No matter your teams size, managing support team’s vacation successfully, for both your organization’s needs and employees’ happiness, is possible.

Summer vacations, flu season, and popular holidays all contribute to a coverage headache for your support team when you’re not ready to deal with them.

It’s important to plan for these times and prepare your team to avoid a decrease in both customer satisfaction and employee happiness. You’ll need to balance being clear and fair with your team and meeting your organization’s needs. Making an effort to find the best way to handle support team’s vacation and holidays for our team is worth it though.

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, most HR professionals believe paid support team’s vacation time increases employee wellness, morale, performance, and productivity. Plus, if you’ve got a plan in place, employees will feel more confident about taking their sick days and taking care of themselves.

A better work-life balance for your team means better service for your customers too.

support team's vacationKeep Customers in the Loop

However you handle your staffing issues behind the scenes, if allowing support team’s vacation and holiday time is going to mean reduced service from your customers’ point-of-view, be upfront and honest with them. Don’t just suddenly block their access to live chat support or have your email response times go from one hour to two days without an explanation.

A better work-life balance for your team means better service for your customers too. Click To Tweet

Part of running a successful support operation is making sure you’re not leaving them guessing, so take the time to set clear expectations for your customers.

To help ease the changes for your customers:

  • Proactively inform them of the changes via email, in-app notifications, and/or with a message on your help page in advance. Make it visible and clear.
  • Make it very easy for customers to find your self-service options for any issues they can solve themselves instead of waiting for you.
  • While support is reduced or closed, make your messaging around the closure very easy to spot and provide clear information on when you’ll be back at full speed and when they should expect a reply upon your return.

Of course, you don’t want to make a habit of this. If you’re finding the customer experience is regularly impacted by support team’s vacation days and sick days, consider increasing the size of your team to keep coverage consistent throughout the year.

support team's vacationCreate Clear Policies

Even in small teams, it’s important to create clear policies and make them accessible to your team for review. Share the standards set around time off with the entire team. Notify them when any major changes to the policy occur.

Clearly defined policies around holiday time, requesting time off, and how those are balanced with your organization’s business goals will help in a few ways:

  • Management will have a process for collecting, reviewing, and approving or rejecting requests.
  • Your team will know what to expect and can make requests that fit within the guidelines.
  • The process will be open and transparent, and therefore eliminate favoritism, which can occur easily, even if not on purpose.

Once you’ve got your policies set, be sure management follows them too. A team lead who tells their team it’s okay to take vacation, but who never takes time off themselves, sends a message that vacation time might not actually be as supported as the words imply. Similarly, a lead who gets to bend the rules will contribute to frustration among the team.

support team's vacationPlan and Communicate

Always be as transparent with your policies as possible. Don’t spring changes on your team two weeks before Thanksgiving that ruin their plans, which might even include travel and the associated expenses. For holidays, where several members of your team will want off at the same time, don’t wait until the last minute to find out everyone’s preferences.

While you may not be able to approve every request, knowing them all is the first step to trying and a signal to your team that you care about them and are doing your best to accommodate.

To handle support team’s vacation time for holidays popular among your staff:

  • Set a deadline for submitting support team’s vacation requests. Make it far enough in advance that you have time to approve it early enough that people can still book travel plans without paying last minute prices, but not so far in advance that it’ll be hard for people to answer.
  • Consider a shutdown. Is your organization full of people who are going to want to celebrate Christmas with their families? Can you close live chat temporarily and set up an auto-response to emailed questions to let people know you’ll be back the next day?
  • Create a rotation system. Make a list of every team member, then give the names at the top first preference on time off. Next year, rotate them to the bottom and give the next batch of top names the same perk.
  • Be sure you’re not playing favorites. If there’s no official system in place, it can be easy to approve requests by those you perceive as working hard and “deserving” it, while rejecting requests from someone quieter or less visible, who may be just as productive. An official system for handling requests will help eliminate this problem and will feel fairer to your employees.

To plan, you’ll need to be very clear on your staffing level needs. Consider:

  • The minimum number of team members you need to cover your average support load.
  • Historical data for the holiday or vacation period. Are you typically slower over summer?
  • Other resources you can use to support customers. Do you use All Hands Support? Can other departments jump in to help?

This data will help inform how many people you need working and how many you can spare at once. For national holidays, you’ll need to consider this information in relation to your plans for what kind of support you’ll offer on the big day. Outside of emergency requests, people tend to be understanding of a team needing holiday time as long as you’re upfront and honest with them about when you’ll be back.

Plan Together To Find a Solution

If your team is small, rather than leaving the vacation puzzle to be solved by one person, why not work on it together? Engage your entire team in finding a solution. That allows you to meet your business goals while also leaving space for as much employee satisfaction around time off as possible.

Invest time in getting your help center super easy to use, and extremely helpful for customers that might not want to contact support. Click To Tweet

Consider creating a shared calendar showing approved time off, or one you can work on adding support team’s vacation together, so your team can review it before making requests.

Not every bit of vacation is always time-specific. If someone they see someone is off the week they were thinking of planning a trip, they can shift it to another week nearby.

The calendar can also help over shared holiday time. As you work out who will cover which holiday, if applicable, and make sure everyone gets at least some of the time they want off.

Keep Communication Open

Beyond simply requesting vacation time and being approved, make sure your team is preparing themselves and their teammates for any extended absence.

If a colleague will cover a vacationer’s job, make sure it’s standard for the necessary information to be shared and adjustments to be made in your support tool, as needed.

support team's vacationMethods for Making Vacation Time Work

How you make vacation and holiday time work exactly will depend on your organization. Some support teams can afford to temporarily close support or significantly reduce it during specific holidays. However, that’s not always the case.

The following are a few methods to consider for making it work for your team.

Maintain Enough Staff

While it may be tempting to run a lean support team, if you’re so low on staff that every sick day or week of vacation causes stress, consider adding people to your team. You should have a buffer that allows for last minute time off that barely causes a stir. If your organization is struggling to meet standard time off, the holidays will only be worse.

Once you’ve determined your staffing needs, factor in the number of sick time and vacation days you expect in general based on history and a healthy work-life balance, and be sure to hire at the level that can handle it all.

Give Priority to Early Requests or Rotate

If your support needs to be staffed 24/7 or can’t close for holidays, ask employees to submit requests for time off far in advance. If your policy is to approve in the order requests are received, people will make an effort to plan ahead.

Keep in mind this can be tricky for some people to manage-due to things like extended family or a partner’s employer–and this method will keep them at a disadvantage in getting approval for vacation time.

Alternatively, you could create a list of employees and give the top few first pick on time off during the holiday season this year. Then rotate those names to the bottom and give the next back top pick next year. This method can work well if you’ve got a lot of long-term employees. But depending on team size, could leave newer people stuck working every holiday for years.

Offer Incentives

Offer financial or other incentives to team members who agree to work over holidays. It’s not uncommon in retail to offer extra pay or a bonus for covering a holiday, and for some people, it’s worth it. Other than money, you could trade them for some other perk.

Beyond simply requesting vacation time and being approved, make sure your team is preparing themselves and their teammates for any extended absence. Click To Tweet

Like guaranteed vacation time on another time they prefer or, if a person normally covers weekends, give them a few of those off instead. The key is finding what is both valuable to your employee and also works for your team as a whole.

Institute a Blackout Period

If there is a batch of days at some point in the year that you absolutely can’t afford to close support or work with a reduced team, make it a time that everyone is required to work. This can be frustrating for employees though. So only do it if it’s absolutely necessary.

Make sure to be open and honest about it right from the start. No exceptions.

Allow Shift Trades

If a team member didn’t get their vacation request in in time to be approved far in advance but would still like the time off, allow them to trade with someone who works in the same area. If they can find a teammate to cover for them, and the work will be done either way, it’s a win-win.

Bulk up your self service

Your Knowledge Base is open 24/7 and doesn’t require any extra hands to keep staffed. The better your documentation is, the easier customers can help themselves and not be left waiting on a support team that’s stretched too thin.

Spend time when it’s quiet preparing for those inevitable crazy days. Invest time in getting your help center super easy to use, and extremely helpful for customers that might not want to contact support.

support team's vacationConclusion

No matter your support team’s size, managing vacation time successfully, for both your organization’s needs and employees’ happiness, is possible. Once you establish the requirements of your incoming support load, develop policies and be open with your team about them.

Be sure to include your team in the planning when possible, and maintain fairness in how requests are approved.

From proper staffing levels to plotting vacations together on a team calendar, the effort you put into organizing your team’s time off will be well worth the payoff in happy employees and satisfied customers.


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About the author Sarah is a freelance writer specializing in technology and customer support for Supported Content, and former Happiness Engineer at Automattic. When she’s not renovating her house in Dallas, you’ll find her baking in her (new) kitchen or reading romance novels. Find her on Instagram: @sarahblackstock.

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