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Balance employee expectations and workload during holidays

Bob Milligan for Progressive Dairyman Published on 17 November 2017
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As you know, dairy farm operations cannot stop for holidays. You and your employees, however, are members of families and social groups that have holiday expectations, traditions and plans.

In this article, we look at the 10 federal holidays, starting with the special holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s – where all but essential services are closed. Recently, however, many retail stores are open on New Year’s and late in the day on Thanksgiving.

The remaining federal holidays are divided into those where non-retail businesses are typically closed and those where they typically are open. Remember, also, some of your employees observe holidays important to their religion – Jewish, for example – or nationality, Hispanic origin, for example.

The special holidays

I was thinking about what proportion of the total workforce works on special holidays like Christmas. It has to be very small. Most people would think of emergency room doctors and nurses, police/fire personnel and perhaps airline pilots as the few who must work. We know also dairy farms have employees working.

Let me suggest some ways you might consider to lighten the load for those who must work:

  • As with everything, planning is key. Make plans so only tasks that absolutely must be done on the holiday are assigned. I know I would be more than a little irritated if I had to work on a holiday doing tasks that could have been done in advance or later. Even better, engage your employees in planning so they better understand what must be done on the holiday and have ownership in the plan.

  • Speaking of planning, work with your employees to schedule shifts and tasks, to the extent possible, so employees do not miss important religious services or family events. Communicating with employees, this desire can be powerful both in intent and in deed.

  • Arrange to do something special for those who do have to work. It could be providing hot chocolate or cookies or fruit – or something ethnically appropriate. Be certain to say, “Thank you.”

  • You have earned and deserve to be with your family; however, if you are near the farm and have a few minutes, take the time to say hello, thank them for being there and maybe deliver the treats mentioned in the previous item.

  • As those who work leave, or when they next return to work, express your appreciation for their working on a holiday.

  • These are paid holidays for most employees and often time-and-a-half or double time for hourly employees who must work. You may want to consider similar adjustments to your compensation policies. Early in my Cornell employment, I was asked to provide some suggestions for the dairy facility. I remember asking how they get employees to work on Christmas. The answer was: There was no problem because they were paid triple time.

Holidays where most non-retail businesses close

The three holidays included here are Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Employees, except those in retail, typically have a paid vacation day. The expectation of most families, and in most communities, is: These are days for family activities, traveling or just relaxing.

Perhaps a good way to approach these holidays from a work standpoint is similar to how you approach Sundays. This will typically mean doing only necessary work. For those who must work, consider some of the ideas from the discussion of the special holidays.

Compensation policy for these days is also important. These days are typically paid holidays for most non-retail business and government/education employees. I encourage you to consider making these paid holidays for those with tasks that can be scheduled on other days.

For salaried employees who must work, allowing some time off at another time is an option. For hourly employees whose work allows shortened hours, payment for normal hours should be considered.

Other federal holidays

There are four holidays – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day and Veterans Day – rarely considered holidays by businesses. You need not modify work plans or compensation policy for these days. You do, however, need to recognize some employees will have special requests, as spouses and schoolchildren will often have the day off.

There are three other days – the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve – that some employees will be in similar situations to these four holidays.

A final thought

Holidays present many challenges to businesses, like farms, that operate seven days a week and even 24 hours a day. They also can be an opportunity to show you value your employees by working with them to balance the needs of the farm and their family’s needs and desires.  end mark

Milligan developed an on-demand Success for Supervisors video program to help train supervisors at the time of promotion. Email Bob Milligan for a short video description.

Bob Milligan
  • Bob Milligan

  • Senior Consultant
  • Dairy Strategies LLC
  • Email Bob Milligan

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