Log in | Register | Contact Us | View Cart


No comments


Vacations and holidays are an important part of job satisfaction and employee retention. They provide employees an opportunity to recharge the batteries and to live their lives outside of work. Managing vacations can be difficult in any company, but the challenge can be amplified in a Lean organization where there is very little excess capacity and very structured work. With a good strategy, though, the impact can be reduced substantially.

First of all, let’s look at what happens when an employee goes on vacation in a typical organization. In a shop floor production environment, most companies have figured out how to staff to cover vacation time. They either have some extra people that backfill, or they take some other action, such as building ahead or reducing output temporarily. In some cases they will even have specialists such as technicians or leaders fill in to cover vacant positions. Note that each of these methods, though, have a substantial amount of waste associates with them.

In the office, there is more of a Wild West approach. This is especially true when a function is performed by only a single person. In most cases the person must work ahead (when possible) to reduce the piles on their desk, or return from vacation to face a mountain of tasks. Some of the critical tasks may be handed off, but any work that can “keep” is generally left as the penalty for taking time off. In fact, for many employees the benefit of taking vacation is virtually wiped out by the immense pain that happens before and after their holiday.

A good vacation strategy, however, can mitigate the challenges of these extended absences.

  1. Make sure that vacation time is included in the staffing plan. Determine how much time you expect your employees to be off and subtract that from the capacity. You may even consider using average sick days in this calculation. If you want standardization, you can’t expect employees to work faster when people are absent.
  2. Make sure employees are cross-trained. This has to be an ongoing process. Backups should be regularly performing the tasks they will be expected to do when the primary operator is absent. If they don’t the learning curve will be too steep. The best way to do this is to do job rotation throughout the year.
  3. Use flexible staffing. This means that people are rotated to where they are needed. It keeps the demand on one person from piling up during absences. It is far better to have the entire group a bit behind than to have one person completely swamped.
  4. Standardize processes. It is virtually impossible to have people backfill is a process is not consistent. Even simple things like finding files can swallow vast chunks of time. If the back of has no clue where to look.
  5. Use playbooks for production environments. This simply means that you have a plan for running at a variety of demand and staffing levels. This is particularly useful on the shop floor.

If you have an organization with 12 people in it and each averages 3 and a half weeks of vacation, you are facing 42 weeks without a full staff each year, and that doesn’t even account for sick time. The normal situation is that someone is off on vacation. Don’t treat it like an unusual situation. If your leads are expected to backfill, they will be on the production line or answering phones more than they will be doing their leadership function.

It can be hard to convince senior leaders to staff to cover for vacation time. To support your claim, consider how much overtime is spent compensating for the periods when people are off. Then look at the data surrounding quality problems, late shipments and the like. Let the facts and data speak for you. If you still can’t convince your boss of the need, run a test and hire a temp for a brief period to see how much more smoothly vacation is managed. Be creative in solving this problem, because it is important. The truth is that your team is smart. They will question why they have processes in place if they can be discarded as soon as someone is absent.

One of the hallmarks of a great organization is that they reduce chaos by applying structure. If you don’t have a solid plan for managing vacations without throwing your structure out the window, you’ll never make the leap to greatness.


If you like our forms & tools, please help us spread the word about them!

Add a Comment

Share Your Thoughts    |No comments|

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Copyright © 2009-2016, Velaction Continuous Improvement, LLC | Legal Information