great opportunity but can also throw up some considerable difficulties, not least of which is the likelihood of many employees wanting to take annual leave around the same time.
It is important to have clear plans and policies in place to minimise the impact of the holiday rush on your operation, but also to ensure that all workers have a fair opportunity to take some time off.
The summer holiday rush
A national obsession with sunshine and the weather, combined with the fact that large swathes of the UK have to put up with grey skies and rain for much of the year, means that being able to get away in the summer is practically a necessity for most British workers.
Many people see their main holiday as an annual highlight, something that makes it easier to get out of bed and make the journey to work on those cold, grey Monday mornings.
In July 2013, Abta - The Travel Association estimated that two million holidaymakers would head overseas on the first weekend of the school summer break alone.
For businesses - particularly small operations with relatively small workforces - having a large proportion of the workforce all wanting to take time off within the space of few months can be a resourcing nightmare.
So what can you do to mitigate the impact of staffing shortages at this time of year?
Plan in advance
As any company that has experienced summer staffing problems in the past will know, it is crucial to anticipate the holiday rush and have arrangements in place to deal with it.
This is particularly important when people in key roles, with specific and business-critical responsibilities, are taking time off. Prepare for these periods by having clear and thorough handover processes in place, and engage with your workforce to make sure that anyone temporarily taking on a colleague's workload feels comfortable with the job.
The planning process should also consider the option of bringing in temporary employees. Will it be necessary to hire temps to plug any gaps in your workforce, and will your budget allow it? Again, advance planning is crucial in this regard, especially if you will be recruiting in specialist areas and need to find candidates with particular skills.
You can also prepare for busy holiday periods by liaising with clients. Understandably, your customers might expect services to continue without disruption regardless of the time of year, but it might be possible to arrange certain projects, jobs or contract obligations to ease the pressure in the summer months.
Have clear policies in place
Having clear policies in place for how employees arrange their annual leave periods is key - it ensures that staff know where they stand while making HR managers' lives easier during a hectic period.
If you operate in a seasonal sector, or if your business has particularly heavy workloads at the same time every year, you may want to implement policies to ensure your labour force is not severely depleted at these times. You might need to limit the number of people from certain departments who can take annual leave simultaneously, or request longer notice periods ahead of busy periods to allow more time to prepare. In cases such as these, it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure any rules or restrictions are clearly communicated to workers.
Another policy decision you might have to make relates to how leave is allocated. Will you operate a first come, first served system, or give staff a window in which to submit their requests before dividing up the holiday time as evenly as possible?
As is the case with many workforce-related issues, the best approach could be to discuss matters with employees in an attempt to find a solution that all are happy with. If you have a difficult period on the horizon, inform your workers and you might find that some are prepared to alter their plans or change shift patterns to help the company out.
Try to give everyone the chance to take time off
As well as having processes in place to keep disruption to a minimum during busy holiday periods, it is important to remember that, as an employer, you have a duty of care towards your employees and should encourage them to take some time off. Failing to do so could result in fatigue and lack of motivation in the workforce, and consequently a drop in productivity.
Try to make sure that everyone gets a fair opportunity to take some leave, particularly if they have families and want to spend some time with their children during school holidays.
You should also encourage managers to take some time off, even if they think they have too much work on to take a break. People in leadership positions are a key part of your operation, so they need to feel mentally and physically capable of fulfilling their responsibilities.
According to research released by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) last summer, only half of managers had booked a holiday and 35 per cent had cancelled or postponed plans to take some leave. Over two-thirds (69 per cent) cited heavy workloads as the reason why.
CMI director of strategy Petra Wilton said: "Of course taking time off can be tricky, but by arming yourself with the skills and techniques you need to manage yourself and your teams effectively, you can make the most of your time at work - and make it easier to take a break."
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