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6 Ways to Navigate Time-Off Requests

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    Employers are struggling with hiring the right team of people now more than ever, and the last thing they need is their current employees burning out and quitting. 

    Fine-tuning your hiring process and offering benefits helps attract people to apply for your open positions. And according to Zippia, 63% of employees said they’d turn down a job offer if it didn’t include paid time off (PTO) options.  

    There are several proven benefits of taking days off for both employees and their employers. It increases engagement, prevents burnout, and allows you to invest time in what you love.  

    However, managers have challenges when it comes to PTO. Sometimes, they have to say “no” because their business can’t move forward with several coworkers absent. 

    So what happens when your seasoned employee who has worked several shifts in a row wants to take a long weekend for a camping trip? You know it’s going to be busy, but he deserves a little R&R. 

    How can you manage these time-off requests without causing tension between your employees or leaving yourself short-staffed and stressed out? 

    In this article, we will explore how to outline this process, approach it fairly, and create an understanding amongst your team. By the end of this article, you’ll feel more confident and prepared to handle those well-deserved time off requests.   

    Before we jump in, let’s review three examples to keep in mind as you read: 

    1. Your new employee wants to spend time with her mother, who is recovering from an unplanned surgery.
    2. One of your hardest workers won tickets to his favorite band on Friday night.
    3. Your employee who’s been here ten years wants to take a well-deserved family vacation. 

    This leaves you in an unenviable position because they are all reasonable requests. But it’s a busy season and losing three key players is not an option. 

    How can you prevent this predicament and avoid disgruntled employees? 

    How to navigate time-off requests 

    There is a better way to manage your team’s leave requests than consulting the Magic Eight Ball or drawing straws, as tempting as that might be in the name of fairness.

    Before you start picking names out of a hat to approve, here are some ideas that might help take the stress out of time-off requests. 

    1. Review your policies during onboarding.

    Make your time-off policy clear when employees onboard to your team. Review the process for requesting time off, how your accrual policies work, and how far in advance an employee needs to request PTO. 

    Outline any “blackout” days that all team members have to be at work, and are not allowed to take time off. (An example of a blackout date is Mother’s Day for  a restaurant, or during tax season for a CPA firm!) 

    As a manager, you will have a greater sense of fairness and fewer headaches if you have clearly communicated your company PTO policy and can point to that policy that your employees agreed to when they started working for you. 

    2. First come, first serve.

    This practice is effective in solving request dilemmas. However, it can be a nerve-wracking process if your team is still submitting PTO requests via paper. Having an HCM platform where employees can submit requests from their portal makes it easier for you and them. 

    If family emergencies and illnesses arise that need to take precedence, offer an extra day of PTO for whoever picks up the shift and changes their plans. 

    This sets an example for future situations and may encourage people to pitch in and help out. 

    3. Call on your reserves.

    Consider having a bank of part-time, seasonal, or former employees (not the ones you fired for poor performance) that you can call on during emergencies. 

    For example, I worked at a vet clinic that employed staff to take care of the animals on the weekend. This gave regular employees a much-needed break after a 60-hour week. 

    4. Set limits.

    A department cannot function properly if a significant number of players are out. Put in writing how many people from a specific team can be out at one time. 

    At Whirks, we can’t afford to lose our entire staff of client success specialists – otherwise, we wouldn’t have anyone to answer clients’ time-sensitive payroll-related questions.  

    5. Switch shifts.

    Allowing your employees to trade shifts with one another is a great way to keep a large percentage of them from being out at one time. 

    The process for finding a replacement should be defined in your employee handbook, and the switch of shifts must be documented in writing and require managerial approval.

    6. Shut it down.

    Some businesses may want to consider company-wide days off or closing the week between Christmas and New Year’s. This may alleviate schedule stressors over the holidays, which are unproductive times for many businesses anyway.

    Technology can make your PTO process easier.

    Using payroll and HR software allows you to go paperless so your employees can submit leave requests from anywhere — and you can approve or deny them.

    A great HCM platform tracks your employees’ accruals in the cloud, allows them to ask for time off directly from employee self-service, and lets managers see a calendar of all PTO requests. The platform can show employee’s how much time they have available for PTO and see your black out calendar. Best of all, appoving PTO in the system as a manager means you don’t have to remember to pay out holiday or PTO hours if you pay them at different rates. Submitting the request in the platform enables you to track that automatically. 

    It also enables your employees to switch shifts with coworkers and get your approval if you offer shift swapping. 

    PTO Policies in action

    Consider what’s best suited for your industry and your business. 

    For example, requiring all hands on deck on certain days of the year makes sense if you own a restaurant. However, you can reward your team with several days off during a slow season or an accrual-based PTO system when they work certain hours during the busy season. If you’re in a field that requires around-the-clock care, you may consider creating a reserve of part-time workers who can pick up shifts and alleviate some of the stress off your full-time caregivers.

    Offering PTO and allowing your hard-working staff a break is an attractive quality at a job. But managing the requests can be stressful for you and create tension in the workplace. 

    If you clearly outline your PTO policies in the employee handbook and review them with your team, you’ve already taken a big step in navigating time-off requests. 

    Remember, the key to successfully navigating your employees’ time off requests is striking a balance between maintaining consistency while allowing room for flexibility. 

    People are going to get sick, and family emergencies will arise. Think about these situations before they happen, plan, and create a culture of understanding in your workplace that will help you get one step better every day.