Many companies that don’t have a great demand simply close down between Christmas and New Year, and either give their staff the time off “free” or ensure that they use their holiday entitlement during that time. But there are equally plenty of businesses that provide essential, around the clock services or which have commercial (or ecommerce) operations that need to be staffed. 

You need to supply enough staff to meet your customers’ needs and demands but at the same time you must balance that with giving your staff adequate time off over the festive period. 

Being short-staffed is a sure-fire way of putting off customers and losing business. So, how can you keep your offices staffed over Christmas?

Make it plain in the contract

You should firstly ensure that your holiday policy is clearly stated in your staff employment contracts. This helps avoid any confusion over what is allowed and what is not. As long as you follow whatever is laid down in your employees’ contracts, you - the company - have the right to refuse holiday requests. It would be a good idea to use a holiday booking system to manage this effectively.

Your contracts need to clearly state when you expect staff to be available to work. If there are times of the year such as Christmas when leave is not permitted or where you need to ensure a certain amount of cover, then this should be clear in the employment contracts. 

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Ensure fairness

If everyone wants the entire Christmas period off, but you need a certain level of cover, then it’s clearly not going to work. To make it fair, you could have a rota system whereby your staff take it in turns to work a certain day – like Christmas Day or Boxing Day - each year. You could arrange this systematically, so that everyone gets a chance to have the desired time off.

Or staff could pull lots to see who is working when. This is more acceptable in an operation where everyone has to work on a certain day or a certain set of days, and just the finer points like choosing the particular shift or the individual day are allocated by chance.

What you cannot do though is treat employees differently. If two staff both want the same time off, you cannot show any favouritism; you must treat them the same.

Offer incentives for working at Christmas

While you are within your rights to enforce seasonal working, you may feel you want to be more benevolent than that. In these cases, you can offer incentives for staff who work the unpopular shifts to keep employee happiness levels up. The simple option is to offer extra pay – lots of people will sacrifice having to work when they don’t really want to if they are getting more money for it. But you could offer a shorter working day, or treat staff to a team lunch, or allow staff to work from home.

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Employ temporary staff

If you have additional need over Christmas, or if you just can’t get your employees’ schedules to make up a shortfall, then you can look to employ some temporary help. Lots of businesses that see a demand spike at Christmas will do this anyway – like the Royal Mail, delivery companies, ecommerce outlets and shops and so on.

If you have tasks that can be carried out with limited training, then temporary staff can fill a gap for you. They could answer the phones, take messages, reply to emails or pack up deliveries. Even where you need more substantial help, in most fields you can hire trained professional staff or freelancers with relatively short notice.

But what if you’re over-staffed?

Of course, if you’ve been too successful in using all these tactics and find you’re actually over-staffed, then you will have an altogether different problem. You will need to ensure that everyone has enough to do. The Christmas period is always a great time for preparing for the coming year, so you can use it as an opportunity for them to have a tidy up, to do some filing or archiving, or to start working on the plans you’ve put in place for the coming year.

Here’s hoping you have a successful – and full-staffed - Christmas!

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About The Author

Mel is the Digital Marketing Manager at breatheHR. She regularly contributes insights into current SME and HR trends as well as reporting on breatheHR news and updates.