Summer holidays: supporting your business and your employees

Gary Cookson outlines how best to successfully run your business while taking a common sense approach to dealing with holiday requests from employees during the summer holidays

It’s August, and many of us will be taking annual leave or dealing with the long stretch that is the school summer holiday, which usually comes with a whole host of childcare difficulties. In this blog, I’ll address some of these and encourage a common-sense approach to dealing with requests from employees.

I’m writing as someone with four children (with ages spanning 1 to 17), so during the summer holidays, it’s all happening in my household. In addition to juggling work with home life and childcare, I also run my own business, so I can genuinely see things from both sides.

The traditional school day, and the concept of terms and school holidays, are largely incompatible with the modern family and modern working life - this situation only becomes more pronounced in the long summer break. Every year, I struggle to balance all my competing needs, and tend to adopt a day-by-day approach to survival, as much as anything.

In the past, I’ve been lucky to work for some really flexible employers whose holiday entitlements have enabled me to manage well, but I know others haven’t been as lucky. I remember my own parents struggling to take us away on holiday, and additionally, take time off elsewhere during the summer break to look after us. This, I know, continues to pose a challenge for working parents today. 

If you’re a business owner, chances are you’ve already got multiple plates to spin. This gets all the more challenging in August, as so many people want time off and greater flexibility so they can manage their own childcare. This, combined with the added pressure of your own family wanting the same from you, can be quite stressful!

Before we consider what employers can do to best support parents in the workforce, let’s take a look at what the law says on the subject.

Employees have the right to unpaid parental leave, and unpaid time off for dependents, both of which could be important in the summer break. Unpaid parental leave can be for up to four weeks per child, per year, up to a maximum of 18 weeks per child up to their 18th birthday. This leave needs at least 21 days’ notice to be permitted and must be taken in weekly blocks. Unpaid time off for dependents often counts as reasonable time off to deal with emergency situations. Summer breaks aren’t emergencies, but an unexpected problem with a usual childcare provider might be – emergency situations tend to last a day, require no notice and are unpaid but could help people out in, well, emergencies. Once the initial emergency has passed, parental or annual leave must be used.

The law also gives people the right to request to work flexibly, and whilst having a particular working pattern over the summer break or during term time may be a decent use of this right, it might not require anything formal and procedural. After all, we’re all adults and can just talk to each other. Plus, we know that flexibility on both sides is to be greatly encouraged and results in improved engagement and performance.

A great employer should always strive to understand their employees' individual needs and be flexible. But equally, they should ask for the same attitudes of flexibility and understanding from their employees, in return.

Some employers allow employees to work these issues out amongst themselves, and therefore, trust them to ensure that the business needs and their own needs are met. Many will do this automatically and resolve issues as they arise. Enabling these decision-making practices among your employees is a good first step – you don’t need to be involved in the detail, just trust them to manage this accordingly.

The school summer holiday might seem never ending, but it does end eventually. Pretty soon, September arrives, and we’re all back to normal again – and this is where a bit of give and take may come in handy for all concerned.  

Those who have had additional flexibility and time off during July and August, might be happy (or even keen) to give something back to the business in September and October. They can then cover for employees who initially covered for them in the summer break, or may be able to make time up that they’ve missed in the summer.

There are lots of ways to explore these issues, but to me, the key is having grown-up, adult-to-adult conversations in the workplace – nothing is unresolvable if we take that approach.  And all parties will be thankful for it, too.

Author: Gary Cookson (a father of four, husband of one and CIPD Chartered Fellow) runs his own business called EPIC, which helps people and places to Evolve, Perform, Improve and Compete.

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog: