Off And Away – Dealing with Staff Time Off

From Hotel F&B Magazine – Staffing Doctor Column – July/August 2011
By Chase LeBlanc

My least favorite management duty is dealing with time-off requests and making sure the posts of those off are covered. I have some employees who are workaholics, some who take time off appropriately, and some who call in with suspicious sick days for which I have to take their word. Appropriate time off is great for morale and avoiding burnout, but do you have any advice for juggling it all, especially when a sick employee’s absence throws a monkey wrench into my flow?

Justified versus unjustified time off is a sandin- the-gears conflict causing strife within many companies. Regulations exist at both the federal and state levels to govern time-off standards, but they do not cover all situations, because the truth of that lies in the perspective of the beholder. On top of that for some operators is the newly daunting task of providing employees with paid sick days.

Attendance used to be mandatory. Remember the days when you had tickets to a once-in-a-lifetime concert, and your supervisor at work uttered those famous words, “A time off request is just that—a request, not an automatic fulfillment program?” You would sulk off trying to find someone to cover your shift—or sell the tickets.

Those days are gone. If you tell someone they “might” not get a day off that they requested, they might quit on the spot. You used to cajole people to come into work on their day off to help cover a “broken shift,” and now you practically beg some of your best and brightest to stay home if there is even a slight chance they are awaiting proof of an airborne contagion. Employees are now arriving with a lack of communal work ethic, language barriers, cultural hurdles, and with a noticeably absent knowledge of shared values.

When viewed as originally intended, time off is part of the employee benefits package: a perq. But when is time off too much? The easy answer is when it has a negative effect on the employee’s performance or is dragging the business down. If someone is taking their accrued time, vacation, flex, charity, or bonus time, you can’t really argue, can you?

It seems to be a pretty universal experience that time off is all well and good if we’re talking about your days off, not so much if you’re covering for someone who has gone off to Bora Bora. The understanding and agreement lie in your perspective and alignment with policies and norms. You might never be able to get buyin from someone who does not have children to understand how being a parent seriously requires previously untapped scheduling flexibility. A person who has never faced death or serious illness in their family may not relate to the accompanying demands and blue notes.

Some companies who provide working remotely as an option have simply “punted” on attempting to manage employee time off. These companies allow that anything goes, as long as you get your work done.

The best approach to meet the rising demands from employees whose time-off needs have skyrocketed over the years is not to grab it by the neck and throttle down the incoming request pipeline or solely attempt to cover everything by adding new policies, but to build more flexibility into your system.

Work the part of this challenge that you actually have some control over. The help you can give yourself is cross-training. There has been a lot of belt-tightening over recent years, and maybe your training budgets took a hit, so do yourself a favor: cross-train, station to station, front to back, and back to front. Time-off arm-wrestling will never improve your guest satisfaction scores. The more jobs your employees know how to perform, well, the less time-off stress you will have—when it’s your time off.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!

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