Booked Solid: How to Prepare for an Absence

When you’re fully booked, an absence can throw your entire operation out of whack.

You’ve done it! You’re fully booked! You’ve stuffed your mattress with that sweet cash money and even though crinkles when you move and smells musty AF, you sleep as soundly as all aspiring millionaires do. But what happens when you get sick, your busiest professional quits, or your biological clock starts screaming, “MOAR BABIES!” (Am I the only one who has that problem?)

When you’re fully booked, an absence can throw your entire operation out of whack. This article will help you prepare and provide you with helpful templates and scripts, so you can slide through any expected or unexpected absence (whether short-term or long-term) unscathed.

Salon owners, we’ll address your solutions first.

Salon Owners

Understand the Law

You knew we were going to have to go here first, right? Understanding the law gives you a clear idea of how much time off a professional is entitled to and for what reasons.

Employees have certain rights when it comes to taking extended leave. (If you read Salon Ownership and Management, you can probably skip this part. If you haven’t, read on.)

The Family Medical Leave Act has different coverage criteria. As a private-sector employer who owns a salon business, the FMLA will only apply to you if you have 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Employees are only eligible when they work for a covered employer for at least twelve months (accumulating at least 1,250 hours of service for that employer during that period) and at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. The twelve months of service do not have to be consecutive.

Employees of covered employers may be eligible for up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for one of more of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child or placement of an adopted or foster child;
  • To care for a spouse or immediate family member who has a serious health condition;
  • To recover from a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse or immediate family member is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.

Employees must request leave following their employer’s usual and customary requirements for requesting leave and must provide enough information for their employer to determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request.

Renters do not have any basis to claim leave under the FMLA. They’re self-employed tenants and must abide the terms of their lease agreement. It’s up to the landlord whether to allow them to suspend their lease without consequence or to hold them to it.

Cross-Train and Empower Your Employees

The first salon I worked in required every licensed cosmetologist to be cross-trained and to routinely rotate between departments. This strategy ensured every professional could competently perform every service on our menu. When two employees left on the same day to open their own salon, this approach paid off immensely (for obvious reasons).

Get your employees accustomed to playing more than one role.

Qualified professionals should be trained to perform every service their license empowers them to perform. This allows people to step in and pick up the pieces whenever one of your employees quits or must be absent.

Additionally, cross-training can help prevent extended absences from happening in the first place. For instance, a stylist with a sprained ankle or lower back injury that makes it painful to stand can still perform sit-down services like facials or manicures.

Cross-Train Yourself

One of the first things I tell aspiring salon owners to do is to obtain their professional license. Not only does this ensure they’ll be qualified to provide hands-on training and properly evaluate the technical performance of their employees, it guarantees at least one extra set of professional hands if the salon requires them.

You owe it to your business to have a professional license.

A salon owner without a license will find themselves dependent on their professionals, creating a situation where their employees have the leverage to essentially hold the owner hostage. More than that, an owner who lacks a license will be utterly powerless to handle an unexpected employee absence or mutiny. With a license, handling a last-minute employee illness will be as simple as taking over that employee’s appointments until they recover. No biggie.

Get Meticulous About Your Scheduling

You don’t have to be a psychic to see the future—or plan for potential outcomes before they come to pass.

You likely know when your busy periods are, and if you don’t then I’ll be happy to provide some insight. There are no hard and fast rules, but generally, you can expect a spike in walk-ins and bookings during the following times:

  • The two weeks before major holidays,
  • Late-April through May, and
  • Whenever it is least convenient.

You can count on employee absences and departures during the following times:

  • Fall/Winter (Flu Season),
  • November-January (“F*#k this job” season),
  • June-August (“My kid is out of school and you don’t pay me enough to cover outrageously expensive daycare costs” season).

It’s always better to be under-staffed than over-staffed, but ideally, you’ll have an employee whose book contains a bit of breathing room and a part-timer or two whose schedule can be expanded when circumstances necessitate it.

Solo Professionals

I’m not going to candy coat this for you, microsalon owners: you guys have it really rough when it comes to absences. Preparing in advance would benefit you tremendously, so let’s talk about how you can do that, starting today.

Utilize the Buddy System

If you don’t have any trusted friends in the industry in your local area, make some immediately. Ideally, your “buddy” will be someone who works in the same facility you do, but if you have to choose between a person whose skills are on-par with yours and someone who’s convenient, you’re better off going with the skilled professional.

You and your buddy (or buddies) will agree to accommodating each other’s clients when necessary.

Everyone involved should understand the risk inherent with this system. Remember, clients have the right to choose their professional. Every time your client sits in another professional’s chair, you run the risk of losing that client. However, your buddies should be trustworthy professionals who aren’t likely to actively poach your clients from you. Should your client choose to stay with them, you should feel confident that the client made that decision on their own, not due to your buddy’s powers of persuasion.

You can learn more about how the buddy system works by reading this post.

Have a Backup Assistant on Standby

Whether your absence is foreseen or unforeseen, you should have an assistant on standby to help efficiently handle the inevitable client overflow. You’ll need those extra hands when you’re working 12-hour days for a week straight (before the foreseen absence and after the unforeseen absence) to make up for missed appointments.

Be Ready for BS

I don’t know about you, but when I was on my own, some of my clients would catch an attitude when I had the nerve to take off work. It didn’t matter if I was taking a much-needed vacation or recovering from the birth of one of my children—I could count on whining, begging, bargaining, and a handful of guilt trips.

You are allowed to take care of you.

Some of these clients do these things to express their fondness of you without realizing how anxiety-inducing it can be for those of us who work in the service industry. Don’t feel obligated to accommodate the client who “simply must” get in while you’re out.

Your clients come first when you’re willing and capable of working. when you’re neither of those things, you come first.

Don’t allow clients to make you feel indentured to them. You’re a professional and a solo business owner; you are not their servant.

The following scripts should keep pushy client behaviors to a minimum, but if they start pushing you too hard, don’t be afraid to draw a hard line. Plan out how you’ll respond in advance. You don’t have an employer to step in on your behalf, so you must establish and enforce your own boundaries. The last thing you need to be worried about when you’re recovering (or chilling on a beach in Mexico) is Becky’s meltdown over her weekly blowout.

Scripts & Templates

These notifications can be used over the phone, in person, or via email or social media, whether you’re a salon owner, employee, or microsalon owner.

Foreseen Extended Absence

I will be on leave from [DATE] until [DATE]. In the interim, I recommend booking your appointments with [NAME]. While every professional here has the qualifications and training to perform exceptional services, [NAME] has specialized in [SERVICE/TECHNIQUE] for [X] years. I’ll introduce you before you leave today, if you’d like.

Foreseen Temporary Absence

For the next [X] days/weeks, I will be away. We’ll schedule your next appointment right before I depart. If that’s not possible or if you need to come in while I’m gone, I recommend booking your appointments with [NAME]. While every professional here has the qualifications and training to perform exceptional services, [NAME] has specialized in [SERVICE/TECHNIQUE] for [X] years. I’ll introduce you before you leave today, if you’d like.

Unforeseen Extended Absence

Use this script when calling clients to inform them of an unforeseen extended absence. Typically, the salon owner would be making these calls. If you’re a microsalon owner, however, you may want to entrust a friend or family member with the task.

Unfortunately, [NAME/I] will be absent from work for the next few [WEEKS/MONTHS] [and your appointment will need to be rescheduled]. Please consider booking your appointment with [PROFESSIONAL]. [Provide contact info.] [NAME/I] will keep you updated and informed [VIA EMAIL/TEXT/SOCIAL] so you’re among the first to know when [NAME/I] will be available again.

Unforeseen Temporary Absence

Unfortunately, [NAME/I] will be absent from work from [DATE] to [DATE] [and your appointment will need to be rescheduled]. We can schedule your next visit for [DATE], but if that’s too far out, I recommend booking your appointment with [PROFESSIONAL] [Provide contact info.]

Should I disclose the reason for an absence?

Employers should never disclose the reason for an employee absence unless the employee grants permission, especially if that absence is due to a sensitive personal or medical issue. It’s one thing to give the client a vague reason—it’s another to tell them the intimate details of an employee life.

Use your judgment.

“She’s out sick today.” = Okay.
“She’s been struggling with depression since her cheating husband left her.” = NOT okay.

Microsalon owners should determine for themselves whether it’s appropriate or wise to disclose the reason for an absence. When in doubt, remember that you’re much better off keeping your personal life  personal.

As industry professionals, it’s important to remember what clients are actually owed.

Clients are not owed a detailed explanation for an absence, nor are they owed access to our personal lives. They are owed timely notice and gracious accommodation. They are also owed a clear understanding of what it means to be a customer of an in-demand, fully-booked professional whose schedule doesn’t contain much (if any) flexibility. They’ll need to be told that missed appointments are incredibly difficult–if not impossible–to make up. This can result in situations where the client may end up waiting weeks or months to be seen again if they’re unwilling to accept service from another professional.

Do your best to provide those things the clients are actually owed, and don’t feel obligated to sacrifice more of yourself than is necessary or appropriate. We are human people with needs and lives outside of the salon. Anyone who doesn’t understand that or can’t respect it isn’t worth losing sleep over.


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