Being in the position of approving vacation requests can feel a bit like being in the business of granting wishes. Your employees dream of taking time off, and you want to grant their request. But so often, they don’t make it easy.
As a result, dealing with time off requests likely isn’t your favorite part of your job.
Don’t you wish they’d just follow some basic steps? If they could wave their magic wands, here’s what most HR managers wish their employees would do BEFORE submitting their vacation requests.
1. Follow the company policy
There’s a reason you put so much effort into developing your time off policy: so employees would actually adhere to it! Wouldn’t it be great if they actually checked it before submitting a vacation request that is clearly in conflict? When you have a formal and well-defined policy, then you have every right to get frustrated by those who don’t follow it. You also have a clear-cut explanation if you’re forced to reject a request.
And if you don’t have a policy yet? We don’t mean to be overly harsh, but perhaps you’ve heard the saying that you get exactly what you tolerate. If you haven’t yet created a policy, or if it could use some more detail, putting the time into it now will save you a lot of time and headaches down the road. Plus, once you’ve done it and communicated it to your employees, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done your part.
2. Pay attention to your team’s vacation schedule
It seems so easy, but too often employees fail to check with their colleagues before planning their own time off. Is expecting them to do so unrealistic? Not if you set proper expectations up front and state them in that time off policy we were just talking about. If you haven’t already incorporated this type of language, you might require employees to check with their managers and teammates to ensure there are no conflicts before requesting time off.
Doing so can be easy if you use PTO tracking software with employee self-service options. Employees can see existing time off conflicts with team members before they make requests, saving you or a manager from having to do this manually. Train and require everyone to use the system when requesting time off, and you can make this problem a thing of the past.
3. Avoid typically busy and peak times
To expand on the previous thought, getting your employees to consider the cycle of your business before planning time off would make your job so much easier. It can be challenging for HR to have visibility into all work deadlines, so rely on managers and key personnel to help train employees to think about these times of year before they put in vacation time requests.
Typically important times of the year include the end of each quarter, as well as the end of the year. For salespeople, the end of each month may be the worst possible time to take time off, while for accounting personnel, it may be the beginning of each month. Of course, everyone wants to take time off at the holidays, so consider offering incentives to employees willing to work through this time – and make your own holidays a little brighter.
4. Make requests well in advance
Nothing throws a wrench into your well-oiled human resources machine quite like a last-minute vacation request. If you don’t have a policy against this, there’s little you can do about it except grumble. And yet, a last-minute request means you have to stop everything you’re working on to process it, plus it often leaves others in a lurch, too.
Short of hoping your employees can read your mind and get the message, you can build advance notice for requests into your time off policy. If someone makes a request too late, point to the policy and say “sorry, Charlie.” You might consider instituting this policy around popular times of year (like the holidays and spring break) if nothing else.
5. Take more frequent, shorter vacations
More vacation requests may seem counterintuitive from an HR manager’s perspective. I mean, more frequent vacations means more paperwork and time off approvals, right? But the flipside is dealing with the challenges that come along with having an employee absent for weeks, instead of just a few days. You can’t really discourage your employees from taking that three-week Europe trip, but you can encourage them to take more frequent breaks and time off. Doing so will position your company as valuing your employees’ work-life balance. Plus research shows that taking time off more often can result in better work and make everyone a little happier.
6. Make a plan for how your work will get done while you’re out
Naturally, one of your top concerns is ensuring that, in an employee’s absence, productivity and customer service aren’t affected. Wouldn’t it put your mind at ease if every employee’s vacation request also included a plan for how work and responsibilities would be handled during the absence? It’s not out of the realm of reality, and you can enlist help from managers to make it so. It could be as simple as requiring requestors to identify a backup person to handle important or urgent requests during the employee’s absence or a more detailed agreement with a coworker who is willing to take over responsibilities. It’s one less thing for you to stress over, and it would make approving requests a whole lot easier.
7. Have a Plan B
Employees may mistakenly assume that their time off request will be approved without giving it much thought. But there are no guarantees that a particular vacation request will be approved, and this needs to be clearly communicated. Even so, you don’t want to be in the unenviable position of denying a request, leaving the employee to scrap his plans and start over. It’s easier for both of you if he comes to you before he starts making concrete plans and also with alternative dates in mind. That way, if one is out of the question, you can hopefully say yes to the other.
8. Skip the guilt tactics
If you have to listen to one more sob story about how it’s an employee’s grandmother’s 99th birthday, and how she just has to be there for it, you may explode. Hey, if it was up to you, you’d give everyone vacation time whenever they wanted. But you have an obligation to the company, and your decisions to approve or reject requests aren’t personal. So you could do without the guilt that some employees try to lay on you, am I right?
9. Be nice with your request
Do some of your staff seem to think it’s called a “vacation demand,” not a “vacation request?” They act entitled to having the time off that they want and give little thought to how it will affect the rest of their team. It’s not to much to ask to expect some courtesy and kindness. A “please” and “thank you” go a long way.
Assuming you’re a fair and decent person, you want to encourage your employees to take the time off they’ve earned. And we both know you are. So why not turn this wish list into something more actionable? Review it against your current policy and make any changes necessary to minimize or eliminate the issues you struggle with most. Then help your employees help you by clearly communicating your policy. Share with them how they can best position their request so both your wishes and theirs can come true.