How to avoid Christmas leave conflict

The Christmas countdown has begun (37 days in case you’re wondering) and people’s thoughts are turning to how they are going to spend the festive season. It won’t be long before managers start to receive the annual avalanche of requests for leave over the holiday period.

Holiday clashes are one of the biggest causes of conflict between colleagues at any time of year, but Christmas can be particularly tricky. Parents want to finish when school breaks up, people whose families live at the other end of the country want to avoid travelling at peak times and absolutely no-one wants to work on Christmas Eve. Then there’s the ‘dead’ period between Christmas and New Year when it really doesn’t seem worth coming into work as nothing much is happening anyway.

Of course it would be lovely if we could all don our Santa hats the day before Christmas Eve and head off in high festive spirits, not to return until the New Year. But the reality is that many businesses need to keep the wheels turning over the holiday period – and indeed for some it may be their busiest time of year.

So what’s the best way to manage leave requests so that everyone is happy while also ensuring the needs of the business are met?

Be clear about business arrangements

Make sure everyone is clear about exactly when and how the business will be operating over the Christmas period. Are you going to finish early on Christmas Eve or will everyone be expected to work a full day? Will it be business as usual over the in-between period or just a skeleton service? If you are closing down completely over Christmas and New Year, are these being given as additional holiday days over people’s usual entitlement or will they be expected to take them out of their annual leave? If everyone knows the score, there is less potential for confusion or bad feeling.

Encourage people to plan early

Encourage your team to think about their plans well ahead. If you have minimum staffing levels or specific colleagues who can’t be off at the same time, make sure everyone is aware of that. Use team meetings to remind people of the process for booking annual leave – and if you have a ‘use it or lose it’ policy, encourage them not to leave their remaining holiday entitlement to the eleventh hour. If people are clear about the policy and the process, they are less likely to get upset if they can’t take their holiday when they want to.

Let technology take the strain

Making sure you have enough people around to cover the workload during the holiday period can be a nightmare, particularly if you have clashing requests or people taking odd days here and there in the run-up to Christmas. The latest HR software systems can help you create order from the chaos. A good system will provide a calendar view, so you can see exactly who is off when, not just in your own team, but in other departments too, making it much easier to plan resourcing. The technology also makes it possible to confirm or deny requests quickly, cutting down on unnecessary paperwork and ensuring people get a quick answer to their application to take time off.

Give a clear reason for refusals

If you have to turn a holiday request down, make sure you can explain your reasoning clearly. Most people will understand that only a percentage of the team can be off at any one time and that someone has to be there to answer the phone, deliver the goods or deal with any issues that may arise. Make sure people can see that you understand it’s important for them to have time with their family and friends over the holiday and that you have done your best to accommodate their needs. Be open to any suggestions they might make about how work could be juggled or covered – could someone be ‘on call’ over the holiday period, for example, without actually coming into the office? Even if you have to say no in the end, they will appreciate the fact you have tried to help.

Deal with disputes calmly

If disputes do arise, make sure you are dealing with them fairly and treating all employees the same. It’s very easy for resentment to creep in if people feel you are showing favouritism to a particular employee or if they perceive that colleagues with children are being given priority over others. Don’t leave staff to fight it out between themselves over holiday clashes. This will only lead to tension and bad feeling in the team – and as the manager, you need to make the final decision.


One action to take this week: Check in with your team about their holiday plans over Christmas. Is everyone clear about business arrangements over the festive season and what the process is for booking leave?

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