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My company has a policy that no more than three salaried employees can be off on any given day, regardless of what department they are in.

I've seen this cause tension with some employees, and have recently run into trouble with this policy myself. I work in the IT department, but was denied a day off because we had someone in Marketing, someone in Graphic Design, and one of the Collection Managers already off on that day.

I do not understand why someone working in IT is not allowed to take the day off just because three users in unrelated departments have that day off already. Our IT department has three people, so the other two will still be on hand to handle any tech support issues that come up.

We have over thirty salaried employees, in departments that range from IT, Marketing, Accounting, Payment Processing, HR, Collection Managers, and other Admin staff.

The policy was implemented a year or two ago as a result of quite a few salaried employees taking the same day off, including some that were in the same department. The number of salaried employees hasn't risen by much since then, perhaps by around five.

The company I work for is actually a great company that treats their employees quite well, and they usually work hard to keep their employees happy.

How can I convince them to change their policy? Or am I being unreasonable in thinking this is a bad policy that leads to employee unhappiness, and possibly the loss of a good employee?

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How can I convince them that this is a bad policy that leads to employee unhappiness, and possibly the loss of a good employee? - You are assuming that this is reason enough for them to change. It is probably the wrong tactic to take. –  Chad Oct 1 '12 at 14:42
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@Chad I wasn't sure exactly how to phrase my question, so if you have any ideas about a good tactic to take I'd be happy to hear them :) –  Rachel Oct 1 '12 at 15:11
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Your company is in business to make money not to make its employees happy. You need to show that the changes you propose would not adversely impact the company's ability to do business. –  Chad Oct 1 '12 at 16:09
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@Chad, Implementing gratuitously draconian policies that make employees unhappy and frustrated is a pretty good way to make less money and encourage top-talent to go to competitors. –  Angelo Oct 2 '12 at 17:31
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@Angelo - But if the company does not make money then there are no jobs to be had and the top talent will end up at the competitors anyway. And no more than 3 people off at a time is a far cry from mandatory 12 hour days 7 days a week. That is not to say that the policy makes sense or is good just putting it in perspective. –  Chad Oct 2 '12 at 17:32
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4 Answers

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My hunch is that this policy is residual from days when the company was younger.

Even if not, however, I would approach your manager and first find out the justification for this policy. Perhaps it existed when the company had only ten people and is lingering? You will have little success in changing a policy you don't know the reasons for, but if you can find them out, you should have a lot more leverage. (Presumably this policy didn't just magically appear out of nowhere -- someone thought this was a good idea at some point.) It's also important to note that if you approach things from this perspective it's not going to be seen as "I want this changed because I want I want I want" but a bit more problem solving/team oriented, as you are trying to understand first, rather than confront.

I suspect that purely by asking about why this policy exists you will get some immediate insight into how easy it will be to change or make someone think "you know? I don't really know why we have this policy anymore." Definitely phrase things like - "I understand $(COMPANY_NAME) spends a lot of effort to make our work experience great. In light of that, I don't understand this policy" rather than "this policy sucks." The way this gets communicated will really affect the response of any management people who are fond of the policy.

You really don't want to be confrontational until necessary. It's entirely possible your manager also dislikes this policy, but never thought to get it changed.

After this point, you should have a list of specific reasons you need to address in order to propose changing or removing the policy (since you know why it exists).

So, in order:

  1. Find out from your manager why the policy exists.
  2. Discuss the concerns you have with how it unfairly affects employees in your situation and how concerns from (1) are not applicable
  3. Determine the next steps to alleviate any concerns not addressed in (2) - maybe changing the policy to be within certain functional groups instead of the entire company, etc
  4. Propose new language within a new policy*
  5. Enjoy vacation!

Depending on receptiveness, there may be levels of discussion required within there, which I didn't list, and steps 1-3 may be an iterative process.

*Note: your managers will be much more receptive to a formal suggestion via a new policy with new wording (if one exists currently) they can just say "yeah that's great!" rather than requiring them to do additional work in rewriting, proofing, etc.

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Some really good advice, thank you. The policy was actually implemented about a year ago after about 5-6 salaried employees took the same day off, with the majority of them being from a single department. The number of salaried employees has grown a bit since them, but only by around 5 or so. –  Rachel Oct 1 '12 at 16:08
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@Rachel it sounds like the policy is too broad then. The problem isn't that there were too many people from the company out of the office, but that there were too many people from a single department. –  Tacroy Oct 1 '12 at 17:47
    
I"d say the TL;DR version would be 'Make'em think of the rule to notice how flaw it is'. –  Tiago Cardoso Oct 2 '12 at 3:37
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I like step 4. It pre-empts the inevitable "Bring me solutions, not problems". –  Burhan Ali Oct 8 '12 at 7:25
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I always liked Gordon England's answer.

"What would you do if he was in the hospital?"

Background: Gordon England was Director of Avionics at General Dynamics / Fort Worth Division in the 1980s. GD/FW was VERY good about allowing employees to take vacation time. A key employee had previously scheduled vacation time, gotten approval in advance from his management, and had done everything he reasonably could to minimize disruption. However, the project he was working on was In Trouble, a key deadline was coming up, and his manager wanted him to postpone his vacation.

The manager knew he needed to get signoff from above, since he was about to propose a MAJOR deviation from usual practice and company culture. So, he went to Gordon England for approval.

He laid out the full story, explained how the guy was critical to the effort, and made his case as best as he could.

Gordon listened, carefully. When the man had finished, Gordon asked just one question.

"What would you do if he was in the hospital?"

That was the LAST time anyone ever breathed a word about asking anyone to postpone or forego vacation time at General Dynamics / Fort Worth, at least while Gordon England was there. He later went to GD Land Systems in Detroit, then came back to become President and General Manager of Fort Worth Division.

Full disclosure: I worked in his department for a few years. I got to see how he worked. He knew me. I have absolutely nothing but respect for him. His personal integrity was rock-solid, absolutely impeccable. (Come to think of it, that was true of a lot of people at GD/FW.)

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I would talk to my manager and try to get the message passed up the chain.

If you go to HR and say "it made me unhappy and I bet I'm not the only one," then you're probably not going to get far.

But if your manager goes to HR and says "I cannot afford to have unhappy employees because of a policy that doesn't make sense in context, nor do I particularly want all three of my team pushed back on holidays until I've got a problem fitting all their holiday in at the end of the year. Neither of these things are conducive to getting the business's projects done on time," then they're likely to have an impact.

If that doesn't work then your manager's manager is likely to have an even bigger impact with a similar message, combined with "if you make my managers' lives difficult, they make my life, and thus my job, difficult."

The higher it goes, the harder it is for HR to say "well, it's policy." More and more, they have to explain the reasoning. And if it's as simple as you tell it, that's not going to make sense.

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One approach to make the flaws in the system obvious, is to explain how the system can be gamed. Because some days are more likely to be desirable (the day after Thanksgiving), the smart employee will reserve those days as soon as possible. Once three employees have locked in those days, anybody who wants to take those days off, has to negotiate with those three lucky employees. They company will have created a black market.

When you get above about 50 employees, there is no way for everybody to be able to schedule their 15 days of vacation, and even a boring Wednesday will have some value.

You can also point out that they may have to start a policy for paying cash to employees for unused vacation days.The company will have to rescind any use-it-or-lose-it rules because employees will be unable to take all of their vacation days.

Significant time can be wasted by employees as key days approach. Will the lucky employees get what they want, or will they cave and drop their price so they don't have to take a vacation day? How long will the unlucky employees wait before meeting their demands?

The other way to game the system is to use sick days as mini-vacations. You will not be able to take a week of vacation, but you can call in sick when you need to take a day off.

You must pick the correct tone to point out these flaws. You want to avoid complaining, instead tell them you look forward to watching the black market dealings. Then wonder aloud if there is an App for that.

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I wonder if this is one of those "no vacation policy" companies. They seem to find all sorts of ways to make that a "no vacation" policy. If that's what this company is, the above answer is unlikely to work. –  Amy Blankenship Oct 2 '12 at 0:33
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