The best time of the year: vacation

by Dr. Jörg Herbers

For many of us, the annual vacation is getting close. But not for everyone, even if they would like to be going on vacation. Others have already taken their vacation, although they would prefer to still be looking forward to it.

It is difficult to find a fair solution

Vacation planning is often a delicate issue in companies. In particular, finding a fair solution is difficult. The number of annual vacation days is contractually regulated for full-time staff, but not its distribution over the year.

The dilemma of a fair vacation planning really starts with finding a consensus on which criteria the employees’ wishes will be approved or denied.

Implementing the understanding of fairness in the planning is even more difficult. This applies to all companies, but especially to those with continuous shift operation. This is mainly because vacation supply and demand rarely match, as there is a dependency between the vacation planning and the seasonal working time requirements.

Working time requirement as a determining factor

When and how much working time is necessary to maintain the required service level is determined by the business drivers of the company. For ground handling at airports, these are mainly the flights, in ports the container ships, in hotel and catering the guests, in retail and call centers the customers, and in hospitals the patients.

In many companies, the workforce management is influenced by heavy fluctuations in working time requirements, not only over the course of days or weeks, but especially seasonally, over the course of the year. In most cases, the goal of vacation planning is to guarantee the required service level, despite the reduction in staff capacity.

This implies inversely: not only do the working time requirements fluctuate over the year, but - assuming a demand-driven planning - also the maximum number of possible vacation days. In other words, in times of particularly high working time requirements, less vacation should be planned, compared to low requirement periods.

From the employer’s perspective, there is usually a relatively clear picture of how many employees at most can be on vacation at a given time, provided there are valid forecasts of the seasonal working time requirements. If this is not the case, a crucial basis for economically meaningful vacation planning is missing.

But what if the peak working time required occurs precisely when a particularly large number of employees want to take vacation? And what if vacation has to be taken but no one wants to.

Employees’ personal needs as a determining factor

The economic interests of the company are accompanied by the employees’ personal preferences. They are generally independent of the working time requirements and are purely individual.

Those without children in school may prefer a cheaper off-season vacation. On the other hand, those with school children who want to travel can only manage this during the school holidays. Additionally, employees need time off if there are bottlenecks with child care, e.g. because the daycare or school is closed, or the grandparents are unavailable.

Caring for care-dependent family members also plays an increasingly greater role. The caregiver either needs to take vacation in order to provide the necessary care, or must vacation during a specific time, during which someone else is available to take over the care giving responsibilities.

Another important aspect is the coordination with the partner. If both work for the same company, it is, at least in principle, possible to directly coordinate vacation plans. If this is not the case, it is inevitably more complicated. The same applies if an employee has more than one employer.

And finally, there are special vacation requests, for which the vacation destination or the occasion is relevant. Most people find traveling to New Zealand in November more appealing than in June. A family celebration that occurs on a fixed date also falls into this category.

Criteria for fair vacation planning

At the center of the efforts to achieve the fairest consideration of employees’ preferences are the criteria by which vacation wishes are approved or denied. In many companies, there are regulations by which employees have a higher priority, if they have (especially school-age) children, have been with the company for longer (seniority principle), have been refused vacation in the past, or have other urgent social reasons. The willingness of employees to work extra shifts at short notice is also a common criterion.

Scope of vacation planning

Nonetheless, with vacation planning, you can’t please everyone all the time. For example, working time requirements may be particularly low in January and February, but only a few people will want to take time off then. Conversely, in the school holidays and around Christmas, more employees want to take vacation than the service level permits.

The options that a company has in order to satisfy the staff are limited in these cases. Ultimately, they depend on the required service level. It can be shown mathematically that a continuous staffing is only possible if at most 1 in 8 employees is on vacation.

This is also important if specific tasks can only be carried out by employees with special skills. It is then insufficient to base vacation planning on the total working time required. A differentiation according to the respective relevant functions is necessary.

In addition to the annual vacation planning, which is often carried out at a defined time for the whole year, there is a need for decisions on short-term requests for single days, or short vacations. This is regardless of whether it is regular vacation entitlement or special vacation, for example, due to long tenure, compensation for extra working time etc.

The details for regulating vacation planning are normally part of the company agreement. This creates clarity as to the basis on which vacation is allocated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee that all employees will be happy. Ultimately, vacation planning is strongly influenced by economic criteria. Social needs of the employees, working time productivity, and service level are in direct competition with one another.

Therefore, it is important to make vacation planning as transparent as possible, ideally with specialized software. In this way, the best time of the year lives up to its name.

And what are your vacation plans for next year?

 

 

This article was originally written and published in German and therefore links to sources in the German language. The original article can be read here.



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About the author

  • Dr. Jörg Herbers

    Jörg Herbers is Senior Vice President Workforce Management at Inform GmbH. He specializes in all topics related to staff planning and optimization.

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