Managing employee leave requests can be the source of a constant headache, especially during peak holiday season and busy business spells. Get work scheduling wrong and you could find yourself short-staffed, and that could ultimately hurt your business. On the flip side, manage holiday requests unfairly and you could end up with disgruntled staff or worse still, lose valuable members of your team.
Here are some general rules and simple strategies you can put in place to ensure the system of booking and taking leave is operated consistently and fairly. Let’s start by clarifying statutory leave entitlement.
Statutory leave entitlement
Almost all workers have the statutory right to 5.6 weeks’ paid leave each year. That’s 28 days for someone working a 5-day week. Part-timers leave is calculated on a pro-rata basis according to the number of hours they work. An employer can include bank holidays as part of the leave allowance. For those with irregular working hours, the gov.uk website has a useful holiday entitlement calculator.
Staff on a zero-hours contract have the same employment rights as regular workers, so are also entitled to annual leave based on the hours they work. However, they may have breaks in their contract, which will affect rights that accrue over time.
Implement a leave policy and communicate it clearly from the start
It’s really important to create a level playing field and that starts with making the leave policy clear as soon as a new employee starts work. It’s worth reminding existing staff on a fairly regular basis of the company policy about holiday leave too. This is especially important if there are designated times when the business is closed (i.e over Christmas), or times when no leave is allowed. Clarity will avoid disappointment from any misunderstanding.
Many companies operate a ‘first come first serve’ policy for booking annual leave. If that is the case, be sure to watch out for those who aren’t confident enough to ask for leave at the same time as others.
Automate your leave request process
Automating your leave request process means you can block dates where no leave is allowed. You’ll have a convenient record of all leave activity, making it easy to analyse and spot patterns. Requesting leave is easy, as is manager approval. Everyone knows where they are and leave requests can be dealt with on a level-playing field.
Explain in your policy the method for handling conflicting requests
Lay out clearly if there are any priorities, such as seniority, or how long the employee has been with the company. Also, be clear if there is a deadline for leave requests. Explain clearly in the policy how leave clashes will be dealt with. Ask employees to give 2 time-off options for their main summer holiday.
Reward employees who don’t get the leave they want
Consider rewarding your employees who sacrifice leave and work during peak times instead. A reward, such as first dibs on any holiday next month, could act as a sweetener for someone who hasn’t been given priority. Letting your faithful employee leave early on another less busy day is a great way to say thank you for their commitment.
Allow employees to trade shifts/days
Sometimes it pays to let staff sort out their own holiday clashes. For a start it can be empowering. As long as there’s no sign of bullying behaviour, it’s much better for staff to sort out their holiday clash between themselves. It takes you out of the equation and dispels the myth that you have favourites. Shift swapping really can make everyone’s lives easier.
Create a rotating schedule for priority leave requests
If you are constantly short-staffed and approving time off is a persistent problem, you really need to look at your staffing levels. You may also want to consider a rotating schedule for priority leave. It’s easy for those who don’t shout loudest to be left at the back of the queue. Your quiet, diligent staff may not say anything, but resentment about the bubbly staff member always getting Saturdays off will start to grow.
If you are serious about manging leave fairly, you’ll need to track leave requests and look for patterns. If one staff member always gets the Easter school holidays off, you’ll need to be mindful to make other requests at that time a priority next year. Having a software tool to manage leave requests and track patterns will also help you identify problems, such as too many ‘emergency’ days off. It will give you the information you need to nip things in the bud.
Be aware of employees who don’t want time off
It’s easy to pay little attention to those who aren’t rattling your cage about time off. Get towards the end of the leave year, however, and you could have a holiday dispute on your hands. Employees may assume they can take all of their leave late in the year if annual leave policy isn’t clearly communicated. You don’t want disgruntled employees losing leave because they’ve inadvertently not bothered to take it.
Deal with disputes fairly
There will undoubtedly be times when you have to reject a leave request and may even give priority to another member of staff. If there’s a dispute over who gets time off, deal with the situation fairly. Look at history and consider the specific reasons for this particular request. If one person just wants a few days off to decorate, while another needs to travel abroad to attend a funeral, you’ll have to take this into consideration. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) run courses for managers on managing employee holidays and leave.
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