Bah, humbug! Managing Absence at Christmas

Katie Harrower |


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December can often feel like the nightmare before Christmas for HR managers.

The festive season can be a busy time for businesses, with demand for products and services rising, while at the same time absence levels and annual leave requests rise significantly, too.

All this combined can lead to HR departments wanting to exclaim ‘Bah, humbug!’, as they struggle to keep track of each member of staff during this time. There are easier and more efficient ways to manage Christmas-time absence, though, whether it be sick days following your Christmas party or an abundance of annual leave requests.

Christmas bank holidays

Rights to paid annual leave on public holidays depends on your terms of employment – they are counted as part of statutory annual leave. Oftentimes employers are more flexible with holiday requests during this time to accommodate the Christmas season and time to see family, friends and so on. However, this could leave your company unprepared for a very busy time of year in many industries, which is why it’s important to plan ahead.

Managing unplanned absences

Christmas markets, dinners, parties… The opportunities for fun days out at Christmas are endless. That’s why employers often see a rise in sick days and absences over the festive period.It’s important to monitor attendance over December carefully – look out for trends in unauthorised absences, late attendance or high levels of sickness. Laying down the rules at the start of the month is also key – make sure employees know that absences will be treated in the same manner they always are throughout the rest of the year.

However, the Christmas culture will be all around you and your employees this month – perhaps a better way to combat Christmas-time absences is to bring Christmas into the office. Put up a tree and organise a Secret Santa, as well as keeping your social media updated with pictures of what you’re up to, keeping everyone within your business involved, and reducing the desire to call in sick.

Refusing annual leave requests

If there are certain periods of time within the month which are extremely busy for your business, you may need to make some restrictions on annual leave. However, these restrictions need to be made clear to employees far in advance.You may want to have a ‘shut down period’ over Christmas or choose specific dates within the month to close – making annual leave on these dates mandatory.

Alternatively, you could choose a maximum number of days’ leave per employee that can be taken over the month.It can be difficult having to refuse employees annual leave – not only do you not want to create bad relations within the company, but also between yourself personally and other individuals. That’s why making your employees aware of your Christmas policy, and how it differs from your policy during the rest of the year, long in advance is essential for success.

‘Time and a half’ and ‘Double pay’

There is no legal right for employees to receive extra pay e.g. ‘time and a half’ or ‘double pay’ for working on a Christmas bank holiday – it is entirely at the discretion of you as the employer. Pay conditions should ideally be set out clearly in the employee’s contract of employment, including any differences in pay over Christmas. Paying employees extra to work on these days can be seen as a good gesture, however, and you may want to consider if your business can afford this as a means of increasing team morale and helping to retain staff for longer.

Keeping track of absences

It’s one thing to take steps to ensure absences are kept to a minimum, and annual leave is taken when appropriate – another thing altogether to ensure you are keeping track of everyone’s schedules.

That’s why Youmanage HR provides a comprehensive absence planner within a robust HR system, allowing you to track all absences at once, monitor individuals and spot trends early on.

To find out how Youmanage HR can help your line managers easily manage staff resources, and plan holidays and leave, check out our product page.

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Katie is the Marketing Executive here at Youmanage. Within the wider team, she is responsible for managing all aspects of marketing communications, including content and digital strategy, social media, website traffic, prospective client experience and the overall satisfaction of existing Youmanage users.