Staffing

How short-staffed companies are saving vacation this summer

July 21, 2011: 11:08 AM ET

With thin staffs and a slowly improving job market, employers can't just let employees take vacation whenever they want, but they also can't risk damaging morale. This summer, a few firms are getting creative.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- This summer, most of the outdoorsy employees at ski manufacturer Epic Planks will be getting their hands dirty in the shop, where they compress fiberglass and plastic into custom-made skis, with nary a vacation day.

But rather than cursing the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company for their dearth of long-weekend camping trips, they're gleefully anticipating taking extra time off in the winter.

That's because founder Bill Wanrooy and his partner will double up to two weeks of vacation time that workers decide not to take in the summer, which is Epic Planks' busy time for building skis and snowboards to be sold in the fall.

Those who accepted the offer will instead enjoy up to four weeks of vacation in the winter. The idea stemmed from last summer's experience, when last-minute vacation requests left the small business so short-staffed that Wanrooy and his co-founder had to work 12-hour days, 6 or 7 days a week, to keep up with production demand.

"For all of our employees, skiing and snowboarding is their passion, so that allows them to maybe sacrifice a little bit now, but the rewards pay off later," says Wanrooy. "This is our first summer of doing it, but the reception has been great. Everybody loves it."

Epic Planks isn't the only company getting creative with summer staffing. Companies are asking employees to plan their own vacation coverage, requesting that vacationers send out memos to avoid any unwanted surprises, says Michael Erwin, senior career adviser for CareerBuilder.com. They're also cross-training employees to cover for their colleagues during time off, and bringing in temporary staff when needed.

These companies' efforts point to the fact that while many companies are not staffed as heavily as they have been in previous years, they nevertheless recognize the importance of vacation time.

"It comes back to productivity," Erwin says. "If your people are burned out, you're going to have less productive, less creative people. It's the responsibility of employers to say, 'You need to take time out of the office.'" More

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