Pool companies offer varied time-off strategies to prevent burnout
As summertime approaches, pool companies are preparing for another jam-packed season that could match last year’s surge in consumer demand for new pools.
Despite the increased workload expected this year, many companies will offer employees vacation breaks during peak season. To prepare for both a busy season and planned staff vacations, companies have boosted hiring and trained employees to fill in for those who will take time off this summer.
“[Last year] was a blessing and a curse, and no one wants to revisit that level of busy,” says Audra Johnson, a partner with Johnson Pools in Owego, New York. She anticipates another “absolutely crazy” season this year and has added employees in every department. Johnson Pools plans to hire up to 40 employees this season, which includes nine more staff members than last year. The company has not changed its vacation policy, however, and will allow employees to take a week off during the summer.
“We have never denied an employee their requested vacation time,” Johnson says.
Staff at Johnson Pools can take vacation during peak season because every employee is trained to work in another area at the company. If the service manager goes on vacation, for example, there are three employees trained in that position who can fill in, Johnson says.
Companies that don’t allow summer vacations offer time off before the start of the season to prevent high employee stress.
“We are looking at the lessons learned from 2020 and preparing now to better manage the same volume of business this summer,” says Al Eckert, regional manager of Litehouse Pools and Spas in Cleveland, Ohio. “Planning ahead will allow us to reduce the extra hours and stress that lead to burnout.”
More employees at Litehouse Pools and Spas took vacation time before peak season this year, Eckert says, “so they can be fresh and ready to go when the busy season hits.” The company, which employs more than 100 people, has a blackout period from mid-April through mid-July when employees are not eligible to use vacation days.
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Preventing burnout is even more of a challenge for one-pole pool companies, says Chad Matsumoto, owner and sole operator at Aqua Pro Pool & Spa in Costa Mesa, California. After working at a large residential pool company with more than 30 employees, Matsumoto started his own business to simplify his life and maintain a lower stress level.
“I focused on quality rather than quantity,” Matsumoto says. “Instead of trying to service a lot of pools at lower rates, I tried focusing on fewer clients at better rates to have a better work-life balance.”
Matsumoto takes three weeks off a year to relax and spend time with family and friends. Those three weeks of vacation — with one week scheduled at Christmas, Thanksgiving and in the spring before the season starts — are built into the service agreements with customers, he says.
“Communication is key, and notifying clients in advance has always ensured that my time off has been uneventful and uninterrupted,” he says.
Tips for Managing Vacations
One way to manage staff vacation time is to create a calendar where employees can indicate their preferred days off well in advance of the summer season. That way, pool companies can prepare themselves to handle the extra work, Johnson says.
At Johnson Pools, owners and managers almost always work on major holidays so employees don’t have to. In addition, the company will either close or offer reduced hours on holidays such as Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day to accommodate customers while allowing employees time off.
Appointing a “bench” player who can step in and cover for employees when they need time off is another strategy that helps manage vacation planning. “This allows the store to run smoothly without overworking the other employees during someone’s absence,” Eckert says.
Beyond offering vacations, providing team-building activities, training events and tours of manufacturers’ plants during the year can also keep employees motivated, Matsumoto says, speaking from his experience as a general manager for his former employer. “This is vital to running a successful company in this day and age, when it is difficult to find dedicated and hardworking staff,” he says. “Finding good help is only half the battle. The other half is always retaining good help once you’ve found them.”