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How to prevent staff shortages, absenteeism during the holidays


Holiday celebrations across Canada will look different this year. (aprilante/Adobe Stock)

This holiday season, businesses will be facing an unusual set of challenges presented by the pandemic.

On top of that, staff shortages, sick leave, absenteeism and conflicting vacation requests are common concerns for employers every year around the holidays. With improper management, these HR dilemmas can be costly and damaging to businesses.

Workplaces can avoid issues by preparing for the holidays in advance and being transparent with staff, according to Kiljon Shukullari, advisory team lead at HR consultancy firm Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

Hiring seasonal workers

Businesses that need seasonal workers should not delay with recruitment and start hiring well before peak business periods.

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“When hiring, managers should be up front about the requirements of the job and work hours, such as lifting heavy objects, working late or working many days in a row,” said Shukullari.

“This will help narrow down applications and ensure that staff are clear on the expectations of the job, making it less likely that they will quit mid-way through the season.”

How can businesses avoid staff shortages?

The holiday season may be the busiest time of the year for some businesses. Being short staffed can lead to stress, low morale and exhaustion for workers who have to pick up the slack.

Fortunately, there are management best practices that can help employers prevent staff shortages.

“Schedules for busy periods, especially around statutory winter holidays, should be created and given to staff in advance to give workers a chance to switch shifts and express any scheduling concerns,” said Shukullari.

“Doing this in advance will allow for any conflicts to be resolved and prevent the likelihood of staff not showing up to work last minute.”

Employers can also cross-train staff on each others’ duties so that if there is a last-minute absence, it will be easier to find a cover.

How should employers manage vacation requests?

It can be hard to accommodate all employees’ vacation requests around the holidays, especially if the requests overlap and create scheduling conflicts.

Business owners can request that staff book their vacation days in advance and remind staff that requests will be approved on a first come, first served basis, or according to company policies. Even so, this might lead to some employees’ requests getting denied.

“To avoid disappointment and frustration among workers, employers can request that staff submit vacation requests according to priority, providing their first, second and third preferences for days off,” said Shukullari.

“With this system, even if an employees’ priority request gets denied they have a high change of getting their second option.”

Businesses that cannot afford to have staff off during peak business times, such as in the days leading up to Christmas, may also consider implementing a vacation blackout period if necessary.

However, employers should be careful about doing this as many workers like to take time off during the holidays to spend time with their families. To avoid discontent, this should be a policy that is clearly communicated to staff at the beginning of their employment.

How can businesses prevent absenteeism?

Absenteeism is a pattern of frequent absences from work without good reason — a problem that can affect productivity and be costly for businesses. Frequent absences may be caused by disengagement, stress, burnout or be due to employees going through difficulties in their personal lives.

To resolve this issue, employers should determine whether the cause is work-related and offer support and accommodations if necessary.

For example, an employee might be feeling burnt out or overwhelmed by their workload. In this case, the employer should offer support to the employee by helping them prioritize certain tasks, give suggestions for better time management, reduce their workload altogether or give them more time to complete their work.

Prior to the holiday season, employers should remind staff of their vacation and sick leave entitlements, of the attendance policy and set clear expectations.

“Employers should be vigilant in spotting any trends by documenting all absences,” said Shukullari. “If they notice a pattern of frequent absences from one employee, they should have a conversation with them and may go as far as to take disciplinary actions in line with company policies.”

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.