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How Pet Businesses Handle Time-Off Requests During the Holidays

In the latest Real Deal scenario, owners and managers share what they would do if all of their employees requested off Small Business Saturday and the days leading up to Christmas.

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BLACK FRIDAY WAS less than a month away, Cindy realized as she signed the last of that week’s paychecks. The 2022 holiday season was going to be phenomenal.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

Cindy had taken advantage of some great deals on holiday merchandise earlier in the year, so she knew sales were going to blow 2021 numbers out of the water! It was time to start working on the staffing schedule for the next four weeks.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and the two weeks leading up to Christmas were her store’s busiest times. In previous years, Cindy had set blackout dates on those days. Now fully staffed, she had decided to allow employees to put in time-off requests in advance of the holidays. Cindy thought she would be able to approve certain days when she knew her employees would want to spend time with their families.

Cindy pulled up the time-off requests for November and saw that all three of her employees had requested off Small Business Saturday as well as the three days leading up to Christmas. Porsche requested off as it’s her first Thanksgiving and Christmas with her new husband’s family, Kendra requested off as it’s her first Thanksgiving and Christmas with her new baby girl, and Betty requested off because her family bought her tickets to visit them for both holidays.

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I can’t work all those days alone, she thought, and there’s no way I can quickly hire someone so close to the holidays and train them to learn all the ins and outs of not only the store but grooming appointment scheduling. To make matters worse, Cindy noticed that all three of her employees put in for paid time off as they all had saved up their hours to cover holiday vacation time. So not only were they all asking for the same days off, per her employee manual they had to use their PTO before year-end!

She put her head in her hands, remembering the promise she made to her own family that they would finally have a Christmas together. Cindy had worked every holiday week for the last seven years, and this was the first year she had enough staff to even consider being able to spend more time at home baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and cooking a holiday feast for her family.

Cindy could get by with one less person on those days, but how does she choose who gets to have the time off without possibly losing some of the best employees she’s ever had? She didn’t want to have to close the store completely.

The Big Questions

  • Should Cindy hire temporary help and speed train? A warm body is better than closing the store.
  • Should she make her employees decide who gets the days off?
  • Should Cindy schedule them all, and she take the days off as her own family comes first.
  • How can she avoid these conflicts in the future?
Diane B.
MORRIS, MN

Cindy should have added this to her schedule in October. Staff members with the most longevity can have just one of the two holidays off, and staff needed to have been told way back in June that they had to use their PTO before the holidays. She should remind them of the importance holidays have on business. Another alternative is to have a part-time employee trained and ready to go so that if staffing becomes an issue, she has another person who could step in. Work is a fact of life, and people need to realize this and make their own holiday plans accordingly.

Heidi D.
WARWICK, RI

This situation stresses the importance of having an employee handbook that outlines how time-off requests are handled and if there are blackout dates where time off will not be granted. In the absence of the handbook, I would grant one time-off request per date based on seniority.

Ramie G.
EVANSTON, IL

We are service providers as well as retailers so we wrestle with slightly different issues: We provide services on holidays, which means everyone works including my husband and me. It’s the only fair way to do it. When staff are hired, they are told up front the expectation to work holidays and weekends; there are no exceptions. Store staff get the same policy, except that the store is closed on major holidays. Staff can request the time of day they prefer to work on the holiday, and we have had no issues with that.

We are happy to give time off for everyone immediately after Christmas or in January or February, off-peak times always. Spring Break (March-April), summer vacations (July-August) and all other holidays are blacked out. We host the holidays at our home as we can’t travel then. We take our own vacations in off-peak times, January or February. The reality is it’s the business we are in so we have to work with it.

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Paul L.
MOUNT DORA, FL

In our new-hire handbook given to each employee when hired, it states, “We have vacation-request blackout dates for the following holidays:” But we are a four-in-one shop: boarding, day care, grooming and retail. We never officially close as a 24-7-365 facility. We have one person in the facility at all times. What we will do is allow the staff to work out a holiday time-off schedule that is fair for all. Some will want to work Thanksgiving and want Christmas off or vice versa. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday would have to be worked out between staff to provide coverage. The owner should be there on those busiest days to help out and guide the staff. If they are that busy, Cindy should include them in her blackout dates.

Becci S.
SCOTTSDALE, AZ

My husband and I have always had careers with heavy schedules around the holidays, so we expect to cover those days at our store. However, with our staff growing, I will mention in the October staff meeting that we want at least one employee to be working with us on the days we are open leading up to each holiday. We will create a sign-up sheet and let the employees sort out who will cover if anyone needs time away from their usual schedule.

Brett F.
OWEGO, NY

Cindy should hire at least one person who can be trained to run the register for the day, freeing herself up to work the floor, handle questions, concerns, etc. She can decide later if the new employee will replace one of her current batch or stay on as a floater. Change can be good, and that amazing employee (best she ever had) maybe isn’t as good as she thinks. As far as taking time off for herself, if she can’t convince at least one other current employee to stick around, that option is off the table. Sometimes we’re owner, manager and chief bottle washer all in one, and we have to sacrifice our own wants for our business. If she doesn’t have a policy in place already, she ought to consider a “first-come, first-served” policy regarding requested time off. This way, she can give that day to the first requester, but not the others. After that, that person goes to the back of the request rotation.

Shane S.
MILL CREEK, WA

Cindy needs to remember that a request doesn’t guarantee time off. She needs to look at the timing on this (who put in requests first?) and also consider who has had time off most recently, and who her MVP staff member is. Those factors may all influence how she chooses to move forward. If I were Cindy, I would let each team member know they can each get one day off between Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and each should pick which one they want the most, with time-and-a-half pay on the other two days. I would suggest seeing if she can try to hire someone at least temporarily for stocking and greeting if nothing else, and she might find a great new permanent person, too! To avoid this in the future, go back to the old blackout rules and expect to work herself all those days too. This is retail ownership — it’s part of the job. Don’t ask your staff to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself!

Sylvia G.
ADAMSVILLE, TN

I used to think it was necessary to oblige customers for the holiday rush. After all, people are spending and the revenue is the boom before the bust that follows in January. It seems like celebrating a day or two early or later would not be such a sacrifice to ask of employees. Most do so only when it benefits themselves, certainly not for their employer’s benefit. I have come to the conclusion that it is better to inform customers well in advance that the business will be closed to allow staff time to enjoy themselves as well. That way they will not be expecting last-minute services or goods. We have boarders who require the same care no matter what day it is. Schedules require forethought to be sure their needs are met and employees are not abused.

Rachael C.
MANDEVILLE, LA

This is a tough spot, made worse because it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. But since it has, what I would do is tell everybody that only one person at a time can have off so work together to see who gets which day off. If they can’t decide on their own, then I would make an executive decision. I would also allow the PTO to be carried over at least for this time. For myself, I would never schedule myself off over my employees unless there was a special reason. It’s my business, and that’s part of owning a business. To avoid these issues, our policy is no PTO during December unless you are a student living at home and must travel with your family. We are generally pretty flexible at other times. It has worked well for 21-plus years.

Cindy Michelle M.
OSPREY, FL

That’s a tough call. I’m assuming Cindy’s store is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the actual days can be spent with family. We have often had more than one person request a holiday off, and myself and the other store owner fill in. We try to discuss things amongst ourselves and find a suitable solution. The other owner and I usually volunteer for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and let the staff off if they want. We have treats and refreshments for the customers, and it’s fun.

Paula G.
MUSKEGO, WI

I think there really isn’t anything you can do except hire a temp service to cashier for you so you can be the floor person. If you insist that any of them work, with the problems of staffing going on today they could just quit and not have a problem getting another job when the holidays are over. If they are good employees, then I would get temps and work. Then change the policy for next year.

Danielle W.
GRANVILLE, OH

We have a policy in place that states no time off from Thanksgiving week through Christmas. New employees are made aware of the policy from day one — we’re extremely flexible with time-off requests throughout the rest of the year. We also close Christmas Eve to give our employees at least two days off with family. For this scenario, Cindy should let the most senior employee have Black Friday/Small Business Saturday off, with the other two working a split shift with Cindy on those days. As for the Christmas requests, Cindy could approve one day off for each of them leaving her with two employees each of the three days leading up to Christmas.

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Annabell B.
ALEXANDRIA, VA

We always require time-off requests to be submitted at least one month in advance for anything “personal or fun.” Anything that comes in closer to the date is usually just dismissed. Occasional exceptions are made, obviously. We also offer switching shifts; if you can get someone to cover your time, take it off, but they better show up! I would use that metric and see who submitted their requests earliest. And taking into consideration plans that would not be able to be moved. As for accumulated PTO, if that needs to be used by the end of the year, you probably will just have to pay that out. Ours rolls over for the following three months after the end of the year to avoid this exact issue.

Susan N.
CHESTER, NJ

In today’s climate, employers have to deal with the very real possibility of employees leaving if they cannot get time off at the holidays. For me, it’s just easier to work more myself than to try to force someone else to. That being said, individuals who work in retail should expect to work more hours around the holidays. In this case, I would try to add a few new people for holiday coverage — many retail stores do this.

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Nancy Guinn is the founder and president of Dog Krazy Inc., an award-winning natural pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. She helps other small businesses succeed through her contributions to industry magazines, webinars and podcasts. The Guinn household includes Nancy’s husband and business partner, Chris, and their furry and feathered inspirations Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

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