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How to Manage Employee Time Off Requests

Tuesday January 23rd 2018

At the start of the year, many managers and business owners are attempting to sort through time off requests and fairly allot vacation days to their teams. It’s impossible to allow every member of your team to take time off simultaneously, so the process of managing vacation and holiday time can be crippling to your business if not handled properly. However, rejected PTO requests can also impact the culture you’ve created within the company if your employees aren’t satisfied by the process.

If you dread this season every year because of the complications of organizing vacation times, perhaps this should be the year that you make some changes to simplify the process. We’ve got some tips to set you up for success while eliminating the stress that accompanies the rush of vacation requests.

Create or Improve Your Policy

If you manage a small team or are running a new business, it’s possible that you haven’t developed a company policy on vacation time just yet. But as your business grows, it will become increasingly more important to have solid policy established to share during the onboarding process. Don’t wait until vacation requests become a problem. Establish your policy now, so that the team you’re currently managing can get on board, and so that future hires will have an understanding of your procedure on day one. If you manage a larger business that already has a policy in place, but you still experience the stress of dealing with vacation requests, it’s probably time to update that policy.

Things you should consider when developing your company policy on vacation time and holidays include:

  • A timeline for vacation requests – Give yourself plenty of time to manage time off requests, and ask that your employees submit their requests for vacation time 3-5 months in advance. This will allow you the opportunity to plan ahead and schedule support staff to fill any gaps and ensure that your day-to-day operations are not affected by any employees’ absences.
  • Black-Out Dates and Company-Wide Days Off – If your business experiences a higher volume of work during certain times of the year, it’s important not to lose too many members of your team during that time. To ensure that you are fully staffed when you most need to be, consider creating some black-out dates on the calendar where time-off is not permitted unless under special circumstances. In addition to your black-out dates, include a list of company-wide days off in observance of the holidays on which you don’t plan to operate. Presenting your team with a list of these dates in advance reduces the volume of questions you’ll have to answer.
  • Rollover Time – If you offer paid time off to your employees, decide if you will allow that time to rollover from year to year and accumulate, or if it expires by the end of the year in which it was earned. Keep in mind, if your PTO rolls over from year to year, you could be faced with employees saving their hours and requesting much larger periods of time off.
  • Seniority vs. First Come First Served – Do you plan to reward seniority with first choice of vacation time, or will you honor the first requests you receive? Whatever your choice, make sure it is clearly communicated in your company’s policy to eliminate confusion about the process. In either scenario, it’s also important to put a cap on the number of employees that can take vacation time simultaneously, which will help to ensure that time off requests are submitted in advance.

Whatever policies you choose to implement for your team, make sure that each is clearly communicated to all of your employees, both in written form and verbally. Review the information in advance of your busy seasons to ensure that all employees are aware of their options and restrictions for vacation time.

Be Consistent, but Find Room for Flexibility

While it’s important to follow your company’s policy consistently to ensure that your employees feel they are treated fairly, and no one is given preferential treatment, it’s also important to allow room for some flexibility as you manage time off requests. You will encounter special circumstances, and the way you handle those circumstances will have a big impact on the company culture. While you can’t honor every request, simply for the fact that your business can’t function without structure and clear policies, you can create flexibility within your company policy by anticipating the unexpected.

Whether it’s by reaching a compromise to allow some employees to work remotely while they are out of the office, or by simply creating a rotating schedule that guarantees employees will equally share the workload around busy times, creating openings for compromise and flexibility will help your team feel that their time is valued.

Most importantly, when managing vacation requests, keep the lines of communication open. Communicate the policies and guidelines well in advance of the request deadlines so that your employees have time to make plans. By creating, communicating and enforcing a consistent policy, you’ll eliminate a lot of the stress that comes with time off requests, allowing you to focus on more important matters and keep the company moving forward.

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