How to Do Staff Holiday Rota Planning RightEnsure your holiday schedule works for your business

For any business that relies on hourly workers, planning the staff rota is one of the most difficult and time-consuming administrative tasks that managers need to take care of.

Scheduling shifts for a busy holiday season can be even more challenging.

You may well need more hands on deck than usual to see you through a hectic festive period, but you might also be inundated with a large volume of end-of-year time-off requests.

This will be especially true for many businesses this year since 28% of UK workers cancelled leave requests earlier in the year because of the pandemic.

But while holiday shift scheduling may require taking numerous variables into account, and striking a balance between meeting business needs of the business and employee satisfaction can be tricky, the task doesn’t need to turn into a nightmare before Christmas. Being prepared, knowing your staff, and making use of specialist tools can all help make holiday rota planning more efficient and stress-free this holiday season.

Be prepared

It may not be possible to plan your holiday rota months in advance, but the earlier you’re able to get to it the better: You’ll have more time to correct any mistakes, for example, and your staff will appreciate being able to plan their lives over the holiday period more than a couple of days in advance.

Review your holiday request system

One way to make shift scheduling easier is to have a clear holiday request system in place. It can be useful to specify a cut-off date for holiday requests to encourage staff to get their submissions in earlier rather than later.

This should give you plenty of time to make sure that all the bases are covered throughout the holiday period, and that unpopular shifts and days off alike are distributed among employees as fairly as possible. Besides setting a deadline, ask your staff to use one specific channel for holiday requests and to make sure that their submissions follow a standard format.

This way, you can avoid a situation where some requests are made in person while others come in via email or phone, and it gets harder to keep track of them all. If you can, have one person to take ownership of reviewing and approving requests in order to avoid unnecessary mix-ups. Using staff scheduling software with built-in holiday management can make this process far simpler.

Have contingency plans in place for staffing emergencies

It’s also smart to prepare in advance for any unexpected staffing shortages during the holiday period. Currently, an employee may have to self-isolate and stay off work even if they’re feeling well, and the Christmas season has its own particular challenges: one survey revealed that 22% of British workers are willing to fake sickness to avoid work over the festive period, and 15% admitted to having quit a job to get Christmas off.

It can seem like a lot of extra effort to work out plans for scenarios that may not even come to pass, but if the unthinkable happens and you do find yourself short-staffed on a busy day, your action plan could save you a significant amount of time and go a long way in limiting the damage.

Your contingency plan should include information about whom you can approach at short notice to fill staffing gaps—make sure that the contact details of your relief workers and information about their availability are kept up to date.

Prepare also for the possibility of having to make do with fewer employees—note what the most essential tasks or hours to cover are to make the most of the staff you have, and at what point the best option is to close for the day rather than try to operate under-staffed.

Finally, create an emergency recruitment strategy to deal with losing an employee when you can’t afford to be a staff member short. Consider having a ready-made job advert that can be edited and distributed quickly, and plan a process for interviewing and onboarding new employees quickly.

Know your staff

Knowing your employees well makes for far smoother holiday rota planning. Make sure that you have all the relevant information at your fingertips when you sit down to plan the holiday schedule. Create a profile for each employee and include the following information:


If different employees have been contracted to work a different number of hours, make it easy to double-check who should be working what hours. If job descriptions and wage rates vary too, remember to take them into account as well.

Employee availability

This one goes without saying. You should have an up-to-date record of your employees’ availability to refer to, including the days they normally work, other times when they may be able to provide cover, and their commitments outside of work that may dictate when they can and can’t come in for extra shifts.

Skills and strengths

You’ll want to make sure that you have scheduled a good combination of staff with the right skill sets at any given time. Add a brief description of each employee’s skills and strengths to their profiles.

Needs and preferences

Students, parents, and the semi-retired—to name a few groups—all have very different needs as shift workers. Preferences can vary dramatically too with some employees extremely reluctant to work on Christmas Day, while others may not be bothered at all as long as they can get another holiday off.

While it’s usually not possible to accommodate all employee preferences, it’s a good idea to be proactive and seek out this information and grant your staff their wishes whenever it’s doable. It can give morale at the workplace a significant boost and help your employees feel more valued.

Consider using a rota planning tool

Using Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or even good old pen and paper to plan holiday rota may offer you enough to get by, but even in a small business with only a handful of hourly workers, you’re likely spending more time on planning than you need to. However many or few employees you need to plan a schedule for, you should consider using specialist rota management software like Findmyshift.

What can a shift scheduling tool do for you? From the manager’s point of view, using purpose-built software can significantly reduce the time spent on creating schedules and making changes to existing rota. A good online rota system will also instantly flag any issues, such as scheduling too many hours for a specific employee or exceeding your budget, based on the information you’ve input.

From an employee’s point of view, a main perk of an online rota tool is being able to check the most up-to-date rota information at home or on the go. Having the option to receive automated alerts about any changes to the rota is another enormous advantage, especially if the changes are made at the last minute.

These two things alone will prevent most instances of people either missing shifts or turning up at work when they’re not supposed to.

Make the process easier this year

Holiday rota planning is among the most important tasks for businesses to complete in the run-up to Christmas. You can take steps to ensure that the process is as pain-free as possible, for example, by having a robust holiday request system in place and keeping track of employee preferences. The simplest way to streamline holiday shift scheduling is to use a specialist online tool.

Start scheduling your staff online.

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