How to Manage Vacation Leave Fairly and Efficiently

balancing holiday vacation requests

It’s the season almost every employee looks forward to, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Many want to request vacation leave to visit the family or spend time with kids on winter break. Unfortunately, not all your employees can take off at the same time.

As a manager, you may need to handle a high volume of time off requests and determine who can take off and who can’t. So how do you handle holiday requests fairly and efficiently?

In a nutshell: set a policy and apply it fairly, have a system to stay organized, and call for backup when you need it.

Set a Vacation Leave Policy and Apply it Fairly

Having a clear policy is the first step to fairly managing leave requests. The way you manage time off requests depends on your company culture and staffing needs.

Vacation leave requests are typically handled in one or more of the following ways:

  1. First come first served. This type of policy rewards those who plan ahead. Employees who make plans to go home for the holidays or take a big vacation will generally know well ahead of time that they want the time off. This gets them to share their plans earlier so you can be prepared and plan for coverage.
  2. Seniority. This type of policy rewards those who have been at the company longer or those who have a more senior role within the organization. This makes the most sense when you want to ensure the senior marketing specialist who’s put in 7 years with the company doesn’t have to squash her vacation plans for the receptionist who started 2 weeks ago.
  3. Organizational need. This type of policy ensures there is coverage where it is needed. For example, a restaurant is much more likely to need the majority of its staff on Thanksgiving than a bank. Some companies choose to hold blackout periods where no one is allowed to take a vacation in order to ensure adequate coverage.
  4. Manager discretion. This type of policy allows the manager to step in and approve last minute requests, for example in cases of emergency, such as a death in the family. From an HR standpoint, the reason for a leave request generally should not be the deciding factor in approving or denying it. While manager discretion is definitely an option, it’s challenging for it to be perceived as fair.

Whichever policy is best for your company, it’s imperative to remain consistent. If your policy on paper is “first come first served,” you should not accept a last minute vacation request from your star employee if operational coverage is already slim.

To ensure everyone is able to meet their needs as best as possible, encourage employees to put their requests in as soon as they can so there is time to come up with solutions that work for everyone.

Issues to Consider around Vacation Leave Policy

Setting any policy will come with a fair share of questions and exceptions. Here are a few to consider:

  • What if some employees request off for the same time every year? Will that be fair to all your other employees who are forced to work on a holiday, like New Year’s Eve, with no chance of taking off?
  • Could you allow your employees to work from home if they are able to still be productive while not in the office?
  • What happens to employees who didn’t use their allocated vacation days and will need to use it before the end of the year, but there is already an employee who scheduled time off?
  • Is there a maximum amount of time that an employee is allowed to take off at once?
  • Do employees need to use all paid leave before requesting unpaid leave? If so, will unpaid time off be granted if vacation leave is exhausted?

Have a Leave Request System to Stay Organized

Too often, holiday requests can become a disorganized pile of paperwork on your desk. You don’t want to be caught short-staffed the day after Thanksgiving, unsure how many employees were planning to take a long weekend.

A digital solution allows you to ditch the post its, leave slips, and paperwork to efficiently track and approve employee leave. We recommend HR Symphony, a fully integrated and comprehensive HR ecosystem. Not only will you be able to track time off requests, you can reference your employee’s records and process payroll all in one system.

Use Temporary Staffing to Provide Coverage

Pleasing three team members who all want to take off for the holidays can seem like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to be. The good news is, there is a whole network of individuals who are available for temporary work through companies like ALTRES Staffing. You can you use temporary employees for special projects, during busy seasons, and to fill in for people on vacation or leaves of absence.

A common misconception is that temporary workers are unskilled—that couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are a lot of entry-level workers available to help your company with general labor or administrative tasks, ALTRES Staffing does recruit for higher level positions as well. So if half of your HR team is out of the office for the month of December, you can get an experienced individual requiring minimal training in your door to help.

Need some extra coverage? Contact us to learn more about the ways we can support your company during the holiday rush.