BlogBest Practice Tips For Managing Leave Requests

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Published: November 27, 2020

Managing leave requests for employees can be a tricky business. You need to balance everyone’s personal needs with what’s best for the company and trying to get them to line up can sometimes feel like an impossible task. But fear not! We’ve put together a few recommendations to help you to work out some guidelines for managing this.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Legislation

The first thing you’ll need to be aware of is the relevant legislation in your area. This can vary based on location and may differ for different staff, depending on whether they qualify for holiday leave. You’ll need to make sure that you keep up to date with any changes to the legislation and that you manage any leave requests in line with it to protect both yourself and your team. Sure, it’s a nuisance, but it’s not as bad as getting it wrong.

Policies

The single most important thing you can do to make managing leave requests easier is to set out a clear policy for your team to follow. If employees know where they stand they should – theoretically, anyway – only make reasonable requests. You’ll find that the policy makes a lot of your decisions for you, too, helping to make your life easier. Make sure that your policy includes details like how much notice employees need to give for leave, how many employees from a team can take leave at the same time, and what will happen if employees have leave leftover at the end of the year.

You’ll also need to make sure that all employees and managers are fully aware of the policies and that they’re being enforced consistently across the board; you don’t want team members falling out because the rules don’t seem to apply to everyone. It’s worth making potential employees aware of any restrictive rules (for instance times of the year when they won’t be allowed to take leave) before they join the company. It might be a pain if they decide not to join your team, but not as much of a pain as it would be if they quit when they find out about the rule after you’ve spent time and money training them!

Approving Leave

Having a fair approach to deciding which leave to approve is also key. Using a first-come, first-served policy can work well, making sure that you aren't showing favouritism and that everyone gets a fair shot at booking leave. Be careful if particular times of year are in high demand, though; if one employee always books your busiest times off way in advance then your team are likely to resent it. If certain times of year are particularly popular it might be worth arranging a rota system to make sure that all employees have an equal chance to take leave then.

Approving leave based on either the relevant employees’ seniority or the validity of their reasons are also popular methods, but you’ll need to be very careful with how you apply them. If senior staff always get first dibs on leave you may find it tricky to keep junior staff long term. Making the call on whose leave is the most important is even more fraught; you can easily be accused of favouritism and it requires staff to justify their personal time, which could be problematic if their reasons for taking leave are sensitive.

Encouraging Leave

Okay, this might sound like an odd one but bear with us. While managing leave requests can be tedious it’s just as much of a nuisance to have staff who go too far the other way and don’t take any time off at all. For a start, staff who overwork are likely to burn themselves out, which isn’t exactly good for your long-term planning. You may also find that the employee who hasn’t requested any leave all year will suddenly book four weeks off right before their holiday allowance expires, which is much harder to manage than regular short breaks – not to mention bad for them! Local regulations may also mean that staff are entitled to a minimum number of days off annually. If that's the case, you could incur penalties if you don’t make sure that your team are having enough leave.

Its much easier – and better for your employees – to make sure that they’re taking regular breaks throughout the year instead. Consider making managers responsible for checking in with their team at pre-set intervals to make sure that they know how much leave they have to take, if relevant, and that they’re planning on taking it!

Leave Notice

This should be covered in your leave policy but it’s worth mentioning again here: Having a clear rule on how much notice should be given for leave will make life a lot easier for you and your team. After all, you don’t want to be told that an employee is going on a two week holiday with only two days’ notice!

A general rule of thumb is to ask for the notice period to be at least twice as long as the time being booked – so two weeks notice would be needed ahead of a one week holiday. This will vary depending on your company though, so don’t be afraid to set rules which work better for you; if you set your shifts at the beginning of each month you might want all leave requests in before that. If you plan it a week at a time you might be happy to have a more flexible policy, though.

Bear in mind that the rules should apply to you as well; if you need to ask employees to take leave or to cancel their holiday then you should give them at least the same amount of notice as you’d expect from them. Likewise, if you’re refusing their leave request you should let them know as soon as possible. You don't want them to assume that no news is good news!

Last-Minute Changes

If your leave notice period is lengthy it might help to allow employees to swap shifts amongst themselves. This takes the sting off and saves you from having to decide what to do about urgent last-minute requests. Empowering staff to manage their own time is likely to make them happier as well, and you can always require them to get approval for the swap once it’s been arranged. The only slight hitch with this method is that newer or less confident employees might end up being pushed to take shifts which they don’t want; if your scheduler allows you to keep track of how many hours an employee has actually worked each month, or who has swapped with who then you should be able to easily monitor this, though.

Busy & Quiet Periods

If you have times of the year when you’re crazy busy, or periods when you traditionally close, then it might be worth building them into your leave policy. Making it clear to employees from the off that there are set periods which they won’t be able to book leave for, or warning them that they’ll be required to keep back some of their leave to cover your temporary closure, will help to prevent any misunderstandings. It will also save you from having to have the same argument half a dozen times, which you’ll probably appreciate. If you use software for managing leave requests and shift scheduling you may be able to log any busy or closed periods on behalf of your team; this will also help them to keep track of how many days of leave they have left to take.

Pay Rates

One of the most important factors – from your employees’ perspective, at least – will be how much you’ll pay for any time taken as leave. Again, the legislation for this is likely to vary depending on where you’re based, so it’s worth double-checking. Under-paying staff for leave can end up being costly when you realise so it’s far better to get it right. Your team will thank you for it too! Keeping close track of an employee’s regular hours and pay can help here if you need to start calculating different pay rates for holidays.

If staff won’t be paid for leave then you should make them aware of that, too. Trust us, any awkwardness is nothing to having to explain to an employee that they won’t be paid after they’ve taken four weeks off.

Software Solutions

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that at Shiftie we believe one of the best tactics for managing leave requests is to find software which handles it for you. That doesn’t have to be us necessarily (although, obviously, we’d love it if it were) but good shift and leave management software will save you a lot of time – and therefore money – as well as making life easier for your employees. Trust us, it’s well worth looking at.

Ideally, the software will let your team see who else has booked time off, as well as any upcoming events or periods when they can’t take holiday. It should also show them how many days of leave they have left to take, helping to make sure that the only leave requests you receive are ones which you can immediately approve. Just saying.

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