Holiday Schedules

Dear Management Doctor:

Here's a question for the Management Doctor that's pertinent to the holidays. How do you keep the office open, and still allow your staff a well-deserved break to be with family and friends? Who stays when it's the week between Christmas and New Year's or the week of July 4th? My feeling has always been that the buck stops at my desk and I'll be the one to stay, if needed. Fortunately, it's never been a problem in my office as my staff has been great about trading off, and are very cooperative in working out the holiday schedule. However, I'd like to know how other managers have addressed this issue when there are problems.

Have a great holiday season - I look forward to reading your newsletter.

Nancy Benziger Brown, Ph.D. FAIC

Dear Nancy,

A good question. Let's see what our readers have to say. My own thoughts are:

  1. Why not simply swap off, i.e., I worked last year so I get to take off this year.
  2. Many private companies simply close during that week. This would likely be a tough sell in government but might be worth some brainstorming or labor negotiations.

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

Here's some thoughts on vacation schedules. At the city where I use to work, the new community development director thought it would be a nice gesture to let all the front office staff go home a half hour early and he would watch the front counter. They were all so appreciative and thanked him as they left. It was a great gesture until the first person came to the counter and he couldn't answer the question. Fortunately, I was still there and helped him out. Then the next person came and I helped them and then the next. Finally, I told him (my boss) that he might as well go home early too. I stayed to field the questions because he was so new he didn't know any of the answers. So the morale to the story is, if all the people who know something are on vacation, you might as well be closed. Due to budget constraints, the City of Susanville, CA closed entirely (except for police, fire and street plowing) between Christmas and New Year's. It was a bit inconvenient to builders (to not have any building inspections that week), but the city managed and we're back to regular hours again. Sometimes you just need to close the doors and go on vacation.

Bill Nebeker
City of Susanville, CA


In the offices where I've worked, both large and small, we've used a variation on the following system:

  • Holiday leave between Christmas and New Year's is not allocated based on first come, first serve. Some employees have their requests for all of their leave for 2005 ready early in 2004. Not everyone else is so fortunate as to be able to know their plans that far ahead of time.
  • We ask people to identify any inflexible needs such as "We are gathering this year in Timbucktoo because a relative is ill."
  • We ask everyone else to alternate which week they take off Christmas week one year; New Year's week the next. Everyone gets December 25th and most public agencies recognize the 24th as well.
  • Believe it or not, I've learned that some employees who don't travel over the holidays like coming to work during that down week. Phones don't ring and you can get a lot accomplished in very little time. They would rather save their time off for vacations later.
  • Automatically putting people with childcare needs at the top of the list of those entitled to take the time off engenders resentment among singles. This has to be approached very carefully. We want to be family- friendly and we want to be fair.

Your office seems to have worked the issue out amicably. Sometimes when there is a problem around assigning holiday leave, there are larger morale and management issues that are surfacing around the holiday leave matter. And like you, I often work the holiday shift Wednesday before Thanksgiving, etc. It's a way of showing my staff that they are appreciated and valued.

Carol D. Barrett, FAICP
City of San Marcos, CA

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