Scheduling Fireworks: Five Ways To Prepare For Summer Vacation Season

Summertime, and the living is easy. Add this one to the list of things business owners never say. For them, summertime is the season of extended employee vacations, long weekends, relaxed work attire, Friday afternoon ghost towns and the dreaded last-minute beach day.

Finding the right formula for managing employee time off during the warmer months -- especially in northern cities -- is like a favorite summertime cocktail: one part planned vacation, one part ad hoc request, with a dash of playing hooky. And, like a bartender's signature drink, you as a business owner are often asked to serve the same request to multiple people at once.

But with proper planning, open employee communications and a little technology, summertime staffing can at least be a little easier. With summer in full swing, here are five tips to help prep for vacation season while avoiding productivity fireworks:

1. Offer paid time off and have a formal policy

This one seems like a no-brainer, but many small business owners miss this step. Of course, without the luxury of an HR department, it's understandable. You'll need to carve out time to put on your HR hat and develop the company's formal policy.

This policy should ideally be in written form and clear to understand. It should also be fair and consistent. In the policy, consider offering unpaid time off as well for those ad hoc requests. If all these options are available to your employees, you can stick to the policy to help avoid the disruption and loss of productivity caused by playing hooky at the beach.

2. Urge your employees to take their time off and recharge

Once the plan is in place and your employees put in for time off, don't disrupt their vacation or expect them to be available at the drop of a hat. Just the opposite: Urge them to take their earned vacation time, disconnect, relax and come back fully charged. The work will be waiting for them when they get back.

If your staff has the ability to work remotely, consider implementing flexible summer time hours. You can rotate the schedule between co-workers to ensure the company has full business coverage while offering a nice perk to attract and retain good employees. For critical and hourly workers who don't have this luxury, schedule flexible time off with potential overtime opportunities in mind for later.

3. Encourage employee communication

Without fail, most employees will want the same days off in summer. Whether it's extending a long Labor Day weekend, or maybe even planning a trip together, encouraging open communication can help avoid people scrapping last minute for those coveted days off.

Encourage your team to help you anticipate potential vacancy issues that can hurt the business by updating everyone on project status, finishing key initiatives before taking off for vacation and leaving behind a "While I'm Out" list that includes internal and external stakeholder needs.

With a clear time-off policy coupled with an organized time and attendance procedure, hourly workers who need extra cash for their own summer vacation planning have the opportunity to pick up potential shifts if they know their coworkers will be away.

4. Plan major initiatives/sales/launches around summer vacation

Unless you're a restaurant owner on the boardwalk or boutique that specializes in selling Americana, the Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day holidays are probably not the best times to launch a new product, rollout a new policy, or kickoff a new campaign. Resources will be scarce, so plan major work initiatives with the higher rate of vacationing workers in mind.

If you're using a workforce management system for your business, use the data you've gathered to understand historical absence trends during the summer season. Take it a step further and look into labor analytics and scheduling tools to assess the impact of requested vacation time and adjust schedules accordingly.

If you interrupt employee vacation time with impromptu big initiative requests or mandate that they come in to cover a shift, the morale and dedication points you lose that day will often outweigh the loss in productivity you would have otherwise incurred. Consider employees' preferences as you schedule shifts on high demand vacation days. Some of your employees will happily cover these shifts in return for extra income or time off at other times of the year.

5. Give yourself some independence, too

And don't forget time for yourself and your family. We all know small business owners work a 24-hour workday. After all, "I am on vacation," is another term business owners never say. But recent data indicates maybe this trend is changing.

American Express' recent Small Business Monitor survey says that 60 percent of respondents plan to take a one-week vacation this summer. This is the highest percentage since 2006.

Aside from taking time to recharge your mind, taking time off is beneficial from a pure business perspective. Treat it as a test run for your employees for those future emergencies when you actually can't make it in to work. While it might be hard to let go, consider that your competent employees should be able to handle 90 to 95 percent of operations. Can they?