7 ways leaders can more effectively manage annual leave requests

Airport Young female passenger using smartphone and laptop sitting in terminal hall while waiting for her flight

It’s easy to overlook your company’s annual leave allowance. With important pitches and big sales meetings in the calendar, the thought of making sure the new guy in payroll has taken an adequate amount of holiday can seem rather insignificant.

But, overlook annual leave at your peril. Remember when Ryanair had to cancel hundreds of flights because they’d “messed up” pilot’s holidays? They sure do; that personnel error led to hundreds of flights being cancelled, and huge losses for the company.

Holiday management can be a logistical nightmare, but with the right processes in place, it can all but take care of itself. What’s more, an effective holiday management plan can lead to happier employees, less disruption and a less stressed management team.

Take a look at our top tips for making sure the holiday season goes by without a hitch.

1. Create a bullet-proof annual leave policy

A clear annual leave policy that can be easily accessed by staff should be the first step towards an effective annual leave strategy. By outlining what is permissible and making sure staff and management are all aligned, employees are more likely to adhere to the best-practice annual leave rules, e.g. spread their time off across the year.

Consider what will work best for your business. If the school summer holidays are your busiest period, for example, it would be an idea to restrict the amount of leave allowed during this period. While it is, of course, a legal requirement to give staff the minimum leave entitlement of 28 days per year (20 days plus 8 Bank Holidays), you are within your rights to refuse leave at certain times in the year if it would have an adverse effect on the business.

Consider how many staff can be on leave at any one time, whether their allowance goes up with longer service (a great annual leave policy can play a factor in staff retention), and what allowances you’ll allow part-time staff. Once your policy is in place, share it with staff, ensure it is easily accessible on a shared drive and make it part of the onboarding process.

2. Make leave visible

It’s not uncommon for managers and HR departments to squirrel away annual leave trackers, making them secretive, closed documents that only line managers can access – but this isn’t wise.

By making leave visible so that all staff can see who is off and when, staff are less likely to book non-refundable flights without checking that they can get time off first! You could do this via monthly emails but for full transparency, it’s a great idea to invest in a holiday management system. There are a number of cloud-based HR tools that can help. Do your research and work out which HR management system is best for you.

3. Streamline your system

How simple is it for your staff to apply for annual leave? Do they have to request a form, fill it in, hand it to a senior staff member and wait for a response? A common reason that staff wait until the end of the year and then use their leave in one go is because the process to request a single day off is too complicated and time-consuming. Set up or streamline your existing system into something that’s simple and easy to use. You could make request forms available online so they don’t have to be obtained from HR or, alternatively, use rota-planning software that allows staff to send requests directly to their manager through the app.

Whichever option you go for, be transparent about the process and make sure all staff are aware of it.

4. Start your annual leave policy in the autumn

It’s fairly common for employees to lose track of their annual leave and then attempt to take what’s left at the end of the year. If this coincides with a busy pre-Christmas period when half of your office are away, then it could leave you stuck.

Aim to start your annual leave policy in the autumn. Let’s face it, you’ll probably still deal with multiple requests for time off over Christmas, but at least it won’t coincide with staff desperately trying to use up the last of their holiday allowance. The added bonus with starting your annual leave in September is that Christmas leave will already be on people’s minds, so they’re likely to book in advance.

5. Set half-year deadlines

It’s never a good idea to have lots of staff members trying to use up their annual leave in one go. By setting leave request deadlines throughout the year, you can avoid the worst of it. Let staff know that by the middle of the year, they will be expected to have taken at least a third of their annual leave, for example, and set reminders to inform those who haven’t taken enough.

6. Create a pool of freelancers

Your in-house staff who are on the ground and dealing with the day-to-day operations are invaluable to your business, but it could be a good idea to cultivate a team of freelancers too. Of course, you can use recruitment agencies when you’re short on staff, but having a dedicated team who you know will perform the tasks well, will be invaluable at busy annual leave periods.

A shout-out on LinkedIn will usually yield a crop of professionals who would be happy to work on a short-term, freelance or contract basis. You can call on them for particularly busy periods or unexpected sick leave too.

7. Let employees work remotely

In this day and age, the virtual office means that for many businesses, staff can work anywhere. If there’s a period where you need staff but everyone wants time off (the period between Christmas and New Year for example), consider allowing remote work. Everyone has a laptop, phone and WIFI connection and virtual offices such as Slack, Asana and Basecamp mean that everyone can stay connected without the need for constant calls and emails.

Similarly, co-authoring services such as Google Drive and OneDrive mean staff can collaborate almost as effectively as if they were in the office. When you make remote work an option, you’ll be surprised at how many staff suddenly don’t need 27th, 28th and 29th of December off after all!

Don’t let Annual Leave become a headache for your company, with the right processes in place and a little forward planning, the act of effectively managing annual leave requests can become as easy 1, 2, 3.

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