5 rules for dealing with requests for time off work

Staff management has its headaches, and dealing with competing requests for time off work is certainly one of them. How can you make sure your business is staffed properly at all times while accommodating your team members’ ad hoc leave requests?

It all starts with putting a fair and transparent process in place that applies equally to all concerned. By establishing clear rules for everyone in your business to follow, rather than flying by the seat of your pants, you are sending a strong signal that demonstrates your respect for your staff and their time. Use your Employee Handbook to clearly define your company’s rules, so that there are no misunderstandings.

On a day-to-day basis, the benefit of creating a proper system for dealing with leave requests is that you’ll be able to streamline your HR management, your work scheduling and shift planning, especially if you’re using powerful employee scheduling software to keep on top of all your tasks.

1. Decide how should leave requests be submitted

The procedure for submitting a request for holiday should be the same for all employees. Decide on a process you’re happy with and implement it across the board. This is particularly important if your staff have been used to a more ‘laissez faire’ approach in the past. Make sure everyone knows when the new policy is coming into force and how to use the new system, and don’t be tempted to make any exceptions.

It cannot be stressed enough that the whole point of the exercise is to make your management task easier and fairer, for the benefit of the business as a whole. There are no right or wrong solutions – whether you use paper holiday slips, email requests or cloud based HR software – it’s what works for you that counts. As long as the process isn’t overly difficult for your staff to follow, it should be fine.

2. Block out times when holiday may not be taken

If your peak business times are in the summer, say, June, July and August, your operations may be seriously jeopardised by anyone being off work during those 3 months. Instead of struggling to find cover while accommodating people’s summer holiday requests, it is entirely reasonable to make it a policy that no leave may be taken during that time.

The same applies to other special occasions or specific dates when you know you’re going to need all hands on deck. It could be Wimbledon fortnight, the run up to Christmas or Mothering Sunday – the requirements will be different for every business. Be sure to make it explicit in your Employee Handbook if there are particular days, weeks or months when staff will not be allowed to take time off work, so that everyone is aware.

3. Specify when employees can or must take time off work

If there are times when time off work is not permitted, by the same token you should also state explicitly when leave can be taken. For instance, if June, July and August are ‘no go’, put it in writing that January to May and September to November are available for taking leave. This avoids any confusion and makes it easier for everyone to plan their own personal lives.

Finally, if there are times during the year when your office is closed, for example between Christmas and New Year, you could include a clause in the Employee Handbook that makes annual leave mandatory during that time.

4. Determine how long in advance leave requests must be made

The notice period given will depend on your business’ advance planning requirements for scheduling work. For some companies, a rolling 2 weeks’ notice may suffice to accommodate requests for leave, others will need to know 3 months in advance before any holiday can be taken. Choose the period that works for your particular operational needs, while bearing in mind the reasonable needs of your staff.

You could also set a deadline after which no more time off requests will be accepted. If you working on your Christmas rota, for example, you may want to set a cut-off date at the beginning of November, so that you can finalise your seasonal schedule without any staffing bottlenecks. For monthly work planning, the deadline for leave requests could be specified as the 1st of the previous month.

5. Tailor the process to fit the needs of your business

Every company is different and only you know the requirements that need to be met for optimal operational efficiency. However you define your process of dealing with requests for absence, it needs to be flexible enough to take account of what your business needs.

Whether it’s blocking out peak business times or mandatory holiday shutdowns, upper limits on how many days off can be taken at any one time or deadlines by which requests must be submitted, there are a myriad of variations that you can build into your time-off policy to make sure it works for you.

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