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Welcome break

Written by Martin Reed on Wednesday, 03 July 2013. Posted in HR, People

An employee holiday shouldn’t mean reaching for the panic button, especially if an action plan has been prepared in advance

Welcome break

The summer months are approaching and for many of us this means the much needed respite of a holiday. For a staff member, leaving work for a couple of weeks is an exciting time and something to be savoured. However, for the business owner left to manage the staff shortages, it is a different story.

Although covering staff holidays can be a challenge, any sensible business owner will understand how important it is for their employees to take time away from the pressures of their working environment. At Thomas International we understand the importance of employee wellbeing and morale, and how vital it is to maintain a successful business. Therefore, regular breaks – whether a lunch break, extended weekend or a summer holiday – are all integral to maintaining a happy and healthy workforce.

That aside, however beneficial a holiday is for the individual, it can provide challenges for the team they leave behind in their absence – affecting efficiency, communication, team dynamic and, ultimately, the profit and success of your business.

So, how exactly can you try to limit the disruption caused by staff shortages during the summer months?

Managing staff absence begins with defining clearly and concisely job roles, duties and expectations, and deciding whether work will be spread across the team or handled by one individual.

Allocating duties to one, or multiple, team members should be approached as a short-term recruitment process, but it’s worth remembering that covering a team member on annual leave is very different to replacing them in a more permanent sense, and therefore the skills you’re looking for aren’t necessarily going to be the same. A fortnight is a short period of time in the life of a business, and so, rather than sourcing the best candidate to occupy the role long-term, you must identify the candidate – or candidates – who will complete the work to the highest quality and with minimal disruption to their own workload, while still maintaining their own job satisfaction.

In order to allocate the workload to the best suited employee, a manager must have an understanding of two key things: firstly, the specific duties involved with the role and the day-to-day tasks required, and secondly, how to manage the employee covering work in a way that is sensitive to their particular working style.

To best understand the elements of the role in question, the manager must address if the position is contained or can be easily divided. The various aspects of the role may be intertwined, making the process of sharing the workload incredibly difficult, in which case, allocating the work to just one individual may be the best approach. Other roles may lend themselves to being easily picked apart, allowing you to select specific areas for certain people. If this is the case, you will need to decide on the skill sets required for each of the duties, and treat them as ‘mini jobs’ that can be assigned to someone who is experienced and skilled in the same way as the full-time employee.

For example, preparing to cover someone in marketing whose work requires them to manage budgets and also liaise with different members of the team to develop marketing campaigns could be shared between one candidate with good numeracy skills and another with the necessary social skills.

Once you have decided who is best placed to cover a role, you will need to be sensitive to the replacement employee’s needs, adjusting your management style to support them in a way tailored to their individual working style. You may find that the best match in terms of ability and working behaviour is not the ideal candidate to cope with new challenges and sudden change. In this instance you must be prepared to adopt an alternative management style more suited to this employee, being sure to communicate with them regularly and create a working environment in which they can thrive.

Thomas International has assisted businesses in managing staff shortages using behavioural assessment tools. Our job-profiling tool allows business owners to pinpoint the behaviours needed to perform a specific role successfully. A behavioural assessment, such as the Thomas PPA, identifies an employee’s preferred working style. Employee profiles can then be matched against the job profile, helping employers identify the person best suited to cover additional tasks occurring as a result of holiday absence. 

Of course, it is not only the employee assigned as cover for the absent team member that must be considered – managing the worker preparing to take leave is also important as deadline commitments and handover preparation can lead to increased workload and pressure. An organised and well-considered strategy of whom the work will be assigned to and what processes need to be established prior to the employee taking leave will put both individuals and management at ease. It will make for a smoother transition as the employee leaves and returns from two weeks abroad feeling refreshed and ready to begin work again. 

About the Author

Martin Reed

Reed has been at the helm of psychometric testing company Thomas International since 2007, after being appointed as chairman two years earlier. As well as penning this regular column for Elite Business he is also a founding member of the Bucks Business First and a fellow of the Institute of Directors.

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