· 2 min read · Features

Ensuring festive cheer is the only thing that’s spread this year


Despite the challenges 2020 has brought, the government’s announcement of a five day ‘Christmas window’ has shaken things up again this festive season.

If they haven’t already, employers are likely to be met with an influx of holiday requests from employees wanting to be ‘off’ in some capacity to make the most of the new, lighter restrictions.

From amending policies for special circumstances, to safely managing a return to work, how can employers maintain business as usual while keeping risks at bay?

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While many parents have been working from home, as well as teaching children during lockdown, schools and workplaces are now open again; taking annual leave to spend quality time with family over Christmas is more important than ever.

Not only does this require watertight administration processes, but it also puts pressure on employers to offer flexible working options, particularly in sectors where homeworking isn’t as simple.

This presents a unique challenge to many businesses and bosses are finding themselves having to balance the provision of flexible working practices with the need to ensure adequate staffing and resource levels across the business, especially over the Christmas period.

For any HR manager looking to improve the way staffing levels and holiday requests are managed, a review of the company’s holiday policy should be the first port of call.

While these policies can vary from business to business, it is important to communicate these regularly to new and existing staff, so that everyone is on the same page regarding what they can and can’t do.

All policies should be made clear to any newcomers in their contract of employment and during their induction process when joining the company. For example, if a firm knows that Christmas, along with July and August represents the one of the busiest times of the year for sales, its holiday policy should reflect this and state any restrictions placed on staff holidays.

As long as this is stipulated in policies, and both parties are aware, this is legitimate practice.

Companies should take care not to adopt a draconian approach to Christmas leave allocation, especially this year. After all, a happy workforce and a healthy partnership between employer and employee is far more likely to result in a successful business than the negative atmosphere created by an unsympathetic boss.

Engaging staff and understanding the needs and wants of individuals is essential. Ultimately, there should be a drive within the business to foster a culture of fairness and consistency, especially where holidays are concerned.

A positive partnership between staff and employer should also help reduce the number of unauthorised absences, whether these are COVID-related or not. For this reason, it may be necessary to clarify employee rights around leave due to illness and that both absenteeism and presenteeism - or continuing to come to work when unwell - could trigger disciplinary proceedings.

Checking employees understand the consequences of taking time off work without permission is a key element of HR management. Regularly reviewing sickness policies can also ensure they meet the business’ needs and set out employee obligations and entitlements.

Following the government’s announcement that three households can mix over Christmas, it may be necessary to group or ‘bubble’ shift staff and stagger employee return to the workplace after the festive break. As well as following the usual social distancing guidelines, this will allow for any potential issues to be nipped in the bud and reduce the chances of a positive case affecting the entire workforce.

After all, a well-run organisation is one that takes care of its staff now and for the future. Following a challenging year, planning is critical.

Anticipating the effects of busy periods can go a long way to help mitigate the effects of an influx of holiday requests. In the long run, communicating with individual employees to find solutions that balance their personal comfort and needs with those of the business will make managing any unexpected surprises that little bit easier.

Phil Pepper is head of employment at law firm Shakespeare Martineau.