how should we handle holiday vacation requests when we need to ensure coverage in the office?

A reader writes:

I manage a team of 22 that is responsible for supporting clients by phone and email. The company is closed on Christmas, the day after Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Year’s Day, so nobody is expected to work those days. However, of our 22 people, we’d want at least 12 in the office the rest of Christmas week and 16 during the rest of New Year’s week.

In the past, it has always been first come, first serve. This year, we are approaching critical mass and it’s still relatively early. Do we:

A. Announce that any holiday time off requests should be submitted by the end of October, then review them against each other and give preference to the more senior team members?

B. Mention that we could potentially hit our limit, but still approve them in the order them come in?

C. Not say anything and risk upset employees that have never heard “no” before – especially regarding the holidays they spend with family?

D. Another strategy?

I’d tell people ASAP what you said here — that you need to have at least 12 people in the office December 22-24 and 16 in the office Dec. 29-30 and Jan. 2. Ask people to submit their vacation requests to you ASAP so that you can determine if you’ll be able to grant incoming time-off requests and still have sufficient coverage, or whether you’ll need to modify some of them. Explain that if you’re not able to get enough coverage, you might need to deny some requests, but that you’ll do your best to avoid that happening.

If you do need to deny some, it’s perfectly reasonable to do it based on seniority. You can also ask people to submit their first and second choices for time away, and use seniority to bump people to their second choice if needed. And if you can, try make sure that everyone gets at least one of those weeks off if they want it; it’s going to breed resentment if some people get two weeks off while others get none.

A caution about using seniority as your system: If you have low turnover among your most senior people, this can lead to a situation where no one else can ever get the time they want, year after year. If that’s the case, you might instead use a rotation system so that newer people still have a chance to get holiday time off sometimes. Or you might do other sorts of rotations, such as putting people on a schedule that rotates time off between Thanksgiving week and the December holidays.

First come, first served, it can work, but it can end up not being fair if it means that some people turns in their holiday requests very early each year and thus reserve all the prime vacation slots months in advance and never have to share the burden of coverage with others.

Whatever system you end up with, if you do end up needing to deny some vacation requests, make sure you do the following:

1. Tell people as soon as possible so that they can plan accordingly.
2. Be apologetic about it and openly appreciative that people are willing to pitch in to make it work. That doesn’t mean that people will be thrilled about it, but seeming callous and unconcerned will make it go over worse.
3. Do what you can to make being in the office during the holidays more pleasant for people — bring in food and find other ways to show appreciation that they’re there.

{ 386 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    Do you let the unused vacation roll over? I’ve been in situations where it was “use it or lose it,” so whatever I had left at the end of the year, I’d try to use, when really, I would have been just as happy rolling some of it into the new year.

    1. Nerd Girl*

      My old company had a “use it or lose it” policy to PTO and then would get mad when people would schedule vacation time for the end of the year. The year I left the company there were discussions about either rolling the PTO over to the next year or offering people a check for the unused PTO prior to the holidays. I’m not sure how it worked out, but I know that there were a lot of people leaning towards the check option. I’m a fan of PTO…I tend to use mine up before the end of the year with few days carried over. I like having the time off in summer, but I do see the appeal of having that week between the holidays off (especially since it means I wouldn’t have to find childcare for my kids on their school holiday break).

      1. MT*

        The check option has lots of issues, esp when it comes to budgets. I budget 100k for salary then 10 people each get paid out 1 day, then i actually have to spend 101k for the year on salaries.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          But the leave should be in your budget also. You budgeted 101k for salaries and vacation, and it turned out you spent more of it on salary and less than vacation, that’s all.

          Unless you budgeted for people never to take leave that they’d earned, which kind of sucks.

          1. Colette*

            People taking the leave they’ve earned is not a cash cost, though – it’s a productivity hit but their salary remains the same.

            (Note: not an accountant, maybe this is just something I don’t understand.)

            1. Dan*

              Why aren’t productivity hits aren’t cash costs?

              If I had someone on my payroll who is on permanent PTO, that’s certain a cash cost — I’m paying them for doing nothing.

              What happens if I have someone on my payroll who is on PTO half of the year and works half of the year? I’m still paying them for doing nothing for six months, which is a cash cost.

              Productivity is a cash cost, plain and simple. If nobody had PTO, then you could afford to hire fewer head count, saving you money.

              1. fposte*

                Conceptually, sure. Budgetarily, no. The amount of PTO I’ve taken doesn’t affect what’s left in my budget at the end of the year, because payroll doesn’t work like that.

                It might in places like California, where the dollar value of PTO is established, but at my workplace PTO is not hard currency.

                1. Dan*

                  Payroll may not work like that, but that’s how a lot of money gets wasted at many places — because things with a real cost aren’t measured, they’re not tracked. If they’re not tracked, they can be abused.

                  Just because productivity isn’t measured on your spreadsheet doesn’t mean it’s not a cost. It *is* a cost (you said so) it’s just not one that you track. Meaning you can lose money there and not know.

              2. Colette*

                I’m not arguing that’s it’s a cost, but it’s not something you have to write a check for. You don’t pay people more when they’re on vacation – you just get less work out of them.

            2. MT*

              It is a cash cost, but its a planned cost. If someone works all year and doesn’t take any vacation, i now have to pay for 365 working days plus 10 days worth of vacation, so i have to pay out 375 days worth of salaries. But the plan is to have 355 working days and 10 days of vacation for a total pay out of 365 days. Paying out someone’s vacation days, adds 10 days worth on unplanned expenses to the budget. Yes i may get 10 days worth of extra productivity, or i may not. It all depends on the job.

          2. LBK*

            If this was a new plan I can see not preparing the budget for it, but I agree that if it’s an existing benefit then the cost of people actually using that benefit should be factored into your budget, just like any other benefit you give an employee that might cost you money.

        2. Elizabeth*

          When we do cash-out (we’re doing it right now), we pay 60% of current hourly wage, not 100%. We also all rollover into near perpetuity, to the point of maxing out at the service level’s 2 years accrual.

          We would prefer our employees take their vacation, but we also understand that it can be difficult to schedule, especially when you have senior people that earn at a high rate. At 20 years of service, I’m earning slightly more than 10 hours every 2 weeks, so even taking 1 day every 2 weeks isn’t enough to keep me even.

          1. Mike C.*

            You should encourage folks to take Mondays/Fridays off for a month or two during your slower season. That would use up the time pretty quickly and might be a great option for folks who aren’t into taking long vacations at once.

      2. PEBCAK*

        I typically used mine prior to the holidays (my family was local, so I never traveled that time of year), but if I had a day or two left, I would have been just as happy using it the day after the Super Bowl or something.

      3. Laufey*

        My company has use it or loose it, but it’s based on our starting dates, not calendar dates. The entire office isn’t trying to burn vacation days at the same time. Additionally, most of us were hired in the summer, when it’s slow in our office, so we’re trying to burn vacation when it’s slow in the office, and not around holidays.

        1. lai*

          My workplace does it differently but with a similar effect – we can accrue vacation days up to a designated limit, then start losing it. Everyone hits the limit at different times depending on your start date, your accrual rate, how often you use them, etc.

      4. Ali*

        This is what happened with me when I requested time off for Thanksgiving weekend. My company has use it or lose it PTO, I requested time off that was in my bank and my boss proceeded to lecture me for it! Mind you that no one else had really requested time off in the period I wanted it.

        But yet it’s OK for the same girl who was off the day after Christmas last year to gobble up that time this year and she’s not working day after XMAS, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. She’s taking something like 10 days off. My job doesn’t really have a seniority system or deny time off requests, so it creates a mess around the holidays.

      5. Ife*

        We have a use it or lose it policy too, but our vacation and sick time is all together as PTO, so I always have to hold a few days until the end of the year. Otherwise what am I going to do when I get sick in December? I really dislike the policy for that reason.

    2. CH*

      We have this policy at my current company–all accrued PTO magically disappears while Auld Lang Syne is being played. People start to leave any time from mid-December on, depending on how much PTO they have left. But in most departments, it isn’t a problem since it is a really dead part of the year for our industry. The customer service manager does have to make sure she has a skeleton staff every day we are open and the executive staff work it out so one of them is on site every day in case someone “in charge” is needed.

    3. Us, Too*

      It’s pretty easy to set an expectation in orgs that do “use it or lose it” that you won’t grant everyone vacation the last two weeks of the year and that they need to think about their vacation accrual and how to ensure they use it appropriately all year long. In fact, I had this exact situation in my last management job. I’d pull up vacation hours each month during a 1:1 and point out that they hadn’t taken any time off. We’d talk about that. If they had some grand plan to take off a ton of time at the end of the year, we’d discuss it and figure out if it worked for the team. Since I was consistent with all the staff on this, it was a non-issue. I can’t think of a time when we didn’t manage to work all this out.

      1. Mike C.*

        What, you talked to your people, planned things out in advance and actually followed through? What is this madness? :)

        1. Us, Too*

          This was a trial by fire situation. My first year there I inherited a team where everyone had been granted leave and I was the backup. It STANK. I decided never to experience that again.

          My current job has a culture in which 90% of us disappear for the last couple weeks of the year, but we plan for that and it’s not (usually) too terrible. I’ve actually worked during this time and gotten a TON of stuff done that I wouldn’t otherwise have managed to do.

      2. Dani X*

        I had one year where every single time I planned a vacation a problem cropped up that meant I had to cancel it. So I had a lot of time at the end of the year in a use or lose it company. They let me roll over a week and let me take the rest at the end of the year in one huge chunk because they realized it wasn’t due to lack of trying. Never had it happen again, thank god!

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      I would hate the use it or lose it at the end of the year, because if I do take a big vacation, I want to do it in February. That’s the best time to visit NZ (and get away from a dreary February in the northern hemisphere), and it’s not something you can do with only a few days or a weeks worth of vacation.

      1. esra*

        I think if employers are sticking with use it or lose it, they should also have pro rata days so people can do earlier vacations.

        1. CH*

          Yes, that’s how it works in our company. It is use it or lose it by January 1, but on January 1 you are credited with all the days you are due for the next year (20 in my case). However, if you take a two week vacation in February and leave the company in March, you are going to have to pay some back.

  2. Nerd Girl*

    My company only gives the day itself off. The days before and after we are expected to work. This year my sister asked if I would do some Black Friday shopping with her. I am new to the company so I worried that I would be bumped for those with more seniority. My manager asked for us to rank our days and based on the rankings she was able to give almost every person the days off they wanted. I think this year because the holidays all fall on Thursdays she was worried that everyone would want the Fridays off.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Oh, I like the ranking system. That lets the manager consider personal preferences.
      The absolute one thing I hated in university was that the managers assumed that I wanted New Years off so I could party. Um, NOT. Conversely, they would give young mothers preference so they could be with their family. That sort of stereotyping is wrong. Let people tell you what they want.

      1. Soharaz*

        My husband is military and he gets the same problem. They divide Christmas/New Years leave in half, servicemen with children get Christmas off and those without get New Years off. It sucks because we don’t have kids, but don’t have time off at the same time (my industry closes between Christmas and New Year so I have off, but he works)

  3. Leighanne*

    Can you look for volunteers from your staff of 22 to work the holiday weeks? You could give some kind of incentive — they get an extra vacation day next year/bonus/something else if they volunteer to work over the holidays.

    1. Chriama*

      The only thing is, the majority of the office is expected to be in during the holidays. It’s not like 1 or 2 people are going above and beyond and should be compensated, but rather 1 or 2 people are getting an unusual benefit of being allowed the time off. Since over half the office is expected to be there during the holidays, I think it’s a requirement of the job and doesn’t merit additional compensation. Sure, a nice company might do that, but I don’t think it’s necessary (although making it pleasant to work over the holidays – food, etc – is always a nice gesture).

      1. Johannah*

        This sounds harsh. Of course people should be compensated for having to spend their holiday periods in the office instead of with family and friends. Just telling me ‘it’s a requirement of the job, oh well, too bad, too sad’ is going to have me thinking ‘well, up yours’ and start looking for a new job that shows a bit more compassion during the holidays.

    2. Future Analyst*

      YES. Showing true appreciation (in terms of extra days off, bonus, etc.), and asking for volunteers is the best way to keep most people happy. While a festive atmosphere at the office is nice, it usually just serves to make people feel like their missing out of festivities with their families.

      1. Johannah*

        Especially if you are like me and dislike your colleagues/workplace. A festive thing at the office will just make me all ‘yeah, rub it in that I’m stuck here instead of with my family and friends’, but if I know working these days means I get a extra time off next year, I have that to think about as my reward.

    3. Joey*

      An incentive to work non holidays? That just doesn’t make sense to me. why would you pay people extra to work days they are normally required to work? Are you going to give incentives around other holidays too’s, like when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday? Or what about all of the parents who want to take off the same spring break week?

      1. HR Manager*

        I agree with you, though there are certainly industries where it is so dead before the actual holidays and only a few handful are asked to be in the office in case of emergencies. When I was in publishing, it was a mad rush right up to Thanksgiving for our Trade dept, but once that was over nearly the entire month of December was a ghost town for their floor.

        I think managers could make the incentive something simple like free lunch for the week (call in pizza and salads from the local deli). A little gesture to show appreciation for those who volunteer to work so others can take the holiday time they want with their families I think is a nice touch.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Same. I work in media, and Christmas was always dead. I’m Jewish so I always worked during the holidays and it was boring as hell, plus it was a notoriously crowded location, so even taking lunch was a mess. We had impromptu DVD parties, occasional booze, and we left early every day. That was incentive enough, honestly, and it was something.

          1. sam*

            My old firm let us roll over days (we could accrue up to 20 days, but there was no end of year cutoff), largely because we were a law firm and they explicitly didn’t want everyone trying to take off during the holidays – there was always some mess of a deal trying to close at the end of the year. Because I was Jewish, had no kids, and my family was local, I always worked during the holidays. I’d get super brownie points for dealing with whatever end-of-year crap came up while everyone else was trying to spend time with their kids, and then I’d take two weeks off in January when the office was actually dead, and no one would bother me for anything. I’d take a fabulous trip somewhere exotic, and it would be super cheap because it was no longer peak vacation season. It was awesome.

            Where I work now, we have more of a use-it-or-lose-it system (we can roll over only 5 days) and almost everyone takes off for the holidays – which has definitely taken some getting used to. In actuality, the custom here is for everyone to basically take vacations at similar times of the year (summer, holidays) when the office is slow. I kind of hate it, because those are the times when it’s most expensive to travel, and I’ve so far bucked the trend, but I stick out like a sore thumb when I do go on my “off-cycle” vacations so I’ve started to rethink the practice.

      2. Allison*

        Yeah, actually. There are going to be times throughout the year where a lot of people are going to want time off, and if you can’t honor all requests, you run into conflict no matter how hard you work to be fair. Offering some incentive, some way to make people want to be there, or at least not mind being in the office while nearly everyone else is on vacation, minimizes conflict and boosts morale.

        A lot of places actually will give a paid day off on the Monday before or Friday after a holiday, and I don’t know how many people actually request an entire week off for their kids’ spring break. My parents never did.

      3. Anonsie*

        Yes, because those times are important, especially for people who don’t live near their families and don’t have the luxury of just going over on Christmas morning and then coming back home in the afternoon.

    4. Aunt Vixen*

      I get the concept, but I think I agree with those who are pushing back against it. Sixteen out of 22 isn’t exactly a skeleton staff. If everyone wanted the time off and one or two people had to get the short end of the stick and stay, I think I could see incentivizing that (and rotating the responsibility), but this is basically talking about incentivizing being one of the half-dozen people who doesn’t get exactly the time off that they want.

      On the point, though, that everyone is supposed to be at work any time the office isn’t closed: yes, but there is such a thing as leave. Everyone is supposed to be at work on a random day in April, also, but what if seven or eight people happen to need that random day off? It’s not a holiday, so you might not expect it to be a high-demand vacation day, but. (Or what about flu season? It’s not impossible for large numbers of people to be sick at the same time.) I’ve been trying to math the question of how many people you can statistically expect to be out of the office on a given day if you assume a staff of 22 and ten vacation days per year, and I can’t work it out. :-P But “everyone” may not be every single person, is the main point I’d be driving at if I could.

      1. Mike C.*

        P(Employee being out) = Number of days off/Number of expected work days.

        P(N Employees being out at the same time) = P(Employee being out)^N

        This of course assumes that the reasons the employees are out are independent of each other and that there are no seasonal variations.

      2. LCL*

        A rule of thumb I have seen referred to is to allow 10% of employees to be on vacation type leave at any one time. This seems low, but it doesn’t count those who are out on short or long term medical leave.
        In our small work group, 10% is always possible. 20% is possible for short time periods, because of staggered shifts. Again, this is not counting other kinds of leave. If we stick to these percentages, we aren’t thrown into crisis when someone takes unexpected medical leave. It is a point of pride with me that I have never had to cancel anyone’s vacation.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Right? I knew there had to be a home-ec type solution to that thing. (I think of it as home ec because I vividly remember the time I understood all in a flash that home economics class was not just about recipes and patterns, but actually budgeting and planning stuff, when it was taught properly. It was when I called my mother to ask her what size brisket I should buy for a seder I was making for nine people, and she told me what her friend the home ec teacher had told her about how more guests get slightly less meat per person up to a point. But I digress.)

          I had a job where we were generally allowed to work from home one day a week, within reason – which meant on any given day they had to assume 20% of staff would not be in the building. (Not off! Just not present.) Which meant an all-hands meeting was seldom, if ever, 100% attended. Your 10% thing and Mike’s formula are the kind of math I mean.

    5. Relosa*

      I would do this! I’m not huge on Christmas (I really don’t like it at all) and so I’m always the person to snatch up xmas hours. I don’t mind working NYE either, but I do want to party, so I just make sure I only stay til 8 or so :)

      OTOH, everyone is being stubborn about Thanksgiving this year at my second job. I’m kind of bummed/happy because I ended up taking almost all of the Thanksgiving/Black Friday hours (my main job has reduced hours so even if I have to work it, it will work out because the operating hours are opposite)…I care nothing about Black Friday but Thanksgiving itself is pretty important to me…so I hope I don’t get stuck at the office. I’m moving out of state before Christmas so I hope I get to at least see some of my family for a short bit before I leave.

  4. Helka*

    Alison has a really good point about how either a seniority or a first-come-first-served system can be abused — whatever system you wind up instituting, I’d suggest keeping track of who gets which weeks off year to year, to make sure you’re not winding up in patterns where people are routinely getting shafted.

    You also want to be making your decisions early, in general — people who book tickets to fly for the holidays generally need to book multiple months in advance in order not to get shafted on pricing. I never have my Christmas requests in later than June for that reason, and have had managers in the past keep me waiting and wondering until November when ticket prices for Christmas week had doubled from when my request went in. That left me with the decision of whether to a) book tickets before time off was approved, which is a bad idea in general or b) waiting until November when the cost of flying to see my family would be closer to $700 than $300.

    1. Newsie*

      This. My office asks us to rank which holidays we want and looks at that, plus previous holidays given, to decide who gets what. That way the woman who didn’t get Christmas last year but wants to celebrate with her young son gets it this year. There was a lot of resentment the one year that a few people got two holidays and some got one.

      And seconding an early decision – tickets, man.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        I think there comes a point where you have to be willing to correct the random chance, though. If the newest newbie gets drawn first in the same year as someone else gets drawn last for the fourth year in a row, morale will dive.

      2. Johannah*

        We had that once. Do you know how awful it feels to be drawn last/near last 3 years in a row while someone who has been there 3 months got drawn out first? I’ve only ever cried in my office once and it was when I was drawn last for the second year in a row and the new hire got to pick first. I don’t live near my family, I need time to go see them.

    2. JB*

      Yeah, first-come, first-served can work out but only if everyone is fair. Year before last, my coworker announced her planned days off for the Christmas holidays in early July. And it was our group’s turn to have to be on call for the holidays, so that meant I had no choice about what days I wanted off. Part of me wanted to wait until she got back from her Christmas break and announce what days I was taking off the next Christmas (I know, not mature), but I didn’t want to establish a pattern of us putting in for our days off earlier and earlier.

      1. Labratnomore*

        My wife used to have a first come first serve system at her work. Everyone requested their December days off in January as soon as the calendars were up. The problem with that is everyone requested more days than they wanted and then didn’t correct them until the last minute when they decided to take a day off in early December so they didn’t have enough PTO for the days they had requested in the last two weeks.

    3. LCL*

      We hold a seniority choice request process in January for the time period from April to the first week in January. All are limited to 2 seniority choices. That accomodates the people who want to book flights. After that, all leave is first come first served.
      It works fairly well, low seniority people will still get time off around the holidays. And since we work rotating shifts, half the crew will be off for any given holiday anyway as a regular day off. It is only a problem for those people that have trouble setting boundaries with their families; some relative will give a party on X date and they MUST be there or the skies will fall. These are the same people who wouldn’t think of using one of their seniority requests to reserve that date…

    4. Jeanne*

      We had first come first served. I had to request Christmas off by the second week of January. It sucked.

  5. soitgoes*

    How about rewarding the people who opt to stay and work? Give them a small but nice bonus, or pay them time-and-a-half. I’m Jewish and I’ll sometimes take Xmas/NYE week off just for fun, but I’d definitely stay and work if it was worth my time.

    Also, make sure that any limitations on vacation/sick time are accounted for. If some people have budgeted their vacation time to use it all over the holidays, you can’t in good conscience “reject” their vacation request, only to have them lose their vacation days when things “reset” a week later, or whatever.

    1. My two cents...*

      this is what a lot of retail places are opting for, since there’s a big push for places to open for black friday on the evening of thanksgiving – the time and a half pay or bonuses.

      for general office work – i don’t actually mind working while others take holiday vacations. the office is quiet, i can clean some stuff up, and have a little extra chit-chat with my coworkers still in the building.

      for an office environment, bringing in extra treats is always a nice (and inexpensive) perk for the skeleton crew. even something seemingly small like some fancy coffee bar stuff, a fruit basket, or a catered lunch would provide some incentive and/or soften the “it sucks i’m working during the holidays” mentality.

      1. soitgoes*

        A nice lunch or low-key party would be very nice, I agree.

        Though in general, I’m not fond of the “I’d rather buy you something than just give you the cash” mentality. Again I’m Jewish. I really, honestly don’t care about others’ faiths or beliefs or whatever, but I admit that, as an adult in the working world, I’m slowly growing resentful toward the fact that there’s this huge annual hoopla for an event that has nothing to do with me. Giving me a nice Christmas lunch isn’t helpful, since I don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s like giving me cake on someone else’s birthday but not on mine. Yes, it’s kind, but it’s not thoughtful, and you’re still kind of pressuring me to adhere to someone else’s holiday routine.

        I’m obviously talking about my own personal feelings here, but given that Christian folk have personal feelings about their desire to travel and celebrate Christmas, I think it should be treated somewhat seriously. Give me time-and-a-half, but don’t give non-Christians a Christmas party.

        1. Relosa*

          I’m not Jewish but was raised in a Methodist/Lutheran environment and I have been over Christmas since I was fifteen. There were a couple years in my late teens/early 20s where I went ALL OUT and I had a great time buying everyone their gifts; the shopping; the merriment or whatever, but that was it. I’m done now :) I’ve always loved to give gifts but I like to do it whenever, especially on birthdays or important personal achievements.

          I used to work at a place that would give you time and a half , but only if you worked between 6am – 6pm on the holiday itself, the time and a half ONLY counted for those hours, and you had to work a full shift the day before and the day after – no special rate unless you were already on OT. It was pathetic.

        2. Another Poster*

          Is it a holiday party or a Christmas party? If it’s just a Christmas party, it really should be inclusive of other religions and if it’s not, thats a problem that should be addressed. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they should just give you money instead. It’s likely far less expensive to throw a staff celebration than it would be to hand out significant compensation and it wouldn’t be fair to give it to just some employees because of their religion.

          How would that look? Like the company is saying “we are paying you not to come to our Christmas party” or “we’re paying you so you don’t make a stink about us not acknowledging your religion”. And Christians might complain that they are being discriminated against because they are paying Jewish people more money around the holidays. Plus, I’m sure there are a lot of Christians who don’t necessarily enjoy parties, or care about them and may start asking for cash if they skip the party. What then? And how does anyone keep track of that?

          Not to mention the other religions that aren’t included in any of that. I am Jewish and I agree that Jews get left out a lot around this time of year. But I also see a lot of Jews forget that other religions aren’t even mentioned or considered at all.

          1. soitgoes*

            My point is that it doesn’t matter to distinguish between “Holiday” and “Christmas.” Whose holiday is it? Not mine. And the very point is that it shouldn’t be about expense to the employer. “Rewarding” us but trying to do it as cheaply as possible by giving us something that’s not our preference doesn’t play well.

            1. Another Poster*

              I see what you are saying. I replied again below because I misread some of what you said before. It has to be about the expense to the employer. They may not actually be able to budget what you would prefer. Of course its about expense. I’m sure your preference wouldn’t be “here’s an extra $7” either. That would seem like a joke. If a lunch is all they can do, that’s better than nothing, isn’t it? Better than a bunch of employees complaining “They don’t even give us lunch for working these days!” People generally do appreciate getting something little just so the fact that they are doing something like working a holiday is acknowledged.

            2. Another Poster*

              Also, they may not actually be able to give you your preference and another employee may have a different preference. What then? They simply can’t make everyone happy (in most cases) and have to settle on a decision for what they are going to do or to do nothing at all (which I also think doesn’t play well).

        3. My two cents...*

          um…i definitely did not even mention anything about religion or holidays, other than knowing it’s a high-demand vacation time. i guess the idea is that it isn’t about faith at all, just knowing that certain dates are harder to schedule around than others…or have higher workforce demands.

          if you’re an exempt employee, you already get paid federal holidays and everything else is fair game for your vacation time (unless you need some minimal number of employees). in most cases for exempt workers, i think ‘extra’ pay is over the top.

          i didn’t say anything about the treats being holiday/religious themed – just a simple gesture that yeah, you’re stuck at work while others’ vacation time was approved…possibly over yours. if you don’t want the not-religiously-affiliated coffee bar or catered lunch, then don’t take it. based on what you’re saying, there’s no reason to gift extra money to you to work the holidays that you don’t observe, since there’s no additional hardship on your side…which sounds like you’re just trying to cash-in on your coworkers vacation demands due to holiday/religious obligations.

        4. Another Poster*

          Sorry, I kind of misread what you wrote. You are talking about a lunch when you are working ON a holiday, instead of time and a half. I misunderstood. I agree that if this is instead of time and a half that makes some sense. However, some of what I said still applies. I still think lunch is a lot cheaper than paying time and a half so it has to be in the company budget. It also should just be a bonus lunch for working that day, and not a “Christmas” lunch.

        5. Another J*

          I agree with you about Christmas and I am not Jewish. I work in at a university and I personally would not mind “The semester is over” as a party theme but they always want to make it a “let’s see how many religions we can celebrate at once” party just so they can have a majority Christmas stuff and small nods to other religions. Also, with a “Semester is over” theme, we can have three smaller parties a year.

        6. Zillah*

          This may be my bias here, but as someone with a lot of dietary issues, a nice Christmas lunch is hardly going to make my day, either. Most people don’t have issues to quite the same extent that I do, but given that a lot of people keep kosher, are vegetarian/vegan, and/or have food allergies/intolerances (to say nothing of simple preferences), I feel like a meal could be a lot more trouble than it’s worth and might not have the desired effect. Extra pay or an extra vacation day would be much more appreciated if it were me.

          1. soitgoes*

            I agree with you there. If the whole point of the party is to feed non-Christians, you’re automatically wading through a bunch of potential dietary restrictions.

      2. Mander*

        Little stuff, like having a catered lunch (maybe even just one day during the week?) or allowing people listen to music or to come to work in jeans would be sufficient in many environments. When I worked in customer service, just the fact that the phones didn’t ring off the hook all day long made the inter-holiday period a bit more relaxed and I actually didn’t mind working those days so much.

  6. Mike C.*

    A few other things that come to mind that I’ve seen personally:

    1. Consider a bump in pay for those who volunteer to work high demand vacation times. That way even if you have to say no to someone’s vacation request it’s not a total loss, and you’ll have people volunteer to stay in and work. I’ve seen things like pay time and a half.

    2. Make sure that you have a fair to deal with year end vacation accrual. If you have a “use it or lose it” system that ends at the end of the year, this is what happens. Either move the cut off date to elsewhere in the year, or offer to buy back the time. If you just have the time disappear, then expect things to get really ugly.

    1. Helka*

      #1 is a really good way to do it. My company sets it up so you get 8 hours of holiday pay regardless of whether you are at work or not — so if you work on a holiday (we’re open 24/7) you get paid the hours you work, plus the holiday pay, and if you’ve worked 40 that week, the 8 hours is counted as overtime. When I was in position that was open holidays, I loved working them! Low workload and overtime pay, sign me the heck up!

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, that’s pretty much what’s done here. Those days tend to be pretty sweet, and it’s really a great way to balance things out.

      2. LBK*

        Same when I was in retail – we got holiday pay whether we worked or not, plus thanks to Massachusetts blue laws we got overtime pay for any time worked on a holiday. So an 8 hour shift on a holiday meant I was getting paid for 20 hours. Definitely volunteered to work any of those days if I didn’t already have plans!

        1. AmyNYC*

          Blue laws (time and a half on Sundays!) are one of the few things I miss about working retail…. the other is the employee discount :)

      3. Noah*

        For our hourly employees they get the 8 hours of holiday pay PLUS time and a half if they work on a holiday. Around here people are fighting to work on the holidays not the other way around.

    2. Joey*

      #2. There is something to be said for manging ones own leave balances when there’s a use it or lose it. I’ve seen plenty of people hoard their leave all year long and scramble to take it just before the deadline.

      1. Dan*

        Sure, but when you’re on a general PTO plan, you gotta save some just in case you get sick. So if I’m in the habit of hanging on to a week in case me or the kids get the sniffles, and we don’t, there still that problem.

        That’s not a knock on generalized PTO — I love it. It’s just a knock on generalized PTO coupled with use it or lose it.

        Both of my last two jobs had PTO plans will rollover. At the last job, anything in excess of the rollover limit was lost at the end of the year. At the current job, once you hit the rollover limit, you stop accruing.

        1. KellyK*

          Exactly! The same people who say “Well, you should’ve planned in advance and used your leave throughout the year” when you want to take leave at the end of the year will also say “Well, you should’ve planned in advance and kept a cushion” if you get a bad case of the flu right after you come back from your vacation.

          Having absolutely no leave roll over is pretty draconian in a system with pooled PTO, honestly. I understand having a limit so you don’t have months upon months of leave on the books, but a week seems like the bare minimum cushion to let roll over into January.

      2. Mike C.*

        The problem with just relying on people to manage everything themselves is that life happens. Work gets crazy, a particular manager turns down previous vacation requests, the employee forgets, the employee wants to save it in case they get sick, the desired time is actually at the end of the year and so on.

        It’s a process issue, not a people issue.

      3. Anonsie*

        But imagine you save it for the holidays and then get your request denied. Then you not only don’t get to take off, you lose the days you saved and could have taken elsewhere.

  7. SJP*

    Just to throw my 2 pence in but as I’m young and early on in my career I always end up getting stuck working Christmas and other holidays (well, I have until I started at a new company where we’re shut for all holidays/bank holidays so get time off) but it’s been previously the senior people always get it off, the more junior people stuck in the office..

    Well just a thought to managers, more junior people want to spend their holidays with their family too! Just cause we’re not middle managers or seniors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get a Christmas and New Year break

    Just speaking for all those people who’ve been stuck in the office year in year out.. (whether you requested it early and still had to stay at the office)

  8. Stayc*

    I think the one issue is that you have (I assume) already granted time off under your “first come first serve” system. These people may have already made plans and purchased tickets based that previous approval – so I think it would be REALLY unfair to revoke that for those that have already been approved. I would probably send out the reminder and let people know that there’s only a limited amount of slots for time off left. It would be worth looking into changing the system for next year though, to perhaps be based on seniority.

    1. Cat*

      Yeah, and in future years, waiting till now is probably waiting too long – I live cross country from family; if I had to wait until the end of October to buy tickets, I’d pay twice as much.

      1. K.*

        Yeah. We bought the Christmas plane tickets for our family in July (especially since now we have a kid, and not just flexible, seasoned-traveler adults, the logistics get that much more challenging and potentially pricey).

  9. BRR*

    I don’t think seniority or first come, first served are good methods for choosing. Holiday plans can take time to figure out. If it gets announced I might need to check with family to see what is going on when a coworker knows they always do a family event on December X. Even if I can come back with my request tomorrow I could lose out all because I needed to check when something was happening. I’m not a fan of seniority because I don’t think length of time should determine anything in the workplace. If you have to deny some requests I think drawing names out of a hat is the fairest option.

    And please please please don’t grant requests based on who has children.

    1. SJP*

      +1 !

      All of the above are totally my thoughts too! and like +100 on the kids point also cause thats one way to piss off a non-parent really really quickly

      1. Relosa*

        yep, especially the non-parents who cover things for all the parents when emergencies/sick kids/school holidays pop up already.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          It cuts both ways, just today I called in sick and wanted to work at home which left my coworker (who has kids) picking up some stuff for me that needed to be done in the office and when they’ve needed time off for their kids or had to leave the office bang on 17:00 to get to day care I’ve covered for them. Keeping score never helps anyone and doesn’t help a team work well together, some respect and mutual consideration does.

          I quite often see email or system updates with time stamps showing my coworker dials on in the evening and is sorting out some work from home, where as I’d stay in the office an hour or so later than my finish time they are logging on an probably doing more than an hours work just later in the day.

    2. Colette*

      I’m not sure what you’re proposing here. As mentioned upthread, those who are flying somewhere have to make their plans in advance to avoid spending ridiculous amounts on tickets. If they did a draw, they’d have to either wait until people who haven’t made plans figure out what days they want off, or draw from everyone’s names, which might mean people who would prefer to work end up getting the days off while someone else who wants to see family they haven’t seen in several years has to work.

      If you don’t have plans and someone else books off those days, you can presumably make plans that accommodate your need to work. (If it’s a ridiculous situation like someone booking time off a year in advance every year, that’s a little different and should be dealt with by management.)

      1. LBK*

        I think it works more like this: date X is the cutoff for putting in a holiday time off request, then anyone who has submitted a request at that point gets their name put in a hat and the first 12 people that get drawn get it off. As long as the cutoff date is announced well in advance and is set well in advance of the holiday period, I think that still gives people a) plenty of time to figure out what they want to do, and b) plenty of time to book flights etc. once they have confirmation that their request was approved.

        For the record, I don’t love this system either because I have set trips I know I’m going to be doing every year (I already have days booked off for next July) and I would be pissed if they got declined even if I requested them extremely far in advance. But if you’re going to do a random draw system, I think this is the way to do it.

        1. BRR*

          I only like the lottery system for holidays since typically more people want off. Other times of the year I guess I prefer first some, first served. I know my experience isn’t everybody’s but I have found it easier to get coverage other times of the year. Other time isn’t as valuable as holiday time.

          I should add I think it’s the second step after holiday negotiation. I asked off Thanksgiving so I can only get off Christmas if nobody else asks off. I took the Friday before memorial day so same thing for labor day.

          1. Chinook*

            “I asked off Thanksgiving so I can only get off Christmas if nobody else asks off. I took the Friday before memorial day so same thing for labor day.”

            This to me is the fairest way to deal with it and probably will reduce the number of conflicts.

          2. Nashira*

            This is very similar to how my office works. There’s a lotto done for holidays, especially the ones that are already three day weekends. Any other time is first come, first serve. I’ve only once been asked to reschedule a previously approved day, and that only because a coworker had an unreschedulable medical appointment and we don’t like to have less than two of each role in office. Even so, if I hadn’t already need to move that day off, I would have really resented it for Reasons.

      2. BRR*

        I should have gone into more detail. Everybody who has requested off gets their time because it’s not fair to rescind. For everybody else ask for requests by a certain date. If you have to deny some, then you draw names. You only draw names if you have to deny people. To me that’s the most fair method of denying a request.

          1. BRR*

            The “everybody who has requested off gets their time because it’s not fair to rescind” is the practical solution for the OP’s letter dealing with their current situation since some might have already requested off and then booked travel. The lottery in this situation is for the people who are left. This only applies to fix the current situation.

            In the future if people want time off I think it should go request by a certain day, you can’t ask off around every holiday time, then if you need to deny you use a lottery system.

      3. SJP*

        Alright so drawing names out of the hat I don’t agree on but it’s very annoying when someone snipes in cause they always know what they’re doing, while other people don’t and have to check, which as Brr states, means they could/will miss out and have to stay

        1. BRR*

          I’m curious why you don’t like or if you prefer another method? I’m not taking it personally I just thought it was the fairest method if two people are asking off and you need one to work. As I added above taking into consideration if they have taken off other holidays.

          1. SJP*

            Brr I wrote that while you were obviously writing yours and then when you explained it in your other post it made a lot more sense.. so yea. That above comment can be ignored..

        2. Colette*

          But … the people who don’t know what they’re doing could book time off in anticipation of having/making plans. Some people have family situations that mean they have to plan far in advance, and if no one’s vacation gets approved until everyone knows what they’re doing, that’s not OK. It’s not helpful to tell me on December 15 that I have the next two weeks off, nor is it helpful to tell me on December 15 that I have to work the next two weeks.

          I’m fine with a rotation (i.e. you get this holiday this year but have to work it next year), but I’m not fine with any system that causes me financial hardship, which is what approving Christmas holiday time in late November would do.

          1. BRR*

            There just needs to be an earlier deadline for requests. I completely agree it needs to be done well enough ahead of time to be able to book things. The topic then is not about how you decide between two people who ask off but one needs to be there. It’s about when the two need to ask for the time off.

    3. illini02*

      While seniority isn’t’ necessarily the only thing that should be taken into consideration, I dont think it should be discounted completely either. If someone has been there 5 years, and someone starts in September, yeah, I think the person who has been around longer has earned some perks. I have no problem with first come first served myself, and even with Alisons caveats, I do think its the most fair way to do it. I mean, if I know in February that I’m travelling abroad over Christmas, why do I have to wait until November?

      1. BRR*

        I’m thinking more I’ve been here 1.5 years and the three people I need to arrange time off with have been here 6-8 years.

        Also I’m a person who knows I want to request Thanksgiving off every year. But just because I know my plans I don’t think it should automatically be mine.

        1. illini02*

          I get that, but at the same time for some things, you do need to know early. As I mentioned I sometimes like to travel abroad over the holidays. If I want to book that trip early and I request it, then I think if its still open I should get it, not have to wait for others.

          1. BRR*

            But where do you draw the line then? My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas but we’re big on Thanksgiving. Can I request off every Thanksgiving for the next five decades? I have no problem with first come for other times but since it’s so much more likely for people to request time off/travel at certain times I can’t screw other people over just because I know my plans first.

      2. Julie*

        I’m in the situation where I started later in the year and I’ll be on probation until December which means I can’t use it till the start of that month. My PTO expires at the end of December. I don’t want to push aside other people but I can’t get why they’d make their policies work this way. I’m also looking to move that month so I’ll likely take the time in mid-December before the holiday but it’s put me in a very awkward place.

  10. MT*

    I can def see doing a small trivial thing like food during holiday times, but paying extra for non-holiday days i feel is out of the question. Why should someone get paid extra for working a day that they are supposed to work.

      1. Joey*

        That makes no sense. Most people would love to have Halloween or the day after the Super Bowl off. Should there be incentives to come in on those days too?

        1. Dan*

          You do whatever the market demands. I spent several years working in an industry where facilities are open 24/7. We got extra pay for working holidays. Seems like such a waste to me. Why bother, when it’s no secret the place never closes? Then what about turkey day? At some places, the Friday after is a holiday, at others it’s not.

          You do whatever makes sense for your business. At my current job, there’s no rationing of vacation slots. If the whole company is out at one time, then so be it.

          I love it.

      2. HR Manager*

        If they are bitter that they have to work on a non-holiday, then are they bitter that they have to work period? do they not want a paying job? It’s one thing to call them up out of bed on a day off or approved vacation day to say they must show up, but if they have a regularly scheduled work day, why should a manager be obliged to appease them? End of the year does not mean workers get to show up only when they want to because of the holidays. Work is work.

        1. Julie*

          I highly doubt people are bitter or upset that they have to work a day they are regularly scheduled or a non-work holiday. They are more likely upset that they cannot use their benefit when they’d prefer to (ie they are not being allowed to use their PTO on the days they’d prefer to come into work).

          It’s not really the same concept.

          1. HR Manager*

            In companies I’ve worked for, vacation time always has to be approved. In theory, t if I want to take a week off in February, August or March, I need to request this vacation time and have it approved. If I’m told no because someone else is off and we need coverage, or if a major project is expected to happen, I don’t think anyone would feel a manager should pay me an incentive to work those days because the manager said no (well within the parameters of the policy). If I don’t have approved vacation time, it’s a regularly scheduled day of work.

            You’re right – it isn’t an issue so much of someone having to work on a work day. It’s an issue of someone being told no. That doesn’t make a financial incentive any more warranted to me.

          2. Joey*

            Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of an approval process. If all should be approved then no approvals would be needed, no? You should expect that they’re occassionally denied if someone has to approve them. That’s the essence of an approval process.

            1. Julie*

              I agree. There is a reason why vacation time and other PTO must be approved. However, I’m explaining the thought process behind why someone may be upset if they don’t get their first choice. Some folks are more flexible than others.

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          It’s called a gesture of good will, not everyone who wants holiday will be able to have time off so it’s nice to give a little something back to employees who end up working. To me extra pay seems unnecessary but a relaxed dress code, some food or a slight,y earlier finish for the day are all nice little touches.

    1. OhNo*

      I think paying extra for non-holidays is a bit weird, too, but I can see paying extra for sort-of-holidays like the day of Christmas Eve or New Years Eve. Even though those aren’t technically holidays, most people are going to want them off, so offering extra incentive would be a good way to encourage people to work them without feeling slighted.

      (It seems like others are suggesting expanding that “extra incentive” policy to the entire two weeks surrounding Xmas and New Years, which in my opinion is a little much, and might very well strain the budget.)

      1. My two cents...*

        i think it depends HEAVILY on the industry.

        (extremely simplified…)
        retail – you’re expected to have to work some holidays. but, with places opening for black friday ON THANKSGIVING, they needed to offset with 1.5 x pay or other cash bonuses for taking the ultra-crappy shifts. (i.e. macy’s and other ‘anchor’ mall stores)

        exempt office workers – someone’s expected to be around, and it’s expected that not ‘all’ requests will be granted. treats/catered lunch/coffee bar would be enough of a perk for most folks in this camp, imo.

        non-exempt workers(industrial, manufacturing, medical ind[exempt and non), etc) – making overtime uncontested/immediately approved is a perk. bonus pay would also be a perk, as would offering some banked flex time for in the future.

      2. HMV*

        I wish my former employer would have done this. I worked at a hotel pool during college, and we got paid double if we worked holidays but nothing if we didn’t work holidays. I volunteered to work on New Year’s Eve and the pool stayed open until midnight. Needless to say, there was plenty of drinking, lots of noise, and tons of people. When I found out I’d be getting paid single-time and the people who came in the next day to a ghost town would be getting paid double, I was NOT happy. I know it was my fault that I didn’t verify that they didn’t consider New Year’s Eve night a holiday, but still. Not happy.

    2. Mike C.*

      This is a pretty terrible attitude to be honest. It completely ignores the fact that people have lives outside of work, and those lives include cultural, religious and familial traditions that have been going on for a lot longer than your business has.

      Recognizing that requiring people to choose between work and those societal customs is a good step towards dealing with the fact that not everyone can go on vacation at the same time. It’s a hardship, and hardships should be and commonly are rewarded with additional compensation. It’s no different than paying someone more for working second and third shift over first. Same work, but different costs to the employee.

      That’s why you should “pay someone more for working a day that they’re already supposed to work”.

      1. MT*

        What is terrible about that. When you are hired in, the company spells out what days you are expect to be in. And what days/holidays you have off.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think it’s unethical or mean to not do it, but sometimes companies do things for their employees just because it’s nice and makes people happy. Shocking concept, I know.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*


            Sure, it’s perfectly ethical to expect people to show up without complaint on the days that are not strictly required holidays in your state. But especially around the holidays–ESPECIALLY on those “not really a holiday” days mentioned (like Christmas Eve, or NYE, or when the scheduling is weird so one workday is sandwiched between leave times)–it can be worth it for the employer to kick in a little bonus, or get everybody lunch, or whatever. Because it is a nice thing to do and it is the holiday season and sometimes employers like to ensure their employees are happy and satisfied and not sitting in the office bitterly complaining to one another about their boss, the Grinch.

            1. MT*

              I am 100% on board with providing lunch and snacks, but to pay someone time and half or two times normal rate, just to show up on a day they are supposed to be at work anyways it out of line

              1. Colette*

                Why shouldn’t a company do that, if they believe it will lead to happier, more productive employees? In other words, why is it out of line?

              2. LBK*

                Please explain how it’s out of line to do something nice for your employees if you want to and you can afford it.

              3. Mike C.*

                This is going to shock you, but I get paid twice as much, more if there’s overtime. Why? Because it better be a serious emergency rather than the whim of a workaholic boss that drags me to work during a yearly scheduled shutdown.

                That’s actually another reason to do it – to make sure you aren’t dragging employees into work for arbitrary reasons during the holidays. It’s a bad practice that results in terrible morale and higher turnover. Also, rested employees are safer and more productive in the long run.

                1. Joey*

                  The same argument could me made for Friday’s and Monday’s. If you look at attendance statistics in M-F jobs that’s where most people call in or take the day off and there’s no expectation of extra pay? How’s that different?

                2. Mike C.*

                  You mean the “40% of sick days are taken on a Monday or Friday” statistics?

                  No, you can’t compare a typical Monday/Friday with the week between Christmas and New Years or similar holiday periods. For one thing, Monday and Friday happen every week. Even then, I earlier made the example of those working second and third shifts – they’re usually paid more for the same work when compared to first shift.

                  For another thing, when in the heck is an entire office at risk of taking off a Monday or Friday? The Monday after the Superbowl? First day of a local hunting/fishing season? Even those are yearly events in comparison to the weekly Monday and Friday.

                3. Joey*

                  The point is that that’s a flawed position unless you also think companies should incentivize employees to work on all days around all holidays. why is the week between Xmas and New Years special? What about the Tuesday after MLK, Fri feb 13th, Mardi Gras, cinco de mayo, the Friday and Tuesday around Memorial and Labor Days, and all of the others? Plenty of people travel to celebrate at those times too.

                4. LBK*

                  I don’t think Thanksgiving and Christmas are comparable to the other holidays because they aren’t traditionally heavy travel times. No one really goes out of town to meet up with family on MLK Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. People get particularly resentful about having to work on those two holidays because for families that are spread out geographically, it’s generally the one time of year they plan to all get together – speaking personally, it’s rare that I see my sister who lives across the country any time aside from Christmas, so it’s generous of my employer to incentivize me to stay at work during those times if needed.

                  Again, I don’t think it’s REQUIRED to do this by any means, but I can’t see a downside. It sounds like you’re making some kind of slippery slope argument that if you incentivize those days, you have to start incentivizing any day someone might consider special, and…yeah, that doesn’t really make sense to me. Businesses make judgment calls about when to reward people or do nice things for their employees all the time.

                5. Joey*

                  Lbk, so why arent days around non Christian holidays incentivized? Just because more people are Christian?

                6. LBK*

                  It has nothing to do with Christianity, it’s about US culture. Regardless of your religion, it’s culturally accepted that the end of November and the end of December tend to be family-oriented times. There is not a culture expectation that most people will want to spend time with their family the day after the Superbowl.

                7. Kelly L.*

                  @LBK, yeah. I’ve run into the issue that I’m not actually Christian myself, but my family is, and so if I took off every day I want for religious reasons and every day my family expects to see me…it would have been a lot. So you end up making choices you don’t really want to make.

                8. MT*

                  What happens the next year, if more of your workers would rather work and get paid a premium that week instead of taking vacation. Do you still pay a premium?

                9. Colette*

                  @MT Maybe you adjust your premium, maybe your workforce has changed so that people don’t care about getting those days off and you drop the premium all together.

                10. Mike C.*

                  @Joey – this is a continuum fallacy – that is, allowing time around winter holidays (and every culture has these, mostly because winter sucked for our ancestors!) does not, in an of itself lead to things such as an expectation that every Monday and Friday being treated the same way as say December 26th.

                  To continue that line of argument, you need to explicitly show how one leads to the other. Furthermore, the focus on Christian holidays is just an artifact of the location of the readership. If we were from other areas, we could and do easily substitute other culturally significant holidays. Many friends of mine from the east coast one or more major Jewish holidays off, for example.

                  @MT The same thing you do whenever you have too many workers for the work that needs to be done – send them home. Businesses staff for the demand they can expect and no more, why is this any different?

                  Lots of businesses pay extra during the holidays, this isn’t some radical idea I just pulled out of thin air.

                11. LBK*

                  If it’s one freak year where no one leaves? Yes, you pay the premium. If the nature of the staffing shifts so everyone is free on holidays? You cut it, because you no longer have a staffing issue that merits it. The whole point of this is to cushion the blow for the people who get stuck in the office on holidays – but if no one cares about being stuck in the office, there’s no blow to cushion.

                12. LBK*

                  Yeah, Mike C. also made a point I wrote out originally and then deleted – if everyone wants to work, you cut staff to what you need just like you would any other day of the year.

                13. Elsajeni*

                  @Joey: “Just because more people are Christian?” Well, yes, because of what Victoria Nonprofit pointed out below — it’s a supply-and-demand issue. If more of your employees observe Christmas than any other single holiday, then you’re likely to have more demand for time off around Christmas than at any other time, which means you’re more likely to run into this supply/demand mismatch then. If a company finds that their highest-demand period for time off is instead around the High Holy Days, Diwali, the local school district’s spring break, the start of deer season, etc., there’s nothing stopping them from incentivizing that time instead of the time around Christmas — it’s just less common (in the U.S.).

                  Also, the OP’s question was specifically about Christmastime, so the comments will naturally be focused on that period.

              4. Kelly L.*

                “Out of line”? You seem really weirdly angry about this. If you don’t like it, don’t do it for your employees. It’s one of many suggestions.

                1. Dan*

                  Yeah… I posted above that my employer doesn’t give a rip if the whole office is out. But since I don’t take leave for the holidays (I tend to take mine all at once during the spring or fall), I wanna get paid triple time or whatever some people get for working on a holiday. Ain’t gonna happen, cause that’s just dumb for my boss to do.

                  But it makes perfect sense at other places. Just because it doesn’t work here doesn’t mean it’s dumb for everybody.

              5. Julie*

                I don’t see how it’s “out of line” if the company/owner choose to do it as an incentive. At that point surely it’s just another benefit. As others mentioned, it would be a nice morale booster but not a requirement. It also may not be in OP’s control to dictate pay in that manner, in which case some other bonus mentioned above may help keep morale up.

                I am a development director at a non profit. My executive director requires every staff member to show up and work at events. They are salaried, exempt so no additional pay or OT. (They can shorten their weekly hours to offset the hours worked at the event). The day after my gala, I showed up with donuts for the whole office as a thank you treat. I wasn’t required to do this. I could have thought “they are supposed to be at work anyways.” But it’s still a weekend evening, at a time when one would most likely not prefer to work, and there’s nothing wrong in choosing to recognize that small sacrifice made for the good of the organization even if it was a job requirement.

                I don’t think anything is required here, but I think you’ll see happier employments if you can come up with some sort of small token of appreciation.

              6. BRR*

                It can also be counter productive. People might work time they would have otherwise taken off for the money and then be unhappy they didn’t get to participate in holiday events. “I would have been home for Christmas but I couldn’t pass up the money.”

                1. LBK*

                  Deciding if money is more important than family is up to the employee, though. And if you’re talking about truly needing the money so you can’t afford to pass it up, is the alternative really any better – that is, getting to spend extra time with family but being broke?

                2. Mike C.*

                  That sounds like a personal problem for the employee – this is a pretty bizarre thing to be worried about.

        2. Mike C.*

          Unequal hardships should be compensated accordingly – my second paragraph explains that this is a common practice. To ignore the entire context of the situation is a recipe for high turnover and low morale.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          The OP is trying to solve a problem of supply and demand: Too much demand for something (days off in the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s), and not enough supply (people who want to work those days). Changing the “price” of a day off (by changing how much someone is paid by working that day) will probably change the demand… which solves the problem.

          I mean, I guess they can just lay down the law and tell everyone to deal with it, but managing a staff that way isn’t likely to lead to long-term success… folks will get fed up and leave, not put in their best work, be grumpy and bring down the morale of people around them, etc.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, pretty much this. You’ll end up fishing out the folks who are staying in town anyway but were otherwise planning on sitting in bed watching Netflix while the folks who go out of town can stay going out of town.

            The best part is that everyone feels like they got a fair shake out of the bargain – there’s little if any bitterness between employees who did and didn’t leave for a vacation.

            1. Dan*

              Yup. At a previous employer, because we were a 24/7 facility, we got “floater” holidays to use within the quarter. If you worked the holiday itself, you were compensated at a premium rate.

              Me with no kids and small extended family? I’d travel the week before to see my parents, when tickets were much cheaper, and make some extra cash on the holiday. Plus, the holiday itself is dead as a doorknob, so it’s *easy* money.

              Worked for me.

        4. TL*

          The company also spells out how many vacation days you have and, unless they specify blackout days, you have a reasonable expectation of being able to use your vacation days for times that are important to you, like the holidays.

          If they want to make it so you can’t use your vacation for those days that are important to you, then I feel like they should indeed try to compensate you for this.

        5. My two cents...*

          i think the question is how do you limit the number of employees trying to cash-in their vacation time, when you have a minimum number of staff required during the non-holiday days around the fed holidays.

          they’re all entitled to take vacation during these days. not everyone will want to, but they’re bracing themselves for the possibility that the demand for vacation time will high and they’ll need to make decisions to ensure the minimum staff is still available.

      2. MT*

        There are some business that dec, esp the time between xmas and 1st is the busiest week of the year. I let my employees know that there are 2 slots open for people to take vacation that week( team of 80) and its first come first serve. I would black out those dates if HR would let me. That week overtime is take whatever you want, I have people who will pull 80 hrs that week.

        1. Mike C.*

          Look, just because you have some weird industry reason for working employees up to 80hrs/week the last two weeks of the year* doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take it’s toll. As an employer or manager, you have to account for that toll in some way – either by making up for it, or dealing with lost productivity and increased costs and turnover. Telling people to just suck it up year after year isn’t free.

          *And you better have a really good reason at that. 80+ hr weeks are a recipe for serious safety and productivity risks. If it’s arbitrary or due to lack of proper planning and preparation, you’re endangering your workers. Having a bunch of people that sleep deprived driving to and from work is as bad or worse than having them drive drunk.

          1. MT*

            People who work the 80, there is only one or two. They choose to work those hours. I only require 32 hours that week, 32 + 8 holiday for 40. There are some people whose lifestyle allows them to work a week now and then of a lot of hours.

          2. Chinook*

            “Look, just because you have some weird industry reason for working employees up to 80hrs/week the last two weeks of the year* doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take it’s toll”

            Any company that does their financial year end as Dec. 31st will guarantee to have people in accounting who are working overtime the week between Christmas and New Year’s, especially since most people try to clear off the paperwork and invoices from their desk before they leave for vacation, leaving the “paper monkeys” to deal with inputting them into the books, printing cheques, etc. Last fiscal year, our books closed Jan. 3 which meant no 2013 transactions could be recorded after that date. No matter how many emails were sent in December to get invoices, accruals and other finacial paperwork up to them, there was still a lot of work to be done that last week.

              1. Chinook*

                I didn’t say it doens’t take its toll,.just that it isn’t a weird industry thing. Odds are good that, if you work for a non-small business, there is atleast one department who will never get to to fully take the week before financial year end off and resents being forgotten about. Nothing breeds resentment than having support staff hear somone complain that they have to work New Year’s Eve Day this year when that staffer has had to work the weekend as well every year they have been there.

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          I hope you tell people this up front, by the offer stage at least. I know there are some people that will be fine with this, but since a lot of people expect to take some time off at the end of the year, it would be really crappy to spring that on people once they’re already working there. There are some people that will value time off around the holidays enough that they will not want to work for your organization, so hopefully you’re doing everyone a favor and letting them self select out.

          This sort of happened to me in my current job, where after I was hired they told me the end of the year is their busiest time and typically no one can take time off, and I seriously considered looking for another job up until the fall (after starting the job in January) when some of our project timelines shifted that it wasn’t going to be a problem that year. Luckily, since then we’ve managed to space out our project timelines so that we don’t have as much of a crunch at the end of the year and people can take time off, but whether others think it’s ridiculous or not, I value the opportunity to take time off then enough that I would absolutely self select out of any company that had a no vacation policy during the holidays (I live on the opposite coast from my family, so it’s often the only time I get to see them during the year).

          1. MT*

            If people ask we tell them during the interview stages, this type of schedule is very common in my industry. Also each new hire packet contains a list of holidays and blackout dates as well as what the vacation policy is, end of quarter and end of year is limited.

          2. MJH*

            Yep, my family (a gigantic group) gets together every other Xmas. On the even years. So this year I am traveling for a week, 1000 miles away, by plane. I bought tickets for this in June. If someone told me now that I couldn’t take it, I would be livid. If someone told me when I was offered the job that Xmas was a time when vacation is out, I’d probably look for another job. It is incredibly important to me.

    3. Johannah*

      Because they are being told they can not use a vacation day on the day they want to use it. Vacation days are for days you are supposed to work but want off for whatever reason.

  11. Jake*

    I like the give and take system.

    In our office you either get time during thanksgiving or Christmas, not both unless there is sufficient coverage without you. Any conflicts are resolved by having the people that take the least amount of time off getting first choice.

    It isn’t a big issue because folks like me typically travel the week before or after everybody else, but if an issue does come up, I feel this is a fair way to resolve it.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I like the idea of getting Thanksgiving or Christmas (it’s like how we handle splitting our time between families!), but I don’t love that the people who ask for the least amount time off get first choice. That essentially means that local folks who are driving across town to their uncle’s house will always get time, and folks who need to fly across country will never get time.

      I think I’d go with some sort of incentive (to reduce the problem) and a rotation system.

      1. BRR*

        I don’t like the shortest amount of time either. I live far from my family and don’t see them often. I’m taking off the entire week of Thanksgiving. My coworker lives 2 hours from her family. She sees them more often and only asks off the day before Thanksgiving because she sees them more frequently.

      2. Jake*

        For the record, the least amount of time off is for the year as a whole, so if I’ve taken 4 doc appointments and left early 6 times, but you’ve only had one day off all year, you win.

      3. Another J*

        When I was very young, my mother was a nurse who got to choose either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New years. She always chose Thanksgiving and worked through Christmas so she could get the extra pay. She then shopped after Christmas for stuff and we celebrated Christmas around the 28th or 29th – whichever was easier. She got the extra pay and lower prices. It really made a difference when we were so poor that we couldn’t even afford real milk, we had to use powdered milk that was mostly water.

  12. Kate*

    At my old job, this came up every year. My husband is a pilot and we often didn’t know his schedule until the month before. I got shafted EVERY YEAR because it was “first come first serve”. Even worse, all of my coworkers had their entire families living in town, and I was the only one with BOTH sides of the family living out of town. So, they would submit their requests to be off for two whole weeks in June, because they never had to account for spouses schedules or travel. The EVEN WORSE part was that we were marketing, and there was zero reason to be in the office at all. My husband and I missed more than a few family get togethers so I could go to work and play cards or watch movies all day, because there was no one around, and no one for us to market to.

    So, I guess the real moral of the story is, make sure you actually NEED 16 people in the office before you make that decree.

    1. Kate*

      Another solution: is there any way some employees could work from home? My current job allows for this during winter breaks and it’s a godsend to not have to worry about traveling back between Xmas and New Years just to sit at my desk and do work that I can easily do from my laptop, sitting in front of my parent’s fire in my jammies. I get a lot of work done, too! I’m ultra relaxed, and there’s lots of family to help out so I’m not feeling pulled in twenty different directions!

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        This how we’ve managed to get more time with family during the holidays. I don’t work, but Mr. Vintage can work from home so long as it’s OK with the clients (and since half the time he’s working remotely anyway, with clients all over the country, it’s rarely ever been a problem.) So long as family events are during a weekend or evening, he’s good. Or worst case scenario, he has to take PTO for one day rather than a whole week. And like you, most of his clients are pretty quiet during those weeks so he’s at best working half days that week anyway.

    2. Mike C.*

      This is actually a great point. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone having to work during a dead holiday period or say during a snowstorm when all their clients were closed as well.

      Not every business needs to be open and fully staffed every hour of every day of every year.

      1. Anonsie*

        I do a little of this every year. The people I’m normally at work to help take that entire stretch off to be with their families save one or two, and they usually don’t do anything that involves me in that time.

    3. Dan*

      I worked for an airline, too, as ground staff. Vacation requests for us were considered on a seniority basis. The requests weren’t even evaluated until the 15th of the previous calendar month. So you didn’t know about December travel until late in November. If we really wanted time off, we shift traded and bribed people.

      Airline life does not mesh well with the rest of the world. I appreciate my 9-5 job so much more since I did shift work. At my particular employer, there are no restrictions on leave. I can plan stuff a year in advance and not worry about it.

    4. Anonsie*

      I was going to say something similar. My family doesn’t decide where (most of them live within a few hours drive of each other, I live across the country) they’re going to meet for the holidays until maaaybe a month before. I would love to be able to make earlier plans and get my requests in early and not have to pay crazy airfare prices, but for some reason the people I’m related to are allergic to making those decisions early just for me, so that’s what I’ve got.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve worked at places where the owner thought the office HAD to be open on holidays to make a point that the business never stops working. (As if someone is looking to buy commercial real estate on Christmas Day?) And it was just the support staff that had to be there. All the managers and directors didn’t come in, or left after an hour. It was really just a way for the owner to be overbearing and make the receptionist, secretaries, and admins suffer.
      If your customer expects you to be closed, then there is no reason to be open.

    6. INTP*

      I think geographic circumstances should definitely be taken into consideration! I’m a lengthy flight away from all of my relatives. If I don’t get at least a week off, I spend the holiday alone. When I lived near them, sure, it was nice to have extra days off around that time, but not having a second or third day to sit around with your family is far less depressing than planning Thanksgiving dinner for one.

  13. Carrie in Scotland*

    The numbers you mention – you’d like at least 12 working one week and 16 the next – are you basing these numbers on the work you’ll have during these weeks? I say this, as my last job had 9 admins (3 bosses, 1 receptionist) and only a few of us were allowed to have time off and the rest came into to work to cover. However, it was dreadfully slow and we didn’t have much work to do during the holidays so it led to a very grumpy feeling (esp as most of the people who would generate work for us took the entire 2 weeks off). Nobody working = nobody giving us work to do = sitting around in the office tidying out cupboards…

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      Yes, that’s quite high for a holiday week. In my office my boss insisted on keeping it open and refused my coworker’s request for time off on December 27th (when it fell on a Friday and Christmas/Boxing Day are holidays here). So she came in, the only employee on the 27th, and hadn’t a damn thing to do all day long. Not a phone call, not a problem, nothing. But rather than have the office be closed that day, he insisted my coworker come in because “she didn’t have kids and wasn’t going away for the holidays.” True.

      1. Judy*

        I was also wondering about those numbers, I’d expect to see them swapped if it were B2B. Most places I’ve worked, the majority of people worked up to the first holiday and then were off until Jan 2.

    2. Anonsie*

      Yep, and this happens where I work every year as well. The people who generate work for us have the ability to book off large swaths of time periodically, and we get these major slow seasons in July when everyone goes on vacation and around the winter holidays when everyone stays home.

  14. Elkay*

    I imagine the incentive is it’s pretty low volume work wise, it’s often just a case of bums on seats during those weeks. 12 & 16 seem awfully high numbers, is that based on previous call volumes? Honesty is probably the best policy here given it sounds like you’ve already got some people with approved leave. Send an email round that says “Reminder to book your Christmas/New Year leave, we need 12/16 people in the office, some people have already booked their leave, here’s the available slots for each day” and then stick a chart/table in that shows there are 6 vacation slots for 23rd December but only 2 for 24th December. That way people can decide which days they want to request. Personally I normally choose to work right up to December 24, I’d rather have the time off in January when the Christmas spirit has disappeared.

    1. Colette*

      If you would rather be doing something else but have to work, lack of work builds resentment and is not an incentive. (That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have to work if they don’t want to, but don’t think that “less work than usual” will make people happy to be working.)

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Yeah, exactly. If you already don’t want to be at work, it sucks a LOT to have nothing to do there. At least if there’s plenty to do, you can see there’s something tangible for your efforts–but if you’re just sitting there twiddling your thumbs and reflecting on how much you’d like to be home in fleecy pajamas eating leftover ham sandwiches and fruitcake instead of actually doing work–negative incentive.

      2. Helka*

        It can depend — when I was in the call center, part of the reason holidays were attractive was that the call volume was quite low and therefore the days were very low stress. Add that to the holiday overtime, and I was really, really okay with sitting and reading or cross-stitching for ten hours while I racked up 22 hours’ worth of pay, and taking maybe a dozen calls in that time.

        1. Anonsie*

          It’s different if you’re allowed to do whatever in your down time while you’re at work– if you’re expecting to be “finding” work and be applying yourself over every single one of those hours, it doesn’t quite feel the same.

          Though I’d still be grumpy if I had to sit at work and cross-stitch all day when I could be at home cross-stitching in sweatpants like everyone else.

          1. Helka*

            Yeah, that makes it rough. My call center had no duties for us that didn’t explicitly involve being on a call, so if there were no calls? They didn’t really care as long as we weren’t being horribly disruptive and could drop everything at a moment’s notice when the call did come in.

        2. Colette*

          In my experience, it’s fun to be at work when work is light, as long as you haven’t given up something you would rather be doing.

          Most of my team is out for Diwali today. I had no Diwali plans, so a day with fewer interruptions is kind of nice. But if I’d had plans that I had to give up to come in to work, I’d want to be busy.

  15. Diet Coke Addict*

    Whatever you decide to do, please, please, please tell your employees ASAP. If you wait too long you’re sowing seeds for resentment–among people who get shafted, people who have to work holidays they hadn’t planned for, and just because of the fact that you waited until nearly November to work on the holiday planning. People need to know with as much advance planning as possible–especially if their holiday plans involve travel of more than, oh, an hour or so.

  16. GrumpyBoss*

    I manage teams where I do have to have a physical presence 24x7x365. This only becomes a problem at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day.

    I give leading warnings 6 months out – get holiday PTO in now, and it is first come, first serve. I make an announcement when I can no longer accommodate any more requests. This year, I was lucky, because I made that announcement in August. I refer team members back to that memo when they think things are unfair.

    Gotchas to watch out for with this method: someone will inevitably request every holiday off. I tend to talk to these people one on one, and ask them to choose one so we can be a little more equitable to their teammates. In 20 years, I’ve only had one employee not listen to reason there. Most people don’t realize they aren’t being considerate until you point it out. But at the same time, I am not going to prevent someone from taking both Thanksgiving and Christmas off if we haven’t exceeded my max number if requests (thus is rare but has happened!)

    Also, make sure you take care of your people who elect not to take PTO around the holidays. Whatever their motivation, it’s pretty selfless and does allow many of their peers to spend time with their family. I tend to surprise these employees with a comp day around valentine’s day, or some other time of year.

    1. lap_giraffe*

      yes yes yes yes YES

      Service industry here, and I’m talking professional high end, not your neighborhood Chili’s, so low turnover and longterm employees. Part of working this job, for better or worse, is working a lot of times when other “normal” people have off – nights, weekends, holidays. I don’t know what industry the OP is in, but if it truly requires such a large percentage of people to be working over holidays, then why is there an expectation that there’s a holiday PTO free for all?

      When I was a manager I did the same thing Grumpy Boss suggests. We were planning holiday projects at the beginning of August, why would I not bring up time off then when it’s already on everyone’s mind? While everyone was/is expected to work most holidays, we had a policy that everyone worked two of the three, but this has a big asterisk. You want or need to take some additional time? You come to me or another manager with enough lead time, good performance, and a willingness to be flexible, and we’d accommodate most things.

      Consideration for each other was my mantra, and you have to address directly those who don’t live by that rule. When the whole team believes all the time – not just holidays – that we help and support another, that alleviates all the bitterness about who gets what holiday/good shift. But even more so, I was very transparent with my staff about the schedule and allowed it to be an organic, living thing. When, year round, people see the thought and consideration that goes into a normal week, they are more trusting of managerial decisions around things like holidays. People picked up shifts without a thought because they knew they would be taken care of when their time came, and they trusted each other and the mgmt. I know this might be weird to translate into an office environment, but it helped to keep the atmosphere free of bitterness and entitlement.

      And a big amen to taking care of those people who bust their ass during the holiday. It’s so easy to show someone appreciation with a little extra PTO, especially if it slows down come January. I never offered it up as an incentive, it was the environment again, the employees with local families or low key celebrations were happy to take on the extra shifts so that those who need to travel or host or absolutely live and die by christmas could do their thing. It was being able to offer them a little thank you after the fact that further solidified our cooperative and considerate workplace.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      That sounds like an outstanding way to handle it. Let me ask, though: what do you do about people who are hired in September or later? Most jobs I’ve had, by the end of the calendar year I’ll have accrued at least one day of leave–is that in the new hire stuff, that you’re glad to have them on board but this year there’s no chance they can take leave on or near the holiday(s)? I mean it might be. I’m not challenging that–just curious.

    3. Hillary*

      Yes. I know someone on a small team that has to have on-site coverage every calendar day. At the beginning of the year they have a meeting and decide who’s covering each federal holiday. They each have to work one major and one minor holiday (July 4, Thanksgiving and Xmas are major, Memorial Day, Labor Day and New Years are minor). Travel plans tend to flow from the holiday assignments.

  17. Adam*

    If you make the situation known early I think you might find some people are willing to adjust their schedules in advance so long as they get to take time off at some point. My current job does not allow my specific position to take time off during December at all except for the company wide holidays. I handled this personally by delaying holiday travel to around New Years and time directly after. Granted, I’m single and have no kids so it’s much easier for me to adjust, but I was fine doing it so long as I knew well enough in advance what to plan for.

  18. MaryMary*

    Think about if allowing some people to work remotely is a possibility too. My office requires that at least one employee per team be in the office on the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. It causes drama every year, partially because a) it’s very, very slow since most of our clients and business partners have the day off, and b) the few items that do come up could easily be addressed by someone working remotely (our office phones can be forwarded to our cell phones, and most people have a laptop, tablet, or home computer set up to log in remotely). Of course, it’s reasonable to set expectations around working remotely during the holidays (i.e. being logged in all day and not just checking email occasionally, or having a quiet place to take phone calls). But if it’s an option, why not take advantage of it?

    1. Hlyssande*

      We were thinking the same thing about working remotely! I will most likely be doing that this year, just so I can go.

  19. Hlyssande*

    Another thing to consider is what sort of plans people are making. I live about 400 miles away from my family, and my grandmother is turning 103 in a few weeks. I only see the majority of my family once a year (when everyone gathers in the hometown for the holidays), so time off for the holidays is incredibly important to me.

    Because Christmas is in a month end week for us, things are a little bit different this time around, and there’s a definite possibility that I’ll be taking a spare laptop to work remotely from my parents’ house. I will be happy to do so as long as I can actually make the trip and spend a reasonable amount of time there.

    I’m not saying that the person who doesn’t travel anywhere because their family and friends are local shouldn’t get time off, but if there are alternate options (travel, but work remotely at the destination), that might be something to think about as far as coverage goes.

    I like the idea of providing incentives. Whoever works Black Friday here generally gets pizza or some other form of tasty free lunch courtesy of the supervisors, but bonuses/overtime are definitely a good idea if you can do it!

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I’ve found considering circumstances and consequences as a general rule to be a very slippery slope. Someone wants time off, I accommodate if at all possible. What they do with that time isn’t my concern. This avoids the whole travel vs local, kids vs none arguments.

      But, what I do like to do, is consider special circumstances like the above. You come to me, explain that you have an elderly relative, and would like to spend time with them, I will do everything to help you. And if your boss doesn’t, they such. I say this as a bonafide grouch.

      1. Anne*

        I agree about taking people’s circumstances into account…it doesn’t matter! Where I work we are open on Easter, and the same person feels like she’s entitled to that day off, because she has a big family and they all come to her house. Not fair.

            1. Chinook*

              “How is that different than Christmas?”

              For religious reasons, Easter is much, much more important tham Christmas. If I was told to choose (or loose my job), I would take Easter off every single time even though I would miss the socializing with family and the 2 for 1 holiday that is the 25th/26th combo Christmas holiday up here.

      2. BRR*

        I agree that it’s dangerous territory. I would not be happy if a coworker always got Thanksgiving off because that’s the only time they see their family and I get to see my parents once or twice through the year. But it is nice if you can make special circumstances. We are extremely busy right now. A coworker’s dad is sick, we manage. I asked half a day off to meet with the restaurant I’m getting married at. If it’s too busy I just send my fiance without me. Nice when it works out but I would try and steer clear from that.

      3. Hlyssande*

        I can definitely see how it’s a slippery slope and could also screw people over. We’ve been really lucky so far in the 9 years that I’ve been at my company that the holidays have never really fallen on month end and it hasn’t even been an issue until now.

        I’m not at all religious, so I wouldn’t object to not taking a longer vacation if not for the family aspect. Flying is too expensive for me in general, so there’s a full day lost each way to 8 hours of driving vs a two hour flight, sob.

        Grandma, by the way, is still just as sassy as she has always been, lives alone in her own house, takes no crap, and feeds all the squirrels.

    2. Helka*

      I’m in a very similar situation! All of my family is 1,000+ miles away from me, and most of my local friends travel for the holidays as well, so if I’m working Christmas, I’m going to be very, very alone on an important religious holiday for me. Even if I know that all’s fair and whatever, it’s incredibly depressing and there’s no way my morale won’t be in the toilet.

  20. Judy*

    I would look first at your entire vacation process.

    Answers to questions like: What is our normal minimum staffing? Are there other weeks like Thanksgiving, spring or fall break that can be a bottleneck?

    Then define a system and publish it. One of my preferred systems:
    (1) Vacation time allotted by some (senority, points, rotation for bottleneck weeks) system one quarter in advance. (Vacation for April 1-June 30 based on the system and requests by Dec 31.)
    (2) After that first come, first serve.
    (3) Have a group calendar for vacation to allow the FCFS folks to get an idea if a given week is OK.

    But I also agree if you’ve approved vacation already for the December holidays, you have to implement this for next year.

  21. LBK*

    I really like Alison’s point about being careful with seniority as a determination mechanism. If your company has a tendency to retain people for long periods of time – like most of your staff have been there for 10+ years – it’s no longer really basing things on seniority, it’s “Jane and Bob will always get their requests approved because they will never leave and everyone else who ever works here gets screwed”. The benefit of seniority should be that eventually it’s your turn when you become the most senior person, but if your company has low turnover, that benefit will never pay off correctly.

    This happens to my friend all the time – he’s been working at his company for 7 years and is still the least senior person in the department because everyone else has been there for 15+ years. After 7 years of knowing you’re always at the bottom of the totem pole, you build up quite a bit of resentment towards the “seniority rules” concept.

    1. Dan*

      If I wanted to live my life on a seniority basis, I’d work for a union :)

      I had a part time job that did vacation requests in order of seniority. But there was no requirement that leave actually be debited. So senior part time guys with outside jobs would constantly be on vacation.

      I worked for an airline BTW. Seniority is a mainstay of the union mentality. I left it because I wanted my life to revolve around my contributions, not the date I was hired.

      1. LBK*

        Wait…they wouldn’t debit the time off? So you basically just had unlimited?

        And yes, the job in the example I mentioned is indeed a union job.

        1. Dan*

          I should have been more clear — there was no requirement that you annotate leave on your timesheet, so you essentially were getting unpaid leave. The guys who did it showed up to work enough where it wasn’t terribly obvious that they were “always” on vacation. They were just “always” on vacation during the prime slots.

  22. Maxwell Edison*

    Just out of curiousity, how would one handle the situation for employees with young kids who are out of school for the holidays? It can be pretty difficult if the kids aren’t able to stay home alone and if there aren’t relatives around to take up the child care duties.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      It sucks very hard for parents who are in that situation. But it is really not part of the company’s issue–as cruel as that might sound–but really, the company cannot restrict or grant vacation based on who has kids and who doesn’t. It’s a lousy way to do things because you’ll end up creating a TON of discontent–among employees who have kids who have other arrangements, employees without kids, employees who have kids who need supervision but can’t get the time off, etc.

      It can get difficult, but the company is not the party that needs to be ensuring the kids get childcare over winter break.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Agree. And after reading some comments on this thread, I feel the need to point out that distance traveled or religious preferences are no different either.

        The company cannot take this into account. It will inevitably be unfair to someone, but it is a company’s responsibility to make sure that unfair does not become discriminatory.

        1. Us, Too*

          Is this literally true, though? I thought companies were required to make reasonable religious accommodations and that would imply, to me, that most workplaces would need to give preference to someone who was, for religious reasons, not available to work on specific dates/times.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            In the OP’s case, the company is closed on Christmas so it won’t come up here. (Religious observances are unlikely to require you to take the whole week off.)

            But if they weren’t closed on Christmas, and someone could show a bona fide religious need (not just “I like to spend Christmas day with my family”), then yes, the business needs to accommodate that, unless they could show that it caused them undue hardship.

            1. Us, Too*

              That makes sense.

              I’m a practicing Catholic – maybe some day I will be good at it. ;) To the best of my knowledge, there is no prohibition about working on any of the holy or obligation days. I am expected to attend Mass, but I can usually do that and still work if needed. During the really “busy” days, churches schedule extra masses outside of traditional work hours to accommodate people with jobs. Maybe there is some group of Christians that does have a “do not work on Christmas day” requirement, but I am not sure that is very common.

              1. KellyK*

                I think the issue is more likely to be a work shift that conflicts with church attendance. The Catholic Church is really good about having multiple mass times to accommodate people’s schedules, but most Protestant denominations have a lot fewer. Also, I’ve been to at least some churches (of a more conservative/Evangelical bent) where it was expected or strongly encouraged that if there were multiple church services on a given Sunday or religious holiday, you’d go to both of them (e.g., a Sunday morning and Sunday evening, Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day).

                1. Chinook*

                  I agree that the issue is more the work shift that conflicts with church attendance. Here in the city, I could slip down to the Basilica for mass but that would take 2 or 3 hours out of the day (including commute) or miss out completely because the commuter bus I take doesn’t get me back in time to make the only mass in my small town (especially on a busy night where seating is at a premium).

                2. Us, Too*

                  There is a difference between required vs. “strongly encouraged”, though. Is church attendance on specific days/times a fundamental tenant of protestant faiths? (I honestly have no idea!)

            2. louise*

              I strongly suspect that if I founded a religion that requires a week off from work, that I’d quickly get several disciples. Especially if I made it a religious need to spend that week in some kind of resort setting…

            3. Johannah*

              Don’t you think that is pretty unfair to those who don’t have religious beliefs?

              ‘You’re an atheist, so you can work this undesirable time of the year, but Sarah and Fahid can have it because they believe in God/Allah’.

              As an atheist, I’d actually feel discriminated against due to my lack of religious beliefs if I was basically told I had to come in to work over the holidays so the bible thumpers can have it off.

        2. louise*

          GrumpyBoss, would your opinion change if distance were factored into the original negotiations? After college, I decided to settle in the city where I’d attended and was nearly 1000 miles away from family. I remember when I got a job offer that I explained to the hiring manager that my family was a long ways away and that when I go visit them, it’s a week-long deal–would that be doable around the holidays? I was assured it was no problem, and I made sure to work extra around the holidays that I didn’t go anywhere. I know it irritated some of my co-workers when I would be gone the entire week between Christmas/New Years, but I knew I had permission.

    2. Judy*

      The daycare that my kids use for before and after care do a “Winter Break Camp” just like they do a “Spring Break Camp”. Our local Y and other organizations that do summer day camps also usually have day camps set up. If they’re preschool, usually daycares are only closed for the holiday day itself.

    3. Elkay*

      Childcare isn’t an employer’s concern. It certainly shouldn’t be used as a reason to grant one person leave over another.

    4. illini02*

      I don’t think it really matters. This comes down to the parents vs. child free thing really. If I want to travel to be with my parents, or my girlfriends parents, or go on vacation to the Bahamas, it shouldn’t matter that Jane’s 3 kids are out of school. If I put in my time first (or whatever the policy is in a given office) then I should be able to get my time.

      1. Lisa*

        If companies did this based on priorities, does that mean that people who choose to have 6 roommates and pays $400 in rent don’t deserve as much salary as someone that chooses to get a $5000 mortgage? Your life choices should not dictate how the company handles assignments, time-off, salary, etc. Assume there are no religions, no gender, no kids, no anything. Require people to save their PTO if they want those days off for a holiday that is not normally given, for kids with no daycare, etc. You should not get ‘extra’ PTO simply because you have a kid and I don’t. If you have limited daycare or want to take off for a holiday that isn’t a company-wide day off, save your PTO for these events.

        Asking for volunteers with incentives should be enough to fill the slots needed for extreme cases like this. There are always people that would accept more money or PTO to work. So offer it.

    5. Mike C.*

      You have to tread lightly here, because there are a lot of us folks who don’t chose to have children now/ever, and making us take up the slack is a great way to cause problems. My time isn’t any less valuable simply because I haven’t had children.

      1. Dan*

        I don’t have kids and don’t plan to have them. But I’ll cut parents some slack if I’m given the same sort of consideration in return.

        People I work with don’t throw their parental status in my face, so I won’t hold it against them if they need an accommodation from time to time.

          1. A Bug!*

            I agree; the “consideration” is a huge factor. There’s a world of difference between a person who feels entitled to preferential treatment because of their personal obligations, and a person who makes an effort to meet those personal obligations through cooperation.

            It’s similar to the difference between someone who asks and someone who just takes. It doesn’t matter if I would have said “yes” if you’d asked, because you didn’t ask. The asking is an integral part of the equation, because the asking is an acknowledgment that it’s my choice to make.

    6. Jules*

      My boss told me to bring my daughter with me since the office will be deathly silent. Apparently, I could shoot a gun from one end and not hit anyone at the other end of the building during the holiday season. An odd thing to say at work, I know but whatever.

      My daughter is trained to work on her pictures or watch shows on tablet by herself at work since I have worked the occasional weekend and taught her how to behave. The upside is that she loves going to work with me, so she bugs me about it :)

    7. Nerd Girl*

      Yep, it’s difficult having kids and not having a network of trusted friends and family close by to help out. I know this from experience. But that’s always been my problem to figure out, not my employers. I hate when people use their kids as a reason to get time off, leave early, come in late, etc.
      To answer the question on how to handle it: my husband and I have alternated taking the time off so that it wasn’t always the same person taking the time. We’ve searched out child care options like the YMCA, local daycares with vacation drop in programs, or the rec center in our town that offers a selection of vacation camps. We’ve hired sitters from We’ve gotten recommendations for sitters from co-workers, our kids doctor, even from our mechanic. We have definitely altered our original list of who we trusted to watch our kids. Originally it was my mom and sister. Now there are easily 50 people on the list. It makes a difference! (BTW, if your kids are in after school programs and they don’t offer vacation camps, talk to the counselors from the program…a lot of times they’re unemployed those weeks of vacation and would welcome the opportunity for some private sitting especially if it means the possibility of more work during the year!)

    8. Colette*

      There are a lot more school holidays than most people get vacation days. Parents need to have a plan that isn’t “I’ll just take vacation” for most of those days, including ones around holidays.

    9. KellyK*

      I agree with other commenters that it isn’t fair for the company to directly consider this. What they need to do for employees with young kids is have a fair, transparent system of approving leave requests , approve leave far enough in advance for people to make plans, and don’t rescind anybody’s leave unless it’s a real true emergency. Not everybody with kids will necessarily be able to take off the whole time their kids are off, but making sure they know this well in advance will at least let them make alternate plans.

  23. Allison*

    Could it be possible to do it based on need? For example, in FirstJob I wanted some time off around the holidays for travel, and they were willing to give me the 23rd and 26th in addition to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but told me that since the only other person in my position on the team was on her honeymoon that week, they needed me back on the 27th. I understood – she was more senior (by only a year), but the fact was, she’d already planned her honeymoon and gotten that time off approved, so that trumped my desire to see family for an extra day. In general, you may want to give preference to people who need to travel so see family over people who are going to be around that week.

    Is it possible to offer some incentive for working that week? Like extra pay, or extra PTO for the following year?

    1. limenotapple*

      I’m not comfortable with the “need” thing, because who decides which “needs” are worthier than others?

      1. Helka*

        I think it can work as a “tie breaker” in some ways, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only or even the primary method of determination.

    2. fposte*

      Aside from the problem of judging need, nobody really “needs” to travel unless it’s for surgery.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m imagining an evil boss whining about bereavement leave and telling the employee to Facetime the wake instead.

        1. Joey*

          I just went through something similar. With a no fault attendance policy a guy accrued the max attendance points before term. Then he has to leave because he hears his brother is near death which should result in more points and term. The CEO and I went back and forth about whether he should be termed. On the one hand he shouldn’t have toed the line exactly for this reason. On the other he’s got a really sympathetic reason that put him over the line.

          1. Cat*

            I don’t even get a “no fault” attendance policy. Was he using PTO or not? Do you not have bereavement leave?

            1. LBK*

              I don’t really get how it’s different from a reasonably enforced PTO policy. You’re just doing addition (adding points until the limit is reached) instead of subtraction (subtracting hours until there aren’t any left). I guess the ideological difference is that you don’t question people on what the absence is for and people are allowed to use them however they want, but realistically a PTO policy should work the same way.

          2. Us, Too*

            Let me get this straight – this guy had the misfortune of having his brother die after he’d already used his PTO. And someone was considering terminating him because he needed to be with his brother despite not having any leave left?

            I gotta tell you – if this were my company and they termed this guy, I’d quit. Seriously. I don’t want to work somewhere where human beings are a number and there is zero consideration given to circumstance.

            No reasonable person retains a week or two of PTO in case a relative gets unexpectedly terminally ill. That is crazy talk.

            1. Joey*

              no, he had an attendance problem that he corrected just before he was about to get fired. Then his brother got deathly ill and he had to leave unexpectedly which should have gotten him fired (remember, no fault). Of course there are two arguments. One is that he shouldn’t have waited until he had no leeway left to correct his attendance problem. The other is how do you fire someone who had to leave because of a serious family illness?

            2. Joey*

              Here’s the thing though. How do you decide when the reason is good enough? In his case he was literally walking the attendance line. Then it happens again. Getting into the reasons makes it far less consistent. Should “good” reasons get more leeway than “bad”ones?

              1. Colette*

                And, for that matter, how do you confirm that he actually has a deathly ill brother, or that he’s actually gone to see that deathly ill brother?

                1. Us, Too*

                  If you really doubted this story, you could confirm it pretty easily by asking for his travel receipts. Or, if you were of a morbid bent, a copy of an obituary, etc. Again, though, I’d be cautious doing this because talk about a morale loser for everyone on the team: “The boss requires you to get paperwork proving your loved one has died to get bereavement leave.”

                  And, of course, if you learned that he was lying about it, that’s obviously firing time.

                2. Colette*

                  “Near death” is harder to verify than dead – there is no obituary. And in general, I’d be inclined to believe someone in that situation – but someone who likes to take a lot of time off but is being scrutinized has more reason to lie than someone who isn’t in that situation.

              2. Us, Too*

                If his attendance issue has been corrected, then I am not sure what the issue is with being granted bereavement leave in exceptional circumstances such as the situation you describe. He had an attendance issue, he fixed it. You didn’t fire him for it. His brother got sick.

                It’s difficult to make qualitative judgments sometimes, but that’s part of being a manager. And if any employee had an issue with my not firing someone for having a terminally ill brother he needed to visit, I’d call them on it thusly: “The next time your brother is terminally ill and 2 days from death, I’ll bend the attendance policy for you as well. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

              3. Cat*

                It can be hard to make judgments, but a deathly ill brother isn’t close to the line. The fact that other judgments will be hard isn’t an excuse for just abdicating the responsibility to make them.

            3. Dan*

              But don’t reasonable people retain a week of PTO in case they or their dependents get sick enough where the parent going to work is a headache and it would be nice to skip work and not worry about getting int o trouble?

              1. Cat*

                Not in the U.S. where a lot of people get 10 days of PTO total. That essentially means that if either you or your kids gets the flue in February, you’re not getting a vacation that year, which is just not tenable.

                Reasonable companies don’t put their employees in that position.

              2. Colette*

                It depends on how much PTO you get and what your company’s policies are. If it’s “use it or lose it”, how far before the cut off do you decide to use it?

                (I can’t carry any days over, for example. Does that mean I should plan to take the last few days of the year off every year, in case something happens that I need leave for? Or should I start using my last few days a month or two in advance?)

  24. C Average*

    When you communicate with your staff about this, maybe flip the script and say, “We’re planning for the holiday. If you are planning NOT to take time off beyond the official holidays (and thank you for being available during these days!), please let me know so I can begin building out the schedules. If you’re not in this group and DO plan to request time off beyond the official holidays, please submit those requests by x date, at which point they’ll be evaluated according to [whatever system you opt to use]. I’ll then create and share a schedule based on who will be here when.” With a team as small as what you describe, you could create a calendar showing who is in the office when.

    This way there are no surprises. It also allows those who need to collaborate with others to have an at-a-glance way to know who’s in when.

    We’ve done this on small teams I’ve been a part of, and it’s super helpful.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      This does work! I always have had one or two people raise their hands and volunteer, knowing that their holiday plans do not require PTO.

  25. Paloma Pigeon*

    For offices that have stingy vacation days, of course everyone tries to take the same days off-they’re trying to bundle them around existing days off so they can actually get a break that approaches a real vacation. I bet if you threw in two floating holidays a year that allowed people to cobble together week long breaks that would allow them to travel, you would not have this problem at ‘crunch times’.

      1. doreen*

        I agree- I’ve always had jobs that provided plenty of time off ( current job starts you at 18 days of vacation and personal plus 2 floating holidays ) . And there still are frequently issues around high demand weeks and days because only 25% of the staff can be on vacation at one time.

  26. NK*

    Thank you for answering this question. We had the same issue at a former company of mine, and the way the boss said he handled it (alternating years so people would take turns getting time off over the holidays) was very different than how it was actually handled (first come, first serve) due to his disorganization. I agree with all of the suggestions you gave, including something that partially (but not entirely) factors in seniority. People understand that someone has to do the work. They just want things handled in an organized, logical, reasonably fair manner.

  27. Sandy*

    This is where I thank the non-denominational heavens that I work in a diverse workplace. We very rarely have a conflict over Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter because the conversation usually plays out more like “Hey- I don’t need Christmas and it’s a quiet week anyways. You take it and I’ll take Hanukkah/Diwali/Eid, ok?”

    1. HR Manager*

      I don’t do a formal celebration family gathering for the holidays, so I have often volunteered to come in that week so coworkers can be off. One job – it was quiet every where except sales, because the big push to close the year with as many contracts as possible was the sole focus. It also meant HR was twiddling thumbs (no complaints here) because we couldn’t start anything nor did we have anything to close. I remember spending one New Year’s Eve in the office playing jigsaw puzzles on my laptop all day. If that’s what they want to pay me for – so be it!

      1. Chinook*

        “This also makes the potlucks quite interesting as well! :D”

        You’re eating at the wrong churches then! My local Catholic Church has quite the variety of international dishes at our potlucks (plus I would feel awkward bring Sex in a Pan to a work event).

  28. Postscript*

    OP – can you take another look and make sure you REALLY need so many people in the office during the holidays? Our office has started going to a “minimally staffed” plan between about December 24th and the beginning of January. Basically, everyone stays home and a few people call in each day to check messages and handle anything that HAS to get done before the end of the year. We send advance notice out to our clients so they are aware, and we’ve never had any complaints.

    The days are not deducted from PTO and it is a *hugely* popular benefit for staff – basically an extra week off at a time that’s slow anyway. Newer staff in particular love it because they only get two weeks of vacation time, so this is an additional free week or so. I can’t tell you the benefits we’ve reaped in morale from this.

  29. Cheesecake*

    Man, I am so glad that both Mr. Cheesecake and I work at places with a mandatory 12 day holiday shutdown. Vacation time has never been an issue!

    1. Formica Dinette*

      I wish I still worked at a company like that. I didn’t go anywhere, but it was nice that we didn’t have to drag ourselves to the office when half the staff were gone anyway and no one felt like being there.

      I’m grateful that vacation scheduling at my current job is no big deal and that PTO rolls over from year to year. We do have use-it-or-lose-it, but that doesn’t kick in until we accrue something like six or eight weeks’ worth. Additionally, Payroll sends a heads up email to us and our managers a month or two before we hit the maximum PTO accrual.

  30. Mister Pickle*

    I usually favor complete transparency, but this might be a situation where some opacity might be better. I think if it was me I’d send out a notice as soon as possible that says “December holiday vacation schedules must be received by 31 October” (or other appropriate date) and then explain as AAM suggested the coverage needs for the office.

    Once you’ve got all of the schedules, then it’s time to sit down and (as we say in the computer biz) “brute force it”, ie, enter all the data into some tool that allows you to visualize it, and then try to make it work.

    I agree that people who have already had their vacation approved should be given priority. After that – this is why I would not be transparent: given the the person (Vacation God, or VC) who is doing the schedule is honest and doesn’t play favorites, I think that optimal results might come from an ad hoc approach. That is, don’t lay down or publicize that seniority or time of submission count for priority (although requests and changes received after the 31 Oct cut-off date could have lower priority). Sure, you can use seniority or time of submission as loose criteria. My concern is that if you publicize “rules” for this, you’ll end up locked-in to following those rules, and you risk unhappy people getting shafted on account of a technicality. Flexibility may work better in finding a solution that makes everyone happy.

    I’m willing to back down from the notion of doing this ad hoc. I’m pretty sure this is an np-complete problem but with only 22 people you could do it via a computer algorithm, but also with only 22 people, just looking at it as if it’s a puzzle might yield optimal results ( == “everybody happy”). 22 people is also small enough of a group that you could conceivably handle a certain small number of special conflict cases by just talking to people.

    One last thing: depending on how big of a deal this is for your office, you might want to resolve conflicts by games of chance?

    1. Dani X*

      The problem with games of chance is that you also have a possibility that some people will never come up and others will come up often. While that would be fair it would also be demoralizing if you lost every year and your coworker won every year – and unless the manager does it in front of everyone there will be rumors that he isn’t really picking out of a hat but picking his favorites. Unless you add in weights so that people can’t win two years in a row.

    2. LBK*

      I have to say I agree with this to an extent. I think the true best result that makes the most people happy is more like complex alchemy than a single list of procedures to follow at all costs – because Steve might have gotten his request in first, but you know he’s actually more flexible than Max who put his in last minute but it’s because he wasn’t sure his mom would be able to afford to fly in this year, and Jane has been here the longest but she’s gotten a whole week off for the last 3 years while Christine (the only person who can cover her) is getting upset because she’s stuck in the office for those 3 years, and so on and so on.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        That was precisely the exact example I was going to use!!!

        (j/k! But I agree about the “complex alchemy” of making this work out well. Maybe next year the OP can start from scratch with an actual policy and procedure etc, after giving some thought as to how to make it fair. Lacking that – I think that locking oneself into a set of rules (“most senior person gets priority UNLESS they look like George Hamilton when they wear a tux”) is going to result in problems).

        1. LBK*

          That said, I think extreme spray tans overruling seniority in all contexts is a valid business strategy.

    3. KellyK*

      There’s definitely some merit to not getting locked into a rigid system that people will take advantage of. “Oh, it’s first come first served? Okay, here are my vacation requests through 2054.” But the downside of being somewhat arbitrary is that people don’t have a reliable way to know whether they’ll get a request approved or not, and that uncertainty can create stress. (It can also create the appearance of playing favorites even if you’re not.) It also requires you to keep really close track of who’s been getting requests denied over the past several years so that you’re not inadvertently short-changing anyone.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        True. Vacation God must needs be a Just and Fair God.

        Honestly, I’ve been mostly thinking about this as a patch for just this year; next year OP will perhaps have time to implement a better system early on?

  31. Gene*

    The way vacation request conflicts are handled here is up to 3 months prior to the requested vacation, seniority rules; past that point, it’s first come, first served.

  32. Jenny Wren*

    Yeah, my mum used to work for a daily newspaper, so they needed coverage even on bank holidays. The system was that you would have to work Christmas Eve one year, then New Year’s Eve the next (a late shift, as they had to take pictures of the midnight celebrations). Though in reality the employees who didn’t have families were pretty good about swapping shifts so that those who did could have Christmas Eve off.

    1. MaryMary*

      My best friend is a critical care doctor, and they work out staffing in a similar way. Out of Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day, you work one, are back up/on call for one, and have one completely off. If people have a preference around which one they want off, they can request it, but there are no guarantees.

      1. Natalie*

        Our office uses the same system for our on-call maintenance staff. My bf rotates on-call every other month, which works well for Thanksgiving/Christmas but terribly for summer holidays – he ended up being on-call on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Fingers crossed he won’t be there next year, but if not I think he’s going to suggest a different system.

  33. Julie*

    I’m always the volunteer for the holidays. I always like it when I can wear jeans those days, maybe management brings in a special treat here or there, something just to make me feel acknowledged. That being said, I also don’t want someone to assume I’m going to cover just because I did the last 2 years.

    One workplace actually approached those of us who covered the year previously in about June to ask what our schedules looked like come December. They wanted to give us a chance to either say we were okay with coverage or if we would like to take a break then. We weren’t promised days off but I think they did rank those who had pitched in a little higher on the request side. When my office saw how many they needed from there (and they always assumed 1-2 people would get sick/change their mind) they’d send out a general email to all the mid-managers to indicate their coverage levels needed. My unit needed 2-3 people daily but some needed just 1 a day. They asked people who just wanted a day off to indicate it early and they usually had a little calendar sign-up sheet to say “I’ll be the mandatory staff this day”. That didn’t prevent other people from working too but it assured there’d be coverage. Because they were open with their expectations I don’t think anyone got denied vacation.

    Then again, we allowed 50% of our PTO to roll over so we didn’t feel rushed to use it. If employers don’t do that or have staggered PTO expiration, I honestly feel like they shouldn’t make mandatory attendance in the office. Just like employees should plan ahead, so should employers. If you would ask that people sacrifice what they might think of as “family time” then you should be willing to give some flexibility for using that time they earned as part of their compensation package. If I save 3 days for December in case I get sick or we get snow and neither happens, I’ll take those days that last week of the year because I earned them unless you let me carry them over.

    1. Judy*

      There is a certain percent of this problem that could be solved by making the PTO expiration date January 31 or the end of the 3rd quarter, or any other day that is not right in the middle of these holidays.

      Maybe “Anyone who works one of these weeks can roll their vacation over to January 31 this year.” And then institute an actual plan for next year.

      1. MT*

        This would be hard, you would most certainly have to change your fiscal calendar as well. Dont forget tax season, those benefits are taxed on year used.

        1. Judy*

          Some companies have PTO that expires on hire date, some companies accrue vacation and it doesn’t expire annually so it seems like it’s completely possible to make a different expiration date.

          And PTO is only taxed as if you had worked that time, unless you’re talking about corporate taxes.

          1. Judy*

            Oh, and the companies I’ve worked at that expired vacation leave on December 31 all had fiscal years that didn’t end on December 31.

  34. AnotherHRPro*

    Depending on your people, you can have them “work it out”. Let them know how many people you need to work in on which days and in which roles. That is how we do it in my department and we don’t have an issue at all. People tend to compromise with each other and work together to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. I realize that this won’t work in all environments, but if it is a highly collaborative and professional team it might.

  35. Niki*

    I wish people could be reasonable about vacation around the holidays; employees and employers. I understand there are places where you still need a certain number of people in the office. Where I work they don’t want to deal with saying “no” to people so no one can take any vacation time around any holiday. Really? It is so unfair. If it is a year that I am not traveling or seeing family I wouldn’t mind taking my turn to work that week, so the time that I really do want to travel to see family, I can do it.

  36. Jady*

    Ask for volunteers and offer rewards to those who volunteer. They are making a sacrifice, and there should be compensation for that sacrifice. It could be something as simple as an additional week of vacation or a small financial bonus. If it’s worth it, you will have the people volunteering to cover the time and needs and can avoid the problem completely.

  37. Looby*

    We have to submit our holiday requests by April 30 for the next 12 months. Once all the requests have been received, if 2 people want the same time, it goes by seniority (unless both can be off without undue hardship to everyone else). Usually we know in the first week of May if our holidays have been approved.

    We also have “half staff” days – Christmas Eve and NYE – where you have to work either one, so half the office gets one of the days off. In theory, you’re then meant to switch the next year.

    1. Anonsie*

      Great googly moogly. That seems like a really bad plan– if I had to do that, since I wouldn’t get have exact dates for things later in the year, I’d just have to block off big chunks to protect the days within those that I really wanted, just to accommodate all possible travel plans.

      1. Looby*

        It’s not as bad as it sounds. The April 30 deadline is really for those people taking off a week or more at once (especially over the summer) or if you know you’re planning major holidays that would require bookings flights etc. And even then, a lot of times you can “skip the line”. I gave 12 months notice that I would be going overseas for Christmas 2014 – got my approval in February, so everyone else is working their holidays around it. If it’s just a day or two here and there, we usually wait until closer to the date we want. Heck, I asked today (Friday) if I could take Monday off!

  38. Lisa*

    Why not ask for volunteers to stay? I am one of those people that likes working during the holidays. No one is around, and I get a lot done. Its like a vacation from clients, bosses, annoying co-workers, and any distraction that takes away from my work. I also like snow days too! No one is around, and I get a ton done. But, if I am travelling during the holidays, I prob will request those pesky in-between days off if I have the time. The key here is an incentive. I am in Mass, but go to Maine for the holidays. In past jobs, I come home then go back up if I don’t have the time. Not a big for me. BUT, if my bosses, offered to give me more PTO time for working those pesky days when holiday calendar comes up like this. I don’t need to my 3rd cousins or great-aunt Ruth 2x removed. I would chose to come back down to work those days. So my suggestion is to flip it. Offer perks to fill those positions needed to stay around.

  39. Enjay*

    My office is small, just 10 people, and of course everyone wants those weeks off and the day after Thanksgiving when we are open and everyone else is shopping.

    If you got Christmas week off last year, you’re working it this year but you can take New Year’s week off. New people automatically get put on the Christmas schedule. We have a few people who get irritated because they want to travel every year and take Christmas week every year, but it isn’t fair for everyone else.

    We actually do draw from a hat to see which 2 unfortunate souls need to man the office on the day after Thanksgiving.

  40. Chinook*

    Here is another spanner being chucked into the works: How do you prioritize those who are atking off the holidays for religious reasons. Specifically, as a Catholic, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas are all holy days of obligation and I always take them off and go to Church. Does someone like me get told to suck it up and try and find mass times that work around my work schedule if those days are taken by someone more senior? Or does religious accomdation come into play just like it did when I asked for Good Friday and Easter Sunaday when I worked for an accounting firm and they fell at the end of April (I wasn’t popular and I came in when I could but I also told them, when they hired me, that this was a non-negotiable and , as an Admin Assistant, it wouldn’t hurt their business).

    I truly am curious about how those who decide things would handle this.

    1. LBK*

      Per the EEOC, as long as the business won’t incur “undue hardship” by someone being out of the office for a religious reason, they can’t decline it. Note, though, that undue hardship can be something as simple as your coworkers being burdened with too much additional work in your absence – so if it’s a busy time of year, it’s very easy for an employer to deny a request and not have it be considered discrimination.

      1. Us, Too*

        I’d imagine that a business might find itself in hot water if it didn’t allow someone time off for a religious practice, but then gave that same time off to another employee. The implication being that they could apparently deal without the one person not being there, but not the other.

        Does anyone know how this works, practically?

        1. EB*

          Some places I worked basically allowed you time to go to the religious service. So if you were scheduled to work Sunday and had Church, you would get a different shift on Sunday but you still had to work.

          From a quick peek at the EEOC website this was an ok accommodation for things like service/prayer time, but becomes trickier when you claim the whole day: “An employer may be able to reasonably accommodate an employee by allowing flexible arrival and departure times, floating or optional holidays, flexible work breaks, use of lunch time in exchange for early departure, staggered work hours, and other means to enable an employee to make up time lost due to the observance of religious practices. Eliminating only part of the conflict is not sufficient, unless entirely eliminating the conflict will pose an undue hardship by disrupting business operations or impinging on other employees’ benefits or settled expectations.”

    2. Jules*

      Do you have many team members who need the same time off as you? Personally, I don’t care if people need to take off for religious reasons, but if many on the team need the same time off as you do, maybe it would be only fair to take turns? Church service where I am, have multiple service a day for religious holidays, so I don’t think that is a problem where I am.

    3. soitgoes*

      People of other religions are used to being told to deal with it. When you think about it, it’s not at all fair that Christmas is a full-on government holiday but the equivalent holidays in other religions aren’t.

      1. Colette*

        Are they told to deal with it, though? I’ve had coworkers use vacation time or shift their day for religious reasons, and I don’t believe any of them were told to “deal with it”.

        I agree there’s an imbalance as far as the requirement for vacation time, but I don’t think there’s a disregard for non-christian religions in most places.

        1. soitgoes*

          I mean, this year the Jewish holidays fell during a really inconvenient block of days, and we simply couldn’t have the really observant Jewish people out for that long.

          People who are really observant, regardless of the religion, end up wanting to take off more time than is even equivalent to the generalized Christian holidays that have become national holidays. I can’t propose a solution, except to note that it ends up not being fair to people who aren’t observant – we all want 10+ days off a year to do as we see fit, but our particular activity preferences aren’t protected under the law. I’d like to think that everyone gets equal respect, but I’ve noticed that the observant folk end up on the chopping block come layoff time. They just aren’t in the office as often as the other people.

        2. jhhj*

          Not “deal with it” exactly, but when the company closes for Christmas (only), I can’t say, you know, I’d prefer to have Yom Kippur off, I’ll work on Dec 25 instead.

          1. Cat*

            But what we’re talking about here is the week between Christmas and New Years, which people are also using their vacation time for. Most of the lawyers in my office do take Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur off; as it turns out, we can deal without the coverage but, if not, we’d have to figure something out for that just like we would between Christmas and New Years and “deal with it” wouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

            1. jhhj*

              But the comment above in this thread is referring to the issue where Christmas is a government holiday and other religious holidays are not. Which is an issue.

            2. soitgoes*

              What if they wanted time off for Sukkot and Simchat Torah? This year, that was Thursday and Friday off, two weeks in a row.

    4. KellyK*

      I think that if there’s a conflict, religious accommodation comes into play only for the times when you have a specific religious obligation. That is, having to go to mass on Good Friday or Christmas doesn’t necessarily trump anyone’s non-religious reasons for wanting the day off and guarantee you the whole day, but you’re probably legally entitled to time off for the service itself, including time to get there and back.

  41. TotesMaGoats*

    Thankfully, working for an university means we are completely closed from christmas to new years. But there is always the scramble for the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve (if we don’t get that for some reason). Coverage comes first but I do my best to let everybody get off. What I and my assistant director do is swap the major holidays. So, I’ll cover on Thanksgiving Eve but be off on Christmas and she’ll do the opposite. This allows us to give our staff pretty much what they want. It’s not technically first-come first served but seniority is not involved at all. For example, if someone who never gets to see out of town family is trying to make a 6 hour trek after working all day versus someone who is staying in town, we’ll talk about it. Or I have one person whose husband works overseas for about 4 months at a time. His returns home are sporadic and last minute but since everyone in the office knows this we all pitch in to get her out of the office for as long as he is home. She returns that favor. That’s the benefit to sharing your life with your coworkers.

    1. tt*

      When it comes to time off, there are definite perks working at a university. We’re also closed, but that includes Christmas Eve, so that’s not a big deal. Plus with most of the students being gone, all we need are a couple people in the office that week. In my new role, my work is more independent and other people pinch hit if there’s something really important that comes up, but otherwise, people schedule their time independent of each other (as long as *someone* is the office).

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Oh, definite perks. Sometimes we do get Xmas eve as well. Depends on how it falls on the calendar and if the President is in a giving mood.

  42. misspiggy*

    In a previous job the leave year ran from 6-5 January. That helped people to spread out their breaks over the Christmas and New Year period. (We could also carry forward 5 out of 25 days’ annual leave, but that’s less of any easy one to replicate.) We had very minimal staffing requirements over the holidays. Work wasn’t actually any quieter, as it was an international humanitarian organisation, but if a crisis happened key people knew they would be called to come into the office or join teleconferences. If clients or donors telephoned between Christmas and New Year they might have had to wait thirty seconds longer for their call to be answered, but that was the only tangible consequence. It makes no sense to give employees leave-stress if workarounds can be found, and they usually can.

  43. Katie the Fed*

    FWIW, as a boss I try to make sure I’m around for one or both of the holidays so the underlings don’t feel like they get stuck with all the worst shifts.

  44. RoseTyler*

    My friend is a nurse. They have a policy that for the days of Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday, Christmas Eve/Day and New Years Eve/Day (so, 6 holidays total), you have to work 3 of the days. That way no one person gets every single holiday block off, leaving others to work more than their share. I think they are allowed to have people voluntarily pick up one of their holiday shifts, and the hospital just leaves it to the two employees to work that out.

    I’ve also heard of places that have a points system, where holidays are assigned individual point values and you have to accrue a certain number of points over the year or else _____ happens. Either you get written up or maybe you go to the bottom of the totem pole for next year’s holiday vacation requests.

    1. Judy*

      My sister is a doctor, and they handle holiday call on a rotation. Her only issue is that she and her husband are next in order in rotation. So this year, she’s working Thanksgiving, he’s working Christmas. Next year, she’s working Christmas, he’s working New Years. They tried to get the office manager to rearrange the rotations, but it’s published a few years in advance (except for the case when they hire someone new or someone leaves, you’d think they could update the rotation then.)

    2. Howie*

      We’re on the same track; must have been typing at the same time! I should have said this in my comment below, but I like this type of approach; it seems equitable to me.

  45. Howie*

    Some others have hinted at this, but how about approaching it from the other direction?

    You need 12 people on 12/22, 12/23, and 12/24, and 16 on 12/29, 12/30, and 1/2. That’s 84 shifts to be covered by 22 employees, or about 3.8 shifts per employee. Let’s simplify and imagine you can make a business case for slightly less coverage, so you need each employee on average to work 3 days. (Or, you could round up to four for everyone, have different requirements for different classes of employees or by seniority, etc.)

    Create some incentive for folks to work; higher pay, comp time, whatever you can do. Allow folks to trade extra days off for shifts, i.e. if I want two full weeks off, I have to find folks to pick up my 3 shifts.

    Get out the calendar and have folks sign up for days. Maybe they can work it out themselves, maybe you need a formal process (seniority, random drawing) as far as who signs up first, second, etc.

    If too many people want the time off, increase the incentives for working next year, and vice versa.

    The starting assumption is that everyone shares equally in the responsibility to keep the organization running. You can tweak that as you like to reward seniority, managers, high performers, or other non-protected classes.

  46. LaraW*

    I used to work in healthcare where we needed nurses and CNAs to work on the holidays. We asked people to pick 2 out of 3 holidays they wanted to work, and we were able to schedule from there.

  47. skyline*

    Our union contract requires me to approve vacation requests within a certain amount of time of receipt, which effectively means on a first-come, first-served basis. So I can’t say, “I’ll give first consideration to requests received by X” since some people will request it way in advance. It’s a horrible system. We can’t operate a skeleton staff around the holidays. I am pretty lucky that my staff doesn’t compete for the time off, as I’d be in a pinch if they did.

    Meanwhile, I am taking the winter holidays off for the first time in three years, and it is going to be amazing!

    1. Chriama*

      You could have 1 week of taking requests though. No one is allowed to submit a formal request before a certain date, but it’s first-come, first-served for that ‘enrollement’ period. Of course your way seems to be working fine, so don’t go fixing anything that ain’t broke!

      1. skyline*

        Contract language doesn’t specifically allow us to set limit on how far in advance people can request (in practice, managers take requests up to a year in advance, which accommodates those folks with once-in-a-lifetime family reunions and such). And if the request comes in and you are mandated to require within a certain number of days–and the policy is that you approve requests unless there’s a business reason you can’t, and what business reason is there to deny 12 months out?–the early birds can snap up all the high demand dates. It can get pretty dysfunctional in departments where there are individuals who choose to game the system without caring about the impact on their coworkers. Not everyone can know all their life plans 12 months in advance.

        I tried to argue that fairness in leave requests was a solid business reason to respond with a “Not yet” to a request for a high demand date 12 months out. Alas, that didn’t fly.

        1. Chriama*

          Ouch, that sucks. I’m glad it works for you. In another department I’d be tempted to publicize as soon as I got a single long-term requests for Christmas (or other in-demand holiday), to encourage everyone else to get their requests in asap.

  48. Illini02*

    So for people who don’t like “first come first served” because someone could hoard time in January, what is a valid length of time to have to wait? I mean for big trips , like travelling abroad or just destination weddings, you may want to book things as early as possible. I had a wedding last year for a good friend which was in China. I knew over a year in advance. While I can see that being a more extreme case, if I know on January 15 that I have a trip coming up in July, why is that not ok for me to ask for that time off at that time so I can book my tickets and get the best possible fares? I get that this can be abused, but I also think you shouldn’t punish people for planning ahead just because some people like to wait longer to do these things.

    1. KellyK*

      I think booking well in advance for major trips that have no wiggle room is totally reasonable. For something like a wedding out of the country, a year in advance sounds fine to me. I think the real problem comes in when people book *every bit* of vacation they want at the beginning of the year. Someone shouldn’t necessarily get two weeks in July, Thanksgiving, the Friday after, *and* the week from Christmas to New Year’s just because they asked for it at the earliest possible moment.

      As far as how long to wait, I think that for a blanket policy, six to eight months is the absolute max. Much shorter than that, and things like employee weddings and international travel become pretty unworkable.

      For times where it’s hard to get coverage, either because *everybody* wants it off, or because it’s a busy time, or both, maybe two or three months? Say, holiday requests for Thanksgiving and Christmas need to be in by October. That’s a little fuzzier because you don’t want to penalize people for planning in advance, but you also don’t want only the people who can make firm plans months and months in advance to ever get a day off in December.

    2. Chriama*

      You could also allow people to book just 1 vacation up to 12 months in advance, and have a standard 6-weeks out (or whatever the max reasonable amount of time is) for all other holidays. I mean, if someone wants to book all their holidays really far in advance they might snatch all the good times from their coworkers, but everyone should be allowed at least 1 non-flexible holiday in a year.
      Of course, this also depends on what your staffing needs are. Usually everyone the time around the holidays, so if everyone wants their non-negotiable trip to be around the holidays you run into the same issue.

  49. LizNYC*

    I haven’t read the other 300 comments, but my vote is for “close the office” between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. My office of 40 does (and we’re in a fast-paced industry) since it would be chaos to schedule days off. And it’s great to not worry about scheduling. In return for the week, management “gives” us a day and we use 1 day of vacation (since we’d get Dec. 24-25, 31 and Jan. 1 off anyway).

  50. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Where I am – it’s first asked / first granted.

    I work on a small team with another guy – so it’s not an issue with us. He has kids in school, I don’t. And I usually take my “weeks” outside of the school vacation cycle. So it works.

    A few years ago I did have a conflict – where someone wanted the same week off as me. I had more seniority BUT I also asked for a particular week in June — way back in December — for a special event, and was granted. It became an issue, she wanted to take the same time off, but asked for it in April (for June) — and was told “no, but you can negotiate with Anon-2 about it”… but I had already made plans, shelled out for hotels, etc.

    Best way to do it = SENIORITY. Demand schedules for the current calendar year no later than January 15. After that time it would be first requested, first granted. That way if someone has a big event (wedding – graduation – travel for a Christmas holiday, etc.) they can try to reserve the time. If they’re “iffy” about when they want to go, they take their chances that the time off may not be available.

  51. C Average*

    This would be more a suggestion to employees than to employers.

    I recommend doing the same genius thing my family has done for years: just have Christmas in February.


    We instituted this policy years back, when my sister and I both worked retail. We not only had a hellacious time getting time off approved on or near the actual holiday, but we had to forego much-needed time-and-a-half opportunities to do so.

    One day we all agreed that we’d just have Christmas later. I mean, no one really has any idea when Jesus was born anyway. So we go visit my folks some time in February that works for everyone. We benefit from cheaper fares, and we get to shop post-holiday sales for gifts. We get to do something fun during an otherwise dreary time of year. We have a tree and stockings and carols and the whole deal. It’s swell.

    1. Anonsie*

      I was going to suggest something similar– my family made our big holiday Thanksgiving, because usually everyone can get it off work with less competition and it allows everyone to go see the in-laws for Christmas (since that’s usually the in-demand holiday) so no one gets missed.

      It’s also nice to have your big holiday be around the beginning of the season.

      1. MT*

        we do thanksgiving for lots of reasons as well. One the weather is better. And Thanksgiving is also the weekend of the big college football game in the area.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Yeah we had “Christmas in February” at one office I worked in.

      The official reason = “well, you’re so busy over the holiday season, year-end, blah-blah-blah, so it’s better that we hold it in February. Christmas in February. Sounds good, right! That’s the ticket…”

      REAL reason = there was a junior-level guy who had ALWAYS been in charge of planning the holiday party. He left the company early in the summer. Then in early December, everyone wondered – “golly, what about the holiday party, we’ve heard nothing…..” and they realized that they had just all, gee whiz, forgotten about it until it was too late to plan and conduct one.

      Dinner-table stories….

  52. Jeanne*

    In my opinion, one of the problems is this issue never affects the managers. We need lots of peons working. Only a few of you can have off. But it’s ok if every single manager and director has left the building for a week. If managers would do their share it might help.

        1. doreen*

          No, s/he is saying that it doesn’t “never” affect the managers. It may be true where you’ve worked, but everywhere I’ve worked management has had the same issue. I can only take a week off if the other two managers in my building are working. And the same goes for all the levels above me.

    1. Enjay*

      Our managers are never here during or around any holidays as well. To be honest, it’s nice working without them sometimes.

      1. Julie*

        Actually that’s why I usually enjoyed working Christmas. There would be maybe 3 mid-level managers and it was the hardest workers who brought cookie cake or doughnuts or pizza for us. It was so much less stressful.

    2. Johannah*

      This is something that really bugs me around this time of year. The managers expecting us to think our jobs are more important than spending Christmas with family, but they never seem to be the ones who have to give up family time at this time of year.

  53. Carin*

    At my old job, everyone in my position was paired up with someone else as a backup. We two had to coordinate our vacation schedules so one of us was always in the office. I’m sure that could have problems, but it never did there. If I wanted Christmas off, in order to get my backup to agree, I’d offer her Thanksgiving. Luckily we never had conflicting schedules (and it was a nice relief that someone was actually covering the position when you were out so you didn’t have to worry as much about what was going on at work while you were out.)

  54. Biff*

    I remain stumped that any non-retail business, non-financial business is open the 22nd and the 23rd. Having worked a desk job for 6 years , I’ve never seen much of any work get done that week, or the week of Thanksgiving OR even really the week of New Years, especially if it’s on a Tuesday.

    1. Jenee*

      I’m a fed and we have to work of course. The day after Thanksgiving is ridiculous. 90% of people take the day off on annual leave with the other 10% being forced to cover non-existent phone calls and any crisis that never occurs.

      The week between Christmas and New Year’s is similar. Many people are in a use or lose leave situation so a good 60 or 70% take that whole stretch off. The rest of us take care of the little things that get pushed aside when we’re busy. Work tends to explode again during the 2nd week of January when everyone is back.

    2. Julie*

      I work with universities that are closed then. I get that some people should stay on-call (and we all have the access to work remotely) but I can’t wait to sit in an office this year just waiting for someone to not call us. I also won’t have work to catch up on since they go on break for the last 2 of the year in the department I work with. I’m already bored thinking about it. My husband works for a major company and they decided a plant shutdown is more cost effective than losing the productivity and keeping the lights on for everyone. I hate him for it.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I work in a business that relies almost solely on schools and universities. We are absolutely dead the last two weeks of the year (plus extremely slow for one week on either side of that). So we do the same thing–sit around and wait for someone to not call or not email.

        It’s the same during the dead weeks of the summer. One week in August we got one single phone call all week.

  55. Anna*

    At the former job we were use it or lose it and because our work was time sensitive, our manager finally had to tell people they could only take X percent of their vacation around the holidays. What would happen is everyone would take tons of days off, leaving very few of us in the office to keep up with the workflow. Once the percentage rule was put in place, it might have been quiet the day before or after a holiday, but we wouldn’t have a month of spotty coverage with people taking weeks off at a time. Company I work for now has roll over for PTO and vacation. We have two floating holidays that don’t roll over.

  56. Purr purr purr*

    Could you maybe do it so that people who worked the year before over the Xmas period could get their leave approved? My former company had a system where if you worked one Xmas, you were guaranteed to get the next one off (unless some of them actually wanted to work it for the overtime money). I can understand people wanting first-come-first-served to be the rule but as an employee I’ve sometimes found that system sucks. There’s always one person who puts in their request for leave freakishly early (as in August) and gets it off every single year. Where does that end? Can I put in a request for Xmas off for December 2016?!

  57. EvilQueenRegina*

    When I worked at my old place our manager tried to implement a system where if you had Christmas off the year before, you had to work it that year and vice versa. This backfired the year a lot of new staff joined the team and lots of them had reasons for wanting time off. In one case, there were 3 people (David, Graham and Archie) who all did the same role, David wanted Christmas off and even though Graham and Archie had agreed to cover him and so he wasn’t needed in, Cora (manager) insisted David work because he had taken the previous Christmas off.

    The following year one of the admin took it upon herself to announce that anyone who had joined the team that year should work Christmas. What annoyed people about that was that she didn’t have the authority to make that call and people felt she shouldn’t have – she was disregarded in the end. What eventually happened was that each sub team in the office was asked to try and work it out themselves initially so that each area had at least one person in and then if there were still issues it went by what people had had off the previous Christmas.

  58. J*

    Ah yes, workplaces who think people’s jobs should be more important than their families over Christmas….

      1. LBK*

        If the business can afford it, doing nice things for employees will always benefit them more in the long run than not. Turning over an employee is much more expensive than retaining one.

        I’m totally with you that pragmatically, a business does not exist for the enjoyment of its employees, but morale is a business metric too. Unhappy people leave, especially unhappy top performers who have options, and that’s really where you shoot yourself in the foot. Another company will be happy to take a great employee off your hands if the only extra cost they have to pay is a little empathy.

      2. Jaedog*

        Ah yes, a person whose business is going to fold because it cannot afford to have reduced staffing/be closed for a day or two.

        If I recall correctly, even pre-transformation Scrooge was convinced to close on Christmas.

        1. MT*

          My biggest/only customer requires that I am open on any normal business day between xmas and new years. If i wasn’t open, then my customer would just move on to someone who was open.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              What?! Plenty of businesses have a lot of activity at that time of year — lots of industries don’t shut down that week, and business needs require staying open. For instance, think of grocery stores, malls, event planning, banking, etc.

      3. J*

        Because life is not about working. Life is about family and friends. Work is simply something we must do to be able to pay to live.

  59. Dasha*

    Personally, I feel like the best and the fairest time off policy was at my old job. He would take the week before Christmas off and I would take the week after Christmas off. For New Year’s Eve our office would close at 2:00 PM any way so we didn’t have much to squabble over. Granted this was just between me and my office mate and not 16 people but we were both always happy with it and neither of us felt cheated.

  60. snuck*

    I hate the idea that seniority gets dibs. If you have people who have been there for years they get dibs on this, and a lot of other things too. I’d consider rolling it together and ask people to prioritise Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving and Easter and then work out your schedule on that. Some will be happy to have just a bit of that off, and it means you can give everyone a bit of time off across the three.

    I’d also look to implement a policy of “If you had last year off you are second round on this year, regardless of seniority” with seniority being irrelevant for people who have worked more than a year. One assumes after a year that you’ve earnt some chance to have time off same as everyone else!

    And if you have a few who cause issues around this (because they want the time off and always get it) then be really publicly open about the process, make sure it’s communicated clearly and is excrutiatingly fair. Then they can complain to their hearts content but no one is going to listen.

  61. snuck*

    (Seniority bugs me because it gives perks to people just because of how long they’ve been with the organisation, not because they are talented, dedicated, innovative, passionate, easy to manage, happy chappies etc all of which are worthy of reward to. The idea that desk assignments, promotions, access to holiday leave, pay rises and bonuses, access to training, access to extra IT resources etc is all about seniority is silly, if you do it only on that you risk losing great employees who are sick of waiting for the old crew to give up their perks and plop a career clog before they get a chance. I’d rather reward across the board on performance, people skills, future career plans etc and retain any employee who was worth retain using all those things as tools to do it than have a policy dictate I have to do it differently)

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