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Planning for Christmas Leave 2020

Published on 08 January 2020

Planning for Christmas Leave 2020

How well did you plan for Christmas? Did you accurately forecast your workload? Did you “fairly” allocate annual leave? Were your customers happy; were your colleagues happy? Or, was is just a case of survival and now you are only thinking about January, February, March and the next budget cycle?

Now is a great time to capture the learning from the Christmas period and understand what you can do better next year.

The Problem

Even though we know it happens every year, it is all too easy to delay planning for Christmas until nearer the time. This causes an unnecessary stress for planners to create a fair process and approve the right levels of leave, as well as for the colleagues who anxiously wait to see what time they can have off. In addition, if people don’t plan their leave now, it can be too easy for them to use too much and not have enough, or bank so much they force you into approving leave.

These problems often start at the long-term planning stage, when a set annual leave shrinkage percentage is used for the budget. This almost figure often doesn’t take into account the opening times and change in demand profiles, but at best a good guess increasing the “typical” monthly percentage, e.g. 12% to 20%.

The biggest challenge we have is when we create a strict leave policy in advance and then closer to the time/on-the-day allow people to just go home anyway. I’ve had first-hand experience of this, when working towards pre-agreed annual leave allowances, and having to say no to people, for then on-the-day (Christmas Eve) the MD walking around the contact centre telling people they can go home as it’s Christmas. Lovely gesture, but completely undermining the Plan, the process and sets a tone for the culture.

One of the other challenges we can face, is that everyone has an opinion on how best to allocate leave over Christmas, or people have their own view, bias or rule, e.g. I worked last Christmas, so I should get next year off. These unwritten rules and historical legacies can be damaging if not tackled.

Put a line in the sand and firmly move forward with a new approach, which is collaboratively created, budgeted for and communicated effectively so people engage with it.

Understand normal versus what is different?

“There are known knowns. These are things we know we know. There are known unknowns. This is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Donald Rumsfeld

Use wider business knowledge to improve your ability to predict what will happen next year and take control of what you can and understand your limits. It’s surprising what is known, when you gather feedback and perspectives from across the business, and even outside your own business. Most things happen most of the time, and most of the time there is expected variance.

 Are your opening hours different? Also, consider other bank holiday weeks? Who is making this decision? Strategic/Operating Model? Marketing? HR? Operation? How do shift patterns compare to the demand? How will this impact annual leave, e.g. will there be closures and forced-day holidays?

How does Christmas impact our arrival patterns & business demand, in addition to your change of operating hours? Is it Chaos or Calm? Do you take an alternative view of service levels, targets and objectives?

Slight detour away from Christmas, remember it’s a leap year and the change in other bank holidays during 2020 (Friday, 8th May!)


Planning for Christmas 2020 - (What are you waiting for: Christmas!)

1.     Shrinkage

Annual leave is a key planning assumption, which needs to be discussed as part of your operating model design and budget process.

  • Don’t flatline annual leave shrinkage, across every week/monthly. Vary based on demand, both customer and colleague.
  • Plan for additional leave; colleague demand will typically go up.
  • Consider late notice arrangements, e.g. schools often only advise of nativity shows at late notice, there will also be more social occasions so expect a few early finishes/late starts.

2.     Flexibility

Shape your flexibility and workplace wellness strategy, by understanding the needs of your people and being clear to new recruits what you can (and can’t) offer.

  • Offer choice, certainty and control, create trade-offs so people know if they give, what they will get.
  • Brand and engage to gain buy-in, don’t just call these “shift choice 1”, ask for suggestions of how different patterns can be named from those working the patterns.
  • Offer different solutions, but limit. Don’t be unlimited with your options, be clear what you can and can’t do with reasons why.

3.     Escalations

Not everyone will be happy, and circumstances will change, at short notice

  • Decide now what the escalation process is.
  • Agree who has overall responsibility and who makes the final decision.
  • Agree not to change the rules!

 4.     Communication

Communicating your opening hours is critical so your business can prepare, and your customers are aware.

  • Start with the internal communication so your people can start to plan for the year ahead.
  • Consider wider marketing materials & website so your customers are aware.
  • Update IVR & Out Of Hours messages, making sure these are tested in advance

5.     Gather feedback

Capture feedback from the wider business, including performance data (CSAT and objectives), forecast accuracy and most importantly colleague feedback.

  1. Survey your colleagues now, ask them what went well, and what didn’t, along with any other comments for how to improve the process for this year.
  2. Review you process for 2019, how many people got their first-choice requests? How many late notice requests came in? Who did shift swaps, etc?
  3. Look at a balance of quantitative data (performance stats, CSAT, ESAT and cost) and qualitative (thoughts, feelings and emotion).


It’s a known known, so let’s stop making classic mistakes.

Set realistic limits around annual leave and business service levels & objectives.

Start now for next year (and beyond), make this easy for everyone involved.

If you have any thoughts, please leave your comments on Phil's linked article:

Arthor: Phil Anderson

Published Date: 08/01/2020

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