30 years ago, it was normal for Japanese companies to have their official summer vacation in the middle of August based on a religious event. A majority of people working in Tokyo used to trek out of the capital city to their home towns accordingly. The big city became so quiet with less business and less people during the week. It was the social trend at that time.
Today, things have changed. Life styles are more diverse. There is very little chance for businesses to shut down even temporarily. So more and more companies, especially international ones, allow employees to have a flexible vacation schedule as both people and businesses prefer it.
Some companies still have the traditional vacation in August to use the week for maintenance of factories. But I think many of them can’t change their practice for a unique reason honestly. I saw an example in a management meeting of a company.
The company was losing their presence in the market. One day, their vacation schedule was one of the topics on the agenda of the meeting because the company had a set official vacation week in August while the important customers and the major competitors were doing business during the week. I participated in it as the head of HR.
I started with a proposal. “It doesn’t make sense any more that we have the fixed vacation in August. We have been left behind in the market. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily beneficial to all the employees to have the summer break at the same time of the year. There have been requests from employees to allow them flexibility to shift it to another week. I think an adjustable plan will have lots of benefits to both the company and the employees.”
The company had never had dealt with a topic of changing policies before. The directors didn’t know how to lead the discussion. Instead, they beat around the bush.
First, the sales director responded.
“I personally agree. But if we have the new plan, my team will never be able to have a summer vacation at all. Our customers directly call the person in charge of the account. So if he is gone, we will miss a possible business chance with the customers.”
“You are the leader of the department. You are supposed to discuss with your staff to set reasonable vacation shifts as a team. It’s a part of the normal business backup plan. Otherwise we will always have a problem when we have someone off due to the seasonal flu, for example.”
“Then we will have more chances that we have to become a backup for someone on vacation while being responsible to customers. As a result, we can’t take a vacation to avoid such an additional workload as a team.”
The finance director followed.
“I basically agree to the change. The finance team has worked during the week anyway because the current vacation schedule hits the busiest week of the month. It will be helpful to have the week to be our normal business day. But the team should follow the same operational schedule rather than individual vacation plan.”
“In that case, you can discuss with your staff to set the same vacation week as a team according to your timetable.”
“I am afraid that everyone from my team will want to have a different schedule from the others because they don’t like each other. I’d prefer keeping the current plan over having that problem.
The service director joined.
“I agree to the new plan. We’ll be able to respond to customers in a timely manner. But I don’t think my staff will feel comfortable with it. There will be some people who want to have the same vacation schedule. Then they are likely to make an argument against the new plan. I will have difficulties in managing them.”
“It’s our responsibility as the management team to communicate with our employees. Why don’t we discuss a communication plan in this meeting?”
“I don’t agree to a plan which may bring a dispute in my section. We, as the management team, should provide something with no room to argue.”
The directors listed up their reasons to disagree to the change. After a few hours of discussion, they finally reached a conclusion.
“We, as a good employer, should keep our current practice to protect our employees from too much workload and internal conflicts. Keeping consistency will strengthen our productivity to catch up with the market.” The president agreed to this counter-proposal from the majority directors.
It was a silly game. But the most expensive resources of the company were seriously playing it in the board room. They were satisfied with the conclusion.