While most employees look forward to seasonal holidays, for many staff managers those times of the year can be a minefield of problems. With irregular working hours, an increase in staff wanting time-off and other unpredictable elements to contend with, scheduling staff over holiday seasons such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and the summer months can pose a sort of jigsaw puzzle of a challenge. It can especially be problematic when these time periods also happen to be a busy and potentially profitable time for the company. The good news is that there are things you can do in order to make it through these time periods without losing any pieces of the puzzle or your hair!

1. Predict the future

It’s easy to predict which times of the year are going to be busier and which times of the year will see more staff on vacation or wanting to take time off. Giving yourself plenty of time to look into the future and highlight the weeks and days that will be busy is worth doing at the beginning of the year (and should be checked sporadically, say every 2-3 months to ensure your business needs are the same). As much as you possibly can, specify how many people you think you'll need and which shifts they need to work during these time periods and what roles and jobs will specifically need to be covered. It doesn't have to be exact, you just need to know when you'll need more staff than usual and when you can afford for more people to take time off. You can start creating a draft schedule in Findmyshift's Templates so you can visualize what a busy week or a seasonal weekend would look like. When the time comes to then share this with staff you can apply it to the right week in the future on your working schedule.

2. Plan ahead and schedule early

Building on your new future predicting abilities, you can plan and prepare for the busy times and you can also begin scheduling staff to cover these shifts as soon as your time commitments allow. Staff will be grateful to receive seasonal schedules in plenty of time so they can make their own plans around when they have to work. This also gives them the opportunity to reject shifts or request other dates and times while also prompting them to put in their vacation requests if they already know they will be away. Depending on your time-off and vacation policy, make it clear that these shifts aren't set in stone, but are there to help you and them plan for a busy time period.

3. Keep staff informed

Your employees will be just as aware as you are that there are busier times for your company and of course, you hope that they are sensitive to this. That said, you can't stop them taking holiday days that they are entitled to. Crucial to effective employee scheduling is effective time-off scheduling, which is why it can be so helpful to manage the two on the same schedule. If you want your staff to submit vacation and time-off requests before a certain date then tell them so (with plenty of notice). Use an online space - like the Noticeboard feature on Findmyshift - to share information with your staff members in a way that they can also keep you updated and they know that you are already thinking ahead to seasonal holidays.

4. Keep staff motivated

Keeping staff up to date with changes and new shift patterns during holidays is one thing, but keeping them motivated to be happy to work additional shifts and longer hours, or to not take time off when you need them most - well, that is another matter. Staff will differ in terms of what they can and can't do for you during busy periods. Some will be happy to work additional shifts and longer hours because they like the financial boost. Others will be less keen due to family commitments or other factors. Ask each staff member individually what they can and can't do and make it clear that you appreciate their flexibility and adaptability when it is offered. Make notes as to what they can do if appropriate and whenever possible, reward those who work overtime with a higher rate of pay or other financial incentive or remuneration - even a thank you note will be appreciated! This will all depend on what your company's policy is about pay and overtime, however, all managers can be proactive in thanking staff and reminding them that their efforts are appreciated.

5. Learn from the past

When you have figured out what works well for your business and employees, in terms of the shift patterns they worked and the way in which you shared information and covered busy periods during a holiday season, be sure to go back and review this in the future when you are approaching the same season. You can always check historical schedules with Findmyshift and with additional features like real-time reporting and historic reports presenting data on pay rates, charge-out costs and time-off patterns, you can easily identify what was cost-effective or what worked well for your staff. Don't forget to also ask your staff their opinion on what was successful and what could be improved upon from their viewpoint.

What's your biggest challenge when it comes to employee scheduling during the holidays? How do you manage your staff and keep them motivated during busy times?