Managing PTO

5 Reasons Managing Time Off is Harder Than It Should Be

Your human resources responsibilities are many. Not only do you oversee hiring and training new employees, but you’re also responsible for managing employee requests for vacation, and those always seem to come in at the worst times.

Balancing your HR tasks certainly isn’t easy, but you may be making it harder than necessary. Here are five reasons you might be spending more time managing time off than you need to be.

1. You don’t have a well-defined request procedure

Are some employees going to their supervisors to ask for the time off, while others come to you? This is a recipe for confusion and extra work. And may be a tell-tale sign that your procedure isn’t clearly defined.

If you have no set procedure, it’s a little unfair to get frustrated when your employees don’t do things the way you want them to. Revisit your policy to be sure it’s well defined. If not, invest the time to clearly explain the time off request procedure and the point of contact for those requests. Then communicate, communicate, communicate the procedure and expectations to your staff. This may go without saying, but also be sure to make it as easy as possible for everyone, both you and your employees.

How to make it work: Create a step-by-step list of what an employee must do to put in a time off request. If it involves software or special forms, make sure they have access to whatever they need and know how to use it. Also, spell out any expectations about advance notice. How far out do they need to make a request for you to consider it? Having that in print means you reserve the right to reject last-minute and nonconforming requests.

2. Employees don’t make it easy for you

If Frank in Accounting is making you feel guilty about how badly he needs a vacation, or Liza in Marketing is mad because you denied her request, you need to remember that this is business, not personal. You have to represent the best interests of your employer and be fair and consistent in how you do so.

If people are frustrated, it may be due to a lack of understanding. Are employees requesting leave they are not eligible to take? This is a clear sign that more transparency is needed. If it’s March, and Amy in Sales wants to put in a request for Thanksgiving vacation, is she able to figure out if she’ll have accrued enough time off by then?

If your policy is clear and has been communicated, you may want to revisit it with fresh eyes. Perhaps it’s more cumbersome than it needs to be or it is difficult for certain employees to follow. Surveying your employees to gauge their understanding of the policy is one way to determine its effectiveness. You can also ask for their input on how to make it easier. Be sure to over-communicate the expectations to folks who need a gentle reminder.

How to make it work: Make it clear that you are professional in dealing with vacation requests, and that you don’t play favorites. You follow the policy, and you expect employees to as well. And if you suspect the problem may lie with the policy itself, revisit it. Consider surveying employees or even creating a committee to evaluate the policy and suggest improvements that will make it easy for everyone to adhere to.

3. You don’t have a plan for unplanned absences

You approved John’s request to take two weeks off, but now Beth is out with the flu and unsure when she’ll be back in. The manager in that department is upset because he’s short-staffed, and he’s looking to you to help him find the manpower he needs. If you’ve been in this type of situation, you know how stressful unplanned absences can be, not to mention the negative impact they have on productivity – and your mood.

No matter how good you are at balancing advance requests, you’ll still have unplanned absences from time to time. Cross-training employees or having a temp agency on hand are two ways you can combat this. Both have their place, but cross-training also has several advantages. First, it’s great for employees because it provides a growth opportunity, allows them to learn new skills and can increase their understanding of how the company operates. Managers also benefit, because it gives them more flexibility to manage and assign resources as needed.

How to make it work: Engage the cooperation of department managers to identify critical roles and positions that would benefit from a backup. You can create a formal cross-training program or share responsibility with your employees to self-select the roles they’d most like to receive cross-training on. You might still enlist a temp agency as well. Begin by interviewing a few firms to find a good fit for your needs, then stay in touch so you have their team at the ready should you need it.

4. Some employees never take a vacation

The cost of carrying time off balances affects your company negatively and may be a larger liability than you realize. According to a 2014 study, the average liability to U.S. public companies for accrued but unused PTO is $1,898 per employee. And it isn’t just a big company problem. Smaller companies under 100 employees are carrying over an average of 4-5 days of accrued vacation time from year to year for their employees, too.

Beyond the financial impact, there’s an emotional and psychological toll associated with unused time off. Research strongly suggests that employees who take regular time off will experience less job stress and burnout and may even reduce their risk of heart attacks by 50% for men and 30% for women.

How to make it work: It’s important to demonstrate your commitment to work/life balance and encourage your employees to use their time off benefits. Ask employees about their vacation plans, and express interest in their well being. If they seem stressed, suggest they take a few days off. And if that still doesn’t work, you might consider implementing a “use it or lose it” PTO policy (check your state laws to be sure you can). Even your biggest workaholics will be more likely to take a vacation if they risk losing the time off they’ve earned.

5. You’re using archaic techniques

If you’re still relying on spreadsheets or paper forms to manage time off, you’re definitely making more work for yourself than you need to. These systems may have been the norm years ago, but nowadays you can rely on HR software, like BizRun, to streamline the request and approval process, making it so, so simple for you.

If the calculation of accrued leave rests solely on your shoulders and employees aren’t easily able to see for themselves what leave they’re eligible to take, this can create a bottleneck in your process and put too much burden on you.

Imagine how much time you’d save if employees could enter their own time off requests. If they could make sure they have enough time accrued to be eligible for the time they want to take. And if they could even plan around holidays and their coworkers’ vacation schedules – all by themselves. It’s possible and easier than you may think.

How to make it work: Reiterate your time off policy and your expectations with employees. Set up your software solution and schedule training for your staff. Require that all requests come in through the system so you can keep them organized and avoid errors. Even the most resistant employees will see the benefits of the automated system when they can plan and manage their time off and get requests approved even faster.

Managing time off doesn’t have to be so hard. First, review your time off request procedures. Survey your employees to be sure that the request process is understood by and workable for everyone, and refine or streamline as needed. Then, with a well-defined policy in place, the management part is easy.

Just implement a software solution like BizRun that allows for self-service requests, shows time off conflicts, automates the approval process and more. When you automate time off management, you’ll have so much free time you’ll be ready for some time off yourself.

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