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November 30, 2003
Oh, Those Last-Minute Time Off Requests

As Washington Post workplace columnist Amy Joyce reminds us, 'tis the season for those last-minute requests for time off—complete with pleading, tears, and sometimes anger from the petitioning employees.

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"One more thing to add to a manager's holiday stress list," Joyce writes.

No doubt, many bosses already have endured a Thanskgiving week of schedule juggling, including some who "had to think fast, because—oops—an employee suddenly played the 'nonrefundable plane ticket' trump card."

For employers who worry about a year-end meltdown at their businesses because of competing time-off requests, Joyce has this advice: "Make rules, be flexible and hang on for the bumpy ride."

Everyone sets up holiday vacation schedules to avoid conflicts at this time of year, but inevitably, they go awry as the last-minute requests (or, in some cases, demands) pop up. Mary Massad, director of human resource development for Administaff, an HR outsourcing firm, tells Joyce that she advises managers to "remain flexible but have an enormous amount of communication with employees."

In other words:

  • Tell them the deadline for submitting vacation requests;

  • Let them know what you have decided reqarding their requests and why, and;

  • Make sure everyone knows the expectations the company has—"how many people have to be at work on New Year's Eve, who may have to be on call, what time those at work may be able to squeeze out," Joyce writes.

Schedule conflicts will still crop up, Joyce writes, but a good give and take between employer and employee "is probably the key to making sure those schedules and feelings are smoothed over. The more a company is willing to work with employees' holiday schedules, the more willing people may be to schedule the time off well in advance and perhaps be flexible if someone else suddenly needs a different day off."

For some, Joyce notes, holiday scheduling conflicts are all but erased because they count the entire week between Christmas and New Year's Day as paid holiday time. Among them is EFX Media Inc., in Arlington, Va.

"By the time December hits, my folks are usually exhausted," says Jennifer Cortland, president of the company, which makes video and other media products for corporate clients. "And my clients are quiet that time of year. So instead of fighting the system, we thought we'd join the system."

The employees get a paid week off, in addition to their regular vacation time. "A lot of people want that week off anyway, so we got all these requests." Cortland says. The extra paid week simply makes sense, she adds, especially since so many other Washington-area employers do the same..

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