I recently heard from a friend of mine who does tech support at another university. He’s burnt out. In fact, he says in his email: “Work: I [expletive deleted] hate it.”

The things putting my pal under strain will sound familiar to many of you: an understaffed department, capricious managers and high-maintenance end users. The final straw came this holiday season, when my friend’s manager allowed everyone else in the department to take vacation during Christmas week, leaving him as the only person manning the support line phones. My friend’s the last tech standing on a campus of over twenty thousand students and faculty.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know the full details of my friend’s situation. I’m not going to use this space to pillory his manager. His complaints got me thinking, though, about how help desk managers manage their human resources and maintain morale in their departments, particularly around the holidays.

Customer service jobs are stressful. (Just ask anyone working a retail job during the Christmas shopping season!) Let’s face it, customers are not always polite, and even when they are, the very nature of support work is draining because of the empathy and attention required when catering to others. It’s important for employees to have a chance to rebuild their morale by getting a break from their taxing duties.

The winter holidays provide that break for many workers here in the U.S. Lots of industries see a slowdown during this period, and many employees have a chance to take a break from their office work. The help desk doesn’t always have the luxury of shutting down, though. Sometimes techs will be required to stay on call, even when most of the other people in the organization are at home or on vacation, relaxing.

My office doesn’t need full-time help desk services during the holidays, so there’s nothing preventing us from having a vacation. Most of our organization’s staff won’t be in the office either, and most things that might come up can be handled remotely. I’m curious, though, about how managers whose help desks see more traffic handle their holiday staffing.

How do you IT managers out there determine who works the support lines during the holidays? Having to work when everyone else gets the time off can be difficult. How do you maintain those employees’ morale? Bonuses? Comp time? I’d like to hear how you address these issues.

Let’s leverage the group-mind. Weigh in with your experience in the comments.