Vacation time is the #2 ranked benefit contributing to employee satisfaction. Yet, surveys consistently show that employees simply don’t take the paid time off that they’re entitled to. A 2016 survey by Skift found that 41% of Americans didn’t take a single day of vacation during 2015 – a shocking result.
The truth that few managers are willing to admit is that they don’t like hearing that their valuable employees are planning vacations. After all, the work still must get done and deadlines still need to be met. Managers often send out subtle hints – sometimes without meaning to – that handling vacation time is not a priority. As a result, employees often end up forfeiting or carrying over their vacation.
It’s a difficult problem. You certainly want to be fair to your entire team but have to balance diverse needs. Some employees are constrained by the timetables of kids in school, another may be getting married while yet others may be planning their dream trip.
Pro-vacation teams work better
Teams that know how to cover for each other and do so willingly are naturally more collaborative. Ultimately, if no individual is a single point of failure, it makes for a much stronger team. After all, you might lose that individual permanently because they take a new job or relocate. When they take time off, you’ll lose them temporarily. Let your team treat it as an opportunity to learn how to work together more effectively, perhaps even get a welcome respite from their regular tasks so they can learn to do something different. It’s a win-win for all.
Here’s a brief guide with five tips for managing time off requests for your employees.
1. Encourage Employees to take time off
It starts at the top. Whether you’re the CEO of the organization or the leader of a small team, it’s important to set the proper tone. If people see that you’re not taking breaks, they get anxious and start thinking that the only way to keep their job or get that promotion is to put in long hours without ever taking a vacation.
Research shows that productivity, motivation and quality are positively impacted by regular breaks from work. As a team leader, foster a culture of taking periodic time off and shut down negative comments like “Lucky you! I wish I wasn’t too busy to take vacation”.
One thing I would strongly discourage: don’t reward employees for not taking time off. Rewards for performance, delivering on time, exceeding client expectations are all fine but never explicitly reward the no-vacation-warrior. It sets the wrong tone and expectation in your team.
Finally, make it clear that you don’t expect people to “be available” while on vacation. It’s insidious and again creates the expectation that work preempts all. Time off should be a break – resist the urge to reply to emails when you’re taking a break yourself. Trust your team to take care of things – after all, that’s why you hired them.
2. Don’t judge how people spend their vacation
Everyone is different – some people just want to go relax at their favorite beach resort while others might find a strenuous Mt. Everest base camp trek to be the most rejuvenating thing in the world. As a manager, it’s not your job to interfere or judge what’s best for employees. Tell them to take the time to rejuvenate themselves and come back refreshed and ready to tackle future challenges.
3. Establish a clear policy and write it down
This is the HR 101 – always have a clearly articulated policy that’s clearly communicated to people so there are no surprises later. It’s less important what precisely is in the policy as long as employees know. Here are a few things to consider but time off policies can vary widely from one organization to another.
- How far in advance can employees request vacation?
- What’s the maximum length of contiguous days off, if any?
- Are there any blackout dates? For example, retail businesses might be particularly busy in the holiday season.
4. Consider making it a team exercise
Sure, you as the leader of the team might have the last word on approval but employees are more likely to step up and be flexible if they know that they’re solving problems jointly as a team. The message should be that you encourage and value breaks from work and that you want everyone to truly unplug while on vacation.
For example, “Let’s sit down and collectively figure out how we can cover for each other so that the person who’s off doesn’t have to monitor email and can genuinely break off from work.” People will feel better knowing that colleagues have their back and are less likely to be resentful when others take a longer bucket list vacation or dream trip.
5. Remove friction: standardize and automate
Work [and life] is already pretty stressful. Vacations are meant for renewal and wellness and you want employees to unplug. The last thing you want is for them to start their vacation on a frustrating note by dealing with a tedious and confusing process for requesting time off and getting it approved.
Worse, you definitely don’t want them wasting time at work. Time off requests usually require formal approval from a manager (even if you’re handling them as a team) and data entry by the HR department. When employees are chasing down managers for signature and HR is manually performing data entry into internal systems, they aren’t spending time on the things you hired them for.
Take the entire process online – use a modern, visual platform like frevvo if you have an existing form and process that you’d like to continue following or if you need to integrate with an existing system. Alternatively, there are tons of apps and services available to process time off requests electronically. When employees know that their vacation plans are confirmed, they’ll be more relaxed and can focus on the things that matter while at work.
6. Don’t forget to take time off yourself
Don’t just pay lip service to the “vacations are important” idea. If you’re promoting and encouraging employees to take breaks but neglecting to take time off yourself, you’re probably having the opposite effect.
People are more likely to feel that they can only get ahead by working harder and being in the office more. Don’t just support work-life balance for your staff; live it. You’ll be happier, your family will thank you and your staff will be better off knowing that you truly mean what you say.
Digitize using templates
Now that you know how to handle time off requests within your team, check out these free templates that you can easily try out and customize to create the perfect online time off request form for your employees.
This time off request form is dynamic and routes automatically to the right person for approvals
This is a very common time off request process with a dynamic e-form that validates fields and pre-fills data. After it’s signed electronically, it routes to the manager for approval and then on to HR for processing.
There’s no need for any manual printing, signing or scanning for signatures. The employee doesn’t have to email it manually, the form is guaranteed to have valid data in all required fields and the manager is automatically notified – avoiding errors, delays and unnecessary frustration. After the manager has approved, it’s forwarded to the HR department for processing. Often, it can also be integrated with your internal HR system and calendar so that the vacation is recorded properly and colleagues are kept informed.
Finally, when completed, the workflow automatically emails a PDF acknowledgement to the employee so they know that the vacation was approved and processed.
This Leave Request uses a Google Sheet to reduce typing
This leave request template connects to a Google Sheet. It has a dynamic pick list, pulls available vacation days dynamically from the sheet and validates them. The user can also sign electronically.
Many K-12 schools, Universities and other organizations rely on Google Docs for a multitude of uses. You can also integrate a Google Sheet with a frevvo form or process for dynamic behavior. The example above initializes a pick list with valid users. This can also use the currently logged-in user’s information. It then pulls available sick, annual and floating PTO days and dynamically initializes pick lists so the user cannot make a mistake. If there are no available days of a particular kind, that pick list is disabled. As before, an e-signature ensures that there is no printing required and the form can automatically be used on mobile devices.
It’s easy to learn more about how you too can easily standardize and automate your own vacation request and other day-to-day forms and processes. Click below to schedule a free demo. Then, go enjoy your break from the daily grind.