I don’t have enough work for my employees

A reader writes:

I am the owner of a small business with a small team of three under me. Our work is seasonal, with a very busy period for seven months of the year and little to do for the other five.

During the quiet period, I feel a huge amount of stress to create work for the employees to keep them busy. So much so, it interferes with the quality of work I produce. I dread going into my workplace every morning having enough work only for one employee, knowing it must be boring and demotivating for them.

The workload is such that one employee would be sufficient during the quiet months, with three at our peak. I have thought about seasonal employees but don’t think this would be a good fit for our business. Sourcing and training new staff members every year would be a drain of my time and money.

I know that many would suggest getting other tasks out of the way that normally don’t get accounted for, such as filing and organizing. We’ve done all that at the beginning of the slow season and now I’m at a loss as to what to projects to give them. I even gave everyone a month off in the middle of the slow season just to give myself a break from the stress of it.

I wish I could relax a little and enjoy the slow season before things get mad again later in the year. It would be a lot more productive for me to use that time developing the business. What do I do?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 109 comments… read them below }

  1. Bird of Paradise*

    “Sourcing and training new staff members every year would be a drain of my time and money.”

    Inventing make work and retaining employees who aren’t working is a drain of your time and money. Which option is the lesser drain?

    What about a combination? Retain two employees and make the 3rd position seasonal.

    1. Penny*

      I have a comment unrelated to the post, but would it be possible to put the link to the Inc post at the top of the story rather than have me scroll to the bottom, click on the link & then have to scroll to the bottom of the Inc post not to mention the popups! Ok it’s a few seconds, but I so dislike having to click through and scroll to the bottom of a letter I’ve already read that I often decline to click through to Inc to find out the answer, which I guess is not what you want. And leaves me with an unresolved story.

      An indication that this is an Inc post would mean I can either decide to click at the top & read through, or just skip the post altogether as I don’t want to click through. Even knowing that it’s an Inc post at the top with the link at the bottom would still be better than scrolling/reading through and then finding out!

  2. eye roll*

    You know, this is a “boring” routine letter, but I really wish we had an update for it. This much downtime could be such a bonus for employees – time on the clock for training and professional development, a long yearly sabbatical, all the small annoying projects and wished-for improvements handled every single year because there is ample time. I really hope the OP managed to work it out.

    1. Fishsticks*

      Giving everyone a guaranteed month off is pretty great, too. I think, needing to fill five months of downtime for three people… letting people take up to four weeks of time off over that period at their own convenience means if anything DOES come up, employees are still around. Encouraging professional development courses, extra training, or even encouraging travel or a sabbatical during the time period…

      I could see this place being genuinely amazing. I wonder what the employer ended up doing.

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      I would also love an update on this one. Does Alison notify LWs when she re-runs their letters? I would love for a LW to be reminded and be like “oh! Let me tell you what happened with that.”

      1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        I think she only puts it out on here. I’ve had my letter answered and never got a call for updates to my email. If you think about it, it would be nearly impossible to keep track of all the emails and send something out,

        1. Bird of Paradise*

          “I’ve had my letter answered and never got a call for updates to my email.”

          Alison puts out a call for updates here on the blog every year in the fall.

            1. Professional child wrangler*

              But she’s also asked about specific letters we’d like updates for, so she can reach out to the LWs, so she does reach out to people on an ad hoc basis.

              Agreed with everyone else, would love an update!

    3. raincoaster*

      Yes, I was thinking the timing might be perfect for them to take courses for a semester, or travel, or do childcare at home without daycare costs.

    4. Eleanor Shellstrop*

      I really like the ‘boring’ ones, especially something like this. I’d LOVE a job for only part of the year, but regularly- and I can imagine a lot of other people would too. I’d love to hear what ended up happening.

  3. Artemesia*

    I love the idea of more vacation time — with ironclad legal contracts that obligate employees to pay back the time if they leave during the busy season. The only issue might be if things changed and you needed them more time during the down season in which case you would not want to be stuck with the long vacation expectations. So that adjustment needs to be part of the deal too.

    1. beingafunkynote*

      Why would they need to pay back anything? They are free to leave the job at any point in time that they choose.

      1. ecnaseener*

        That’s the point of the contract – as Alison said, it’s to avoid people deliberately taking all their vacation just to leave immediately. The contract means they’re no longer at-will employees, so they’re not necessarily free to leave whenever they want.

      2. Nesprin*

        Sure- if they’re at will that’s the case. But that wasn’t the suggestion here.

        The suggestion was to set up a work contract such that the employees get to benefit from the slow period but are then on the hook to work for the busy period or pay back their benefits.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Yes, because it would be really hard on LW if her employees quit right at the start of the busy season and she then has to start hiring. A contract could be as simple as requiring them to get extra long notice, like 4 or 6 weeks instead of 2, if they are leaving at a certain time of year so that LW can have some lead time to hire and train. It doesn’t need to be that deep.

      3. Not a Real Giraffe*

        Allison addresses this in her response — it’s to protect the business owner from hiring people who enjoy the perk of the long vacation period, and then quit right before they need to start coming into work regularly.

        I would personally love this arrangement. I often daydream of traveling somewhere long enough to feel like a “local,” but can’t do that in my traditional 9-5, M-F job where two weeks is about the limit for consecutive vacation days. This would give me the freedom to travel that way, but the job security to return to.

        1. jane's nemesis*

          I was going to say, this feels like my dream job! I would LOVE this downtime for doing projects and then all that time off! And I prefer to be busy at work, so the busy season would be great for me!

      4. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        Without the contract, sooner or later someone would wait to quit until 2 weeks before the busy period, giving OP the worst of both worlds – paying someone’s salary to do no actual work for months, and then having to scramble to find and train someone right as the busy season starts up.

      5. Artemesia*

        You seriously don’t see the problem with someone being paid for two months of ‘vacation’ in order to keep staff on board for the busy season, then splitting when then work starts? This kind of deal would be unusual i.e. a lot of paid holiday time and it is reasonable to tie it to expectations of service.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yep it’s totally standard to have to ‘pay for’ holiday you’ve taken but not yet ‘earnt’ if you quit (Eg, if you have 4 weeks PTO per year, and take all of it then quit at the end of June, you would have 2weeks taken off the final paycheck). The ‘risk’ here is that if you’re giving people more than a paychecks worth of holiday then you can end up in a situation where the employee owes actual money which is harder to handle.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          You could just make it so that the employees only get the vacation after they’ve worked the busy period. Then it would be effectively a bonus for sticking out the whole season. They quit in month 5, they get paid for 5 months. If they don’t quit, they work 7 months and get paid for 9. They can choose to leave after their vacation runs out, but they still had to earn that vacation.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            I don’t think this solves LW’s potential problem of having people quit right at the start of the busy season without time for her to hire and train people up, unless I’m just not understanding your suggestion (entirely likely, I have COVID brain atm).

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              Would probably have to require them to finish their extra vacation a month or so before the busy season kicks in. That way, there’s enough time to replace the non-returners, and extra staff capacity to hire and train.

    1. BuffaloSauce*

      I did this when I was new to a job and waiting on permissions and such. It gets really old fast. I lasted about a week of full 8 hour days on LinkedIn learning. Thankfully by that point I had some work and trainings in place.

  4. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    I think the LW should reconsider hiring seasonal employees. They mention the “time and expense” of training, but are sinking a ton of time and money into keeping their existing employees busy and paid. The also might be able to find some employees who only want to work part time or part of the year, and/or be able to rehire the same people.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      Yep. I’ve known several people who always work at the same place seasonally. I also think a part-time or job sharing arrangement during one part of the year, and then full time the rest of the year, could be pursued.

      I think this letter is fascinating, because it’s not about that they can’t afford to PAY these people all year even when they aren’t working, but simply that they are stressed about giving their employees tasks.

    2. Snow Globe*

      Yeah, the LW is imagining having to hire new employees and train them every year, but I think it’s likely that they would be able to find people that love the schedule and come back every year.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Especially if the slow period corresponds with school vacations and busy period corresponds with school semester.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I have a friend who worked at a plant nursery–they closed every year for three months after Christmas because, you know, winter (and no Christmas demand for poinsettias and whatnot). She practically hibernated till I made her buy a light bar (I teased her that her chloroplasts were withering away).

    3. Smithy*

      I would imagine it’s highly dependent on the type of work in question, what it means to recruit for those positions, and the genuine time it takes to train.

      In addition to the risk the OP runs in not being fully staffed or staff being adequately trained when the busy season starts – there are some jobs (thinking about my own) that do end up taking about a year before you’re fully onboarded. It’s not that it’s 12 months of significant hand holding, but what you get from a staff member who’s 6 months on the job vs 18 months would be the significant. And if by only hiring people seasonally, you were losing out on candidates who wanted “full time” positions – then that on its own would justify not doing that.

      1. BuffaloSauce*

        I agree. If this person has a business assembling tea pots it might not be that hard to fufill tea pot assembler positions.

        However, if its Tax Firm, that is busy during tax season, rehiring accountants every year is not feasible.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Au contraire. The local tax office has a few experienced people who work there year round, but a lot of temporary people (not accountants but state-certified tax preparers) only work the season. We all had a short party the night of the IRS deadline once the last return was filed, and the company had a bigger regional party in May where we got our bonuses.

    4. Artemesia*

      Maybe keep one very competent full time person who then trains the seasonal workers during the run up to busy season.

  5. Tio*

    In addition to paid vacation time, they could do weekly rotations – everyone comes in 2 days a week but gets paid full weekly salary. I’d love a job like this honestly.

    1. PennylaneTX*

      I had a job that did something similar. We had a busy time and then 2-3 months of serious downtime. My boss set up an “in-office” calendar where two people would sign up per week to be in-office and the rest of us could work from wherever, take long lunches, get a haircut in the afternoon, log off hours early if it was quiet, etc. Honestly it was such a gift and we all got back to the grind much more refreshed and had an appreciation for our boss.

      1. Eleanor Shellstrop*

        Heavenly. This is exactly what I need, I work intensely and love it, but end up burning myself out.

  6. frequent reader*

    Do you have volunteer or other pro bono type projects you or your employees are interested in that you could do projects for during the down time?

    1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      This would be a great idea! Maybe offer employees to volunteer someplace like a school. My old job had this option where you would go to a classroom and read with kids.

    2. Mr. Shark*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. I don’t know what type of business this is (tax?), but having some type of pro bono projects or volunteer business that you work with on a regular basis would keep them busy and perhaps provide some type of professional development for them. At the same time, it keeps them out of LW hair so they can focus on developing the company rather than busy work.

      I also like the idea of having employees work 2 days a week, but I guess if those two days are filled with nothing, that doesn’t alleviate the struggle completely of trying to fill their days with enough work to do.

      1. Student*

        There might be ways to make this hypothetical charity work during your slow season tax-deductible, to at least help with your bottom line in some way.

  7. Tired Nonprofit Employee*

    I would love to make a recommendation to the OP – float the idea to your workers to spend that time doing volunteer work for a nonprofit of their choosing! It could help them build skillsets, it helps the nonprofit, it’s amazing PR for the business.

  8. kiki*

    There are some people who would really dislike not having much to do for 5 months, but, honestly, that’s my bliss. If LW’s business is doing well and able to balance paying folks for the whole year, I think LW could reframe this mentally as a perk instead of a negative that must be remedied. 7 months of intensity with 5 months you can do most whatever you want has an appeal to a lot of people. We see letters come through all the time from folks asking how they can take that 2 month trip they’ve always dreamed of taking– this kind of job would be killer for them.

    1. Video killed the radio star*

      Yeah, I read this and thought ‘those 5 months of down time are a feature, not a bug!’

    2. Tinkerbell*

      I have family who moved to the opposite side of the world (US to NZ) – they’ve had to be choosy to get jobs that allow them to come back to the US for a month or two at a time, even though it’s common to get much more vacation time in NZ than it is in the US. It’s just not practical to drop $4K on airline fare per person more than once a year! I could see the LW’s job appealing to someone like that, who wants to visit family internationally, or who has a hobby that would benefit from being able to devote a bunch of time to it all at once.

    3. Aerin*

      Hard same. The most stressful thing about a job with nothing to do is an expectation that you must *pretend* to be busy. I worked a slow weekend shift for a long time, and the agreement was “If there are no calls and your sidework is done you can fill your time however you wish, but you must be able to drop that immediately if the phone rings and be working from a quiet environment.” So you couldn’t, like, go swimming or something, but most anything at or reasonably near your desk was fair game. It was heaven. I could watch movies, read, work on crafts–all the stuff that makes my life actually fulfilling.

      I think the trick when hiring would be to be very clear of the nature of the job, that way the people who want their job to be their source of fulfillment can nope out, and the rest of us can go “holy crap, when can I start”

      1. wordswords*

        Agreed! A job where you’ve got nothing to do but you’re expected to pretend to be busy, do endless hours of personal development even when you’ve done all the development you can think of, reorganize your drawers and inbox for the seventeenth time, etc., is mind-numbing after a while. A job where the boss is clear that you have to be at your desk and prioritize work if there is any, but that if there’s genuinely nothing to do you’re just “on call” and can watch youtube, read, write a novel, craft, etc., is a very different ballgame! (I’ve known people whose job was basically “be on call for emergencies, work at all hours during those emergencies, do whatever you feel like the rest of the time,” and I’ve always envied the amount of creative stuff they got done during that rest of the time.) And a job that let you take tons of vacation time or an annual sabbatical or whatever, especially without a huge pay cut for it, would be a dream job for a lot of us, and one that earned ENORMOUS loyalty from employees.

        Some people would hate any of these options, because they genuinely prefer a fast-paced job that keeps them busy. But a lot of people would love options B or C there! And being upfront about all of this lets the people who would hate it opt out, and lets everybody else relax into the slow time without worrying that they’re going to get yelled at for knitting at the desk or watching youtube a little too obviously or whatever.

        1. Aerin*

          One of my good friends is the fast-paced type. After I’d been at that job for a few years, he mentioned that I should probably start looking for something else. My response: “I will never find somewhere that will pay me more to do less.” He just stared at me like I was an alien being trying to communicate by pheromones or something. Simply could not grasp the idea of being comfortable exactly where you are.

          (I only left because Spouse moved from an off-shift to a regular one, and it became increasingly inconvenient for me not to follow suit, and also they dangled a role in front of me that was sufficiently appealing.)

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, absolutely. If you know the nature of the job, and therefore are not pressured into finding things to *make* you look busy, but rather acknowledge that there will be down time and that you are allowed to use it however you want, as long as it’s reasonable, then that changes the nature of the job.

    4. Too Many Tabs Open*

      I would love a job like this. Interesting/challenging stuff to do for a chunk of the year, and then paid downtime where I’m not expected to look busy if there isn’t work? Absolutely.

  9. Jessica*

    Also, the LW mentions needing to work on developing the business. It sounds like they have the dual stress of “nothing for employees to do” plus “too much for me to do.” Maybe this is impossible, but is the work they’re doing anything any of the employees could possibly help with or be trained to help with?

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Even if the boss isn’t overwhelmed with admin/daily tasks, the other employees might like to learn those things. That’d give them some new skills to develop and allow the boss to spend even more time doing the things they enjoy or excel in.

      I’ve worked in some really small businesses and the nice thing about that is, as long as you’re clear you’re the boss and have the final say, you can blur some of the more traditional hierarchy and boundaries. You don’t necessarily have to rigidly conform to having roles that are traditionally done by management or high ranking employees done by someone other than you. I’ve never been an owner or manager, but I’ve ended up doing higher level of work, simply because my bosses and I have set up a system that we’re comfortable with.

    2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      If nothing else maybe the employees could help the owner with ways on developing the business or ideas on how to expand.

      1. Dover*

        This is a great idea on many levels: productive use of time, build employee sense of ownership, allow employees to grow with the company, etc.

  10. fgcommenter*

    They do plenty during the mad rush, and that can be balanced out by a period of very light duty.

    Ask yourself why you feel the need to keep them busy. Do they work on commission, and you’re worried about them making enough? Would a period of light duty cause your business to be unprofitable? Do you just want more out of them?

    If you won’t allow any slow time, you can expect that to be repaid by them not giving you any fast time. No one can constantly rush, and if they can’t rest from the rush, they’ll have to pace themselves instead.

    1. DisgruntledPelican*

      There’s a difference between slow time and nothing to do for five months. Most people do not want to twiddle their thumbs for 8 hours a day for an entire five months.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Ooh, I want to know what field you’re in and the reality at your company if this could be your boss! Any insights into what you’d like to see OP do?

  11. sc.wi*

    All of that vacation time sounds amazing. I would happily work my tail off for an employer offering such great benefits. I also agree with everyone mentioned professional development: there are tons of amazing (and often free) resources. EdX and LinkedIn Learning courses could help fill so much time! And again, I would be very loyal to an employer being straightforward about downtime and guiding me to use that time for development. I also saw someone mention volunteer work – again, a fantastic option.

    1. Ash*

      I agree, getting a perk like a month or more of paid time off during the slow season that can be taken in a chunk would make me loyal to the employer, maybe forever!

  12. Katrine Fonsmark*

    I had a job like this for years – we were SUPER busy for 8-9 months, then everything ground almost to a halt. I would take at least a month during the slow time, and one year actually took 2 whole months (and still had enough PTO left to take 2 weeks at Christmas).

  13. Fergus but Not*

    And there are employers on here that are so bad no one wants to ever work for them and then we find a good one every so often. It’s rare but it happens.

  14. Tinkerbell*

    This sounds like a business that could benefit greatly from the teacher model – your salary is $X, which gets paid out over 12 months even though you only work 9. Whether that makes it three months of paid vacation (but you’re paid at a lower rate year-round) or whether that’s functionally three months unpaid (but you’re paid at a higher rate for the work you do and then it’s averaged over regular paychecks), the point is some people may really value a job where they can take a chunk of time all at once – even if that’s not in a traditional time (e.g. teachers all getting off for the summer).

    1. happybat*

      Given the current recruitment crisis, I’m not convinced that US teacher pay is necessarily a model anyone should follow…

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        I don’t think the pay CYCLE is the primary issue with teacher recruitment and retention these days.

      2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        Some teachers do get paid during the summer when they are not working, but most do not. I think what Tinkerbell was meaning is using a similar cycle NOT changing the salary for those people. And honestly I don’t think its the cycle that is the problem but that teachers are paid so very little for all the junk they have to deal with.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        No, but that’s irrelevant because the amount is determined by OP. The schedule of paying someone while freeing them from duties during quiet times is the point. The way teacher pay works is that you get paid monthly even when the calendar means you’re “off” work for extended periods. Really though, teachers work at home throughout the summer so it’s not a perfect comparison. It’s used well to retain TAs (UK classroom assistants) in my school though. TAs are genuinely off work for a good part of the year, so the annual salary is proratered down from a full time figure to a “term time only” part time figure. They’re too valuable (due to training and relationships with students) to let their contracts lapse so they get paid monthly throughout the year whether school’s in or not. I’ve worked as a TA and even agency contract work scoops back part of your pay to be redistributed in the summer. The idea is to prevent you job hunting or going elsewhere because you ran out of money.

    2. Melanie Cavill*

      Most of the teachers I’m friends are go on EI during the off season because the money is not enough to live on.

    3. PsychNurse*

      Yes! I’ve worked as a school nurse and it was the same system. At hiring, we decided whether we wanted our salary to be divided up over 12 months, or over 10 months. Some people preferred to take a higher wage for each paycheck for 10 months, knowing they would pick up a per diem job elsewhere during the summer. Others, who wanted a guaranteed income, chose the 12-month plan. The amount worked out the same in total.

  15. Owls Lang Syne*

    On the one hand, coming up with busywork insults and wastes the employees, stresses out the OP, and serves no positive purpose.

    On the other, viewing ourselves and our lives as grist for the mill of capitalism means the monthlong vacation option feels transgressive enough for most bosses not to even think of it.

    It’s all upside! I so hope the OP took this advice.

  16. Nobodyhastimeforthis*

    Other options:
    Encourage them to take classes or do professional development on company time during the slow months.
    Encourage them to do volunteer work on the clock.
    Rotate having them shadow you through tasks that you could pass off later.
    Task them with brainstorming new ideas for the slow season.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      All of this.
      And I liked the idea of having people only come in 2 days a week on a rotation basis, since it sounds like there’s work for one person during the slow time. If that work can be handed off easily enough, then having someone there only 2 days a week rather than 5 days, and being the person to handle the daily work, makes sense. You still get some overlap time for collaboration, but people don’t have to be gone the whole slow time.

  17. Trillian*

    I’m sure it applies to many more fields, but I immediately thought of tax preparation, which led me to the thought of client outreach and education during the quiet periods. Can the OP find a way to add value to her clients in other ways in her downtime, which might also ease the hectic period–i.e., helping clients be better prepared when they need her.

  18. A biz consultant*

    How about looking for new business opportunities that could use staff time and generate revenue in the slower months?

    If your business does tax prep, can you teach financial literacy and/or retirement planning strategies during the slow months?

    For a retail store that sells ski equipment, can you diversify to “ski and spas” and sell snorkel gear or hot tubs?

    Lawn care businesses offer retool into snowplow businesses during the season, etc.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      That’s a good idea. Empower the employees to help expand the business so that the slow time isn’t as slow. Even if it’s a *lesser* business that only produces a little more revenue or a little more work, it will develop the business and provide development for the employees.

  19. Velomont*

    If LW ever did have some workshops/round-tables with his/her staff to address the slow period, LW could have created an extremely positive work environment rife with perks and incentives, as well as loyalty from the staff. LW actually sounds like a wonderful, caring person who could create a fabulous workplace.

  20. insert pun here*

    I know someone who worked at a company where they got a certain amount of money to use on developing some wild and crazy product idea (some of which turned out to be good ideas that sold really well.) So (for example, and this is secondhand so I don’t have all the details about how it worked in practice) an employee has a budget of $100k with which to create 10 rice sculptures, and then $5k to spend on developing some new weird thing. Could something similar (in spirit, if not in exact dollar amounts) work here? Take a month or two to research and develop an idea for the business, a new product line, whatever, and pitch it to the boss before the busy season starts?

  21. François Caron*

    I wish I knew what was the nature of the business. The downtime could be used to do some research and development. You can even get some government funding for your projects. This is especially true in Canada. I doubt the employees really want months of paid time off. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted to get busy on something truly creative.

  22. tman1m*

    My nephew works for a business that is seasonal and it’s understood that he will be “laid off” for 2 or 3 months in the off season. He happily collects unemployment during that time. Wouldn’t this be less expensive than paying people to do nothing?

    1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      The problem with that is there is no guarantee that the employee will come back and the employee can be left in limbo. I’ve heard of people who were told that it was normal and they would get brought back but they weren’t. Also it really depends on the state and what type of company it is. Some states don’t do unemployment like that. And if the company is in anyway education related they may not pay unemployment for those few months.

    2. TechWorker*

      Would also be a nightmare for anyone trying to get a mortgage etc (or you know, just have a stable income to pay said mortgage).

  23. Green great dragon*

    Sounds like the root of the problem is OP’s desire to pretend there is a need. Give them shorter hours on full pay, generous leave, official permission to spend their time on whatever they like. Sounds an amazing perk.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Agreed. It’s only a burden because they feel pressured to invent make-work. And it’s a burden on the employees if they feel pressured to pretend to work or do busy work. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Let it gooooooo! I would love a job like this.

  24. BuffaloSauce*

    I’d love to know the line of work this was. Production of some sort (that is busier during Christimas), tax prep, a lodge or restaurant in a resort town?

  25. Jo*

    If you can truly afford to keep them on staff, perhaps you could include some community volunteerism in your plan. You’d want to involve your employees and figure out options where the organization(s) being served could take seasonal or last minute volunteers.

    While you might want to let the employees propose options, I’d approach it as a COMPANY effort, not individuals who happen to work for you signing up for things. The volunteers would be representing your company.

  26. SpaceySteph*

    Stop filling the time and just let them leave when their work is done. A lot of people would love full time pay for less than full time work! Just need to find the right people who enjoy that sort of ebb and flow, and I bet they’d want to stay forever because they’d never get such a great deal elsewhere.

    Also can offer paid hours for volunteering at a nonprofit of choice, going to the gym, generous sick time policy that includes mental health days, etc.

  27. WillowSunstar*

    What about letting them read industry news so they can keep up with it, and consider that part of their work? In many jobs, keeping up with changes in the industry so they can make intelligent suggestions at work is something employees need to do.

  28. triplehiccup*

    I would keep this job forever with that much paid vacation. Probably even if I was paid some fraction of my regular salary.

  29. Kay*

    What do others in OP’s field do? If the work is truly seasonal, I would think this is an issue many people have confronted. I see lots of good ideas in the comments, but it would be easy to get more relevant info by asking around within the industry. Even if the boss only uses it as a “what not to do, because even though it’s seen as normal it’s horrible”, as in a lot of creative jobs. I also second asking the people it will affect for their opinion.

  30. hi there*

    I’m in a seasonal field, as well. We have a large set of seasonal staff, and also full-time year-round staff. The off months are when the full-time staff go to part-time hours and focus on specific projects related to long-term business strategy. Example: inventory management, decluttering, restocking; data management and deep analysis; program research and development. The part-time hours is recognition of the insane hours we can work during the on-months. None of it is wasted. And the refresher during the off months is essential to being able to approach the on-months with full steam.

  31. Bad Wolf*

    Hilarious. The idea of giving employees more than two weeks paid vacation is sooooo beyond comprehension that boss is developing stress-induced anxiety.

    1. DisgruntledPelican*

      She gave them a full month off (and didn’t say this was in lieu of their regular vacation benefits) and still can’t fill their time. I would be bored out of my mind with nothing to do for five months and would 100% quit.

  32. The other fish*

    We have a similar issue, in our highly seasonal company.

    We schedule mandatory training during the down season (health and safety, crane tickets, that sort of thing).
    We allow staff to go part time during this time. So long as the required work is done you can come and go as you please.
    We shut the business for one month – just close the doors outright. Everyone is on leave.
    We have a mix of casual (seasonal) and permanent (part and full time) staff, so we ramp up during season (and pay about three times the award, these guys can earn a very good years salary in about six months easily) and ramp down of season.

  33. rr*

    Work-share. See if your state runs one. Your employees go on partial unemployment during slow periods and get some money from the state. Yes, your unemployment rates (insurance?) will go up, but you’re not paying people during slow periods either. It isn’t as much income as your regular paycheck, but it is something, plus you get the time off. My employer regularly does this – or did this – until the pandemic. But we are so short-staffed now it isn’t happening, even though we are slow.

    That said, I personally don’t see the problem with letting people sit and read, or fool around on the computer, or take care of life admin. It isn’t as good for the employees as letting people take a long vacation, but that way you don’t have to deal with contract issues. Plus, if something comes up, then the employees are already there. My employer would never do that. All about people looking busy! Too bad, because it would buy him a lot of goodwill.

  34. Elaress*

    Years ago I hired a college student for the summer. He was faster and more productive than I expected. (He was a wonder!) With 4 weeks left, I had almost nothing for him to do. After a conversation with him, I “loaned” him to an interesting non-profit that we both appreciated. I continued to pay him. It worked so well that the non-profit hired him a year later when he graduated.

  35. DJ*

    Like the idea of discussing it with the staff as they may have ideas. Also discuss how to manage the down time i.e. other than a long vacation say 6 weeks (even if split into 2 lots of 3 weeks) would they like to do part time hours (for no reduction in pay)? Do they work additional unpaid hours during the busy season? Then that would balance this out?
    What formal training is available to staff during downtime i.e. do local colleges run courses that go full time for say 12-15 weeks that staff could have the opportunity to tap into. Even if all can’t be off attending a full-time block course perhaps this could be rotated. If the course is longer but part time i.e. evenings then allow time off in lieu to attend plus study time for the quiet season.

  36. SometimesYouHaveToLeave*

    Life happens. Requiring someone not to leave during X months of the year is a recipe for disaster IMO. Having people leave is the cost of doing business. If you want to structure your business to offer seasonal time off that’s fine, but it doesn’t change illness/death in the family/partner getting relocated/getting offered a super rare opportunity/insert other event here.

  37. WS*

    I lived in an area with a very wet winter, which meant that most roadwork couldn’t be done in the wettest two months. So the people who worked the road making equipment (minus a skeleton crew for emergency repairs) were paid for 12 months of the year, but actually worked 10. They could only take holidays in the 2 off-months, or the two slower months either side of that, but this was known in advance. It worked out really well for a lot of people.

  38. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    In France it’s possible to spread hours out over a whole year. With a full-time working week of 35 hours, if you’re doing 50 hours a week during the busy period, and only 15 hours a week during the lull, it all evens out. (that’s assuming a 6 months for each period, I’m not going to try to work out what it would be for different lengths of time because that would require a calculator)

  39. JerseyGenX*

    Shorten their work weeks during the slow season. A co-worker and I take days off during the summer. She takes every Monday in July and August off and I take every Friday in July and August off. We are using vacation days of course but that way we both get to have long weekends during the summer.

    The OP could try something like that with her employees.

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