- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

The arrival of summer brings a source of angst for some small-business owners: their employees’ vacations.

Company owners know that workers need vacations, but some give the time off grudgingly.

“They don’t take many vacations themselves. … They think employees should be willing to make the same sacrifice,” said Leigh Branham, owner of Keeping the People Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., human resources consulting firm.

The problem is that vacations are disruptive to a company’s routine.

Other workers must fill in for the vacationing employee, but often aren’t familiar with the routine. Tasks may not be handled as efficiently during the worker’s absence — and sometimes they aren’t done at all.

Then there are questions about procedures or customer accounts that no one can answer except the absent employee.

An owner’s anxiety is understandable, said Max Messmer, chief executive officer of the staffing company Robert Half International Inc.

“Because they’re smaller, it’s harder to do without one particular employee,” Mr. Messmer said. But he is an advocate of cheerfully giving workers vacations: “You really want your employees to have some time away, to recharge.”

Leslie Yerkes, president of Catalyst Consulting Group in Cleveland, said small-business owners can make vacation periods less stressful with some planning.

“If you look at the whole year, you can plan for coverage and it has less of a negative impact,” she said. “But I’m afraid that they don’t plan, and it feels like a crisis then and the employer resents that.”

Miss Yerkes suggests owners sit down with staffers at the beginning of the year and plot out vacation schedules.

That will give employees time to learn how to do co-workers’ jobs, and it gives the owner time to consider bringing in temporary help, and budgeting for such an expense.

A change in attitude — looking at vacations as a positive, rather than negative, phenomenon — also may help.

“Sometimes time away can be time very well spent even from a business perspective,” Mr. Messmer said, suggesting that employees will be more effective when they return to work.

Vacation time also is an employee benefit that enables a company to attract and retain good workers. A positive attitude about vacations will be particularly helpful for baby-boomer bosses looking to hire Generation X employees, Mr. Branham said.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to give employees as much vacation as possible.

Mr. Branham notes that many companies give workers two weeks of vacation after the first year, three weeks after five years and four weeks after 10 years.

But he also said that it may pay in the long run to be more generous than that, particularly if you are in a business that must compete for talented workers.

He also said that many people starting new jobs are used to having several weeks of vacation. He suggested being flexible during that first year of employment.

This is an era in which wireless communications and Internet connections make it possible for an employee to virtually be at work even when he is thousands of miles away.

Many business owners may jump at the chance to have workers, especially key employees, call and/or log in on a daily basis.

Not a good idea, Mr. Messmer said. He suggests that employees leave phone numbers where they can be reached in a true crisis.

“The idea that you should always be on call, checking e-mail or your Blackberry or calling in on your cell phone — you have to resist it,” he said.


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