April 17, 2009

How Small Business Owners Handle Employee Vacations and Leaves

Most small businesses have fewer than 5 employees. So what does a small business owner do when your small company with relatively few employees has a key employee who wants to take vacation? You cannot deny their vacation or they may not be around for much longer! But when your top performers are out for a week or longer, how do you keep things running smoothly? Or, even worse (in the business person’s mind), what do you do when a key employee wants to take maternity or family leave?

Yes, as a small-business owner you can still maintain a well-functioning business when employees go on a two-week vacation or take a multi-week maternity leave. (By the way, the laws around family leave apply to businesses with more than 50 employees. So it is not mandatory if you have fewer employees to provide those full benefits. However, providing a portion of such benefits by incorporating some of the options below will help you retain excellent employees and build loyalty.) Below are some tips and explanations on how to keep your business running smoothly when certain employees go on leave or vacation. These tips follow:

Vacation

1. Have the employee who will be on vacation write a list of items that need to be taken care of while he or she is gone and briefly explain how to take care of those items. For example, a top salesperson needs to make a number of calls, is expecting a number of return calls or anticipates a couple of requests for a meeting. Have the salesperson write up separate short scripts for outgoing and incoming calls and face-to-face sales meeting and provide his tracking mechanism - i.e., Excel spreadsheet, notebook, or something similar.

2. Have the employee create a mini process manual in advance. That way another employee can cover the basics of the job while the primary person is out of the office.

3. Identify a temp who has significant experience in your business - a retiree, someone seeking extra work - through customers or association membership. Construction is a notoriously up and down business so, at any given time, there are generally a small number of qualified individuals familiar with a trade who can step in temporarily to assist. In the current climate, the same applies to banking, consulting, and a number of other industries.

Maternity or Family Leave (or Similar)

4. If you have key employees taking maternity or family leave and you are concerned that the employee will be completely unavailable for 6-9 weeks (or whatever your policy allots), offer to extend the leave time by 50-100% if they agree to be available 10-20 hours per week to work remotely during the entire time. (The time spent in the hospital is exempted of course!) This provides continuity of work and projects and access by those who may be filling in.

5. If you have a few employees who take many sick days to care for ill children or who use family leave to care for ailing adult family members, it may be cheaper to contract with a home health care agency to have health care workers provide occasional service than it is to lose the employees' productivity. These agencies provide nurses or other care staff for services ranging from short check-up visits to day-long attendants. You can contract to utilize up to a specified number of hours or days per month. 6. To increase the likelihood that someone will return immediately after maternity leave or family leave, or not take it in the first place (especially family leave), offer flexible work options. Telecommute several days per week, job share, video conference instead of travel, onsite or nearsite child care are a few examples. If you have employees with ailing adult members, seek out adult day cares and negotiate reduced or subsidized rates for your employees.

Remember, there are always solutions to a “problem”. Being creative, focusing on the work that needs to get done, and clearly defining job scope and expectations can go a long way towards helping you build a strong business with happy, well-rested employees. Empathizing with employees and attempting to look at their issues from their perspective, then from the business perspective can result in creative solutions that cost little yet promote morale and loyalty – both key to a healthy business.

By TIFFANY WRIGHT

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