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Fair Strategies for Managing Time Off Requests

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March is often busy when it comes to applying for leave - especially for employees with families, as most schools have spring break then. The holiday season and summer break can also be an overwhelming time for HR departments and hiring managers of all kinds. Not to mention that the post-Covid travel wave is really big. However, the reality is that it is often not possible to grant vacation to everyone who applies for a specific period of time.

While you can't always please everyone, knowing how to handle requests for time off fairly during peak vacation times can make all the difference. Although "fair" may seem to be a subjective term, a good place to start is to ensure that the process and reasons for accepting or rejecting requests for waivers are clearly outlined in your guidelines for requesting waivers. Before finalizing your policies, you should also familiarize yourself with the applicable exemption laws in your region, state or province.

Finally, it should go without saying that all employees must be informed of the policy and have easy access to it!

Options for processing requests for exemption

Now that you've committed to clear guidelines, what exactly are the best methods for treating exemption requests fairly? Your approach may vary depending on your company's needs at different times of the year or an individual employee's extenuating circumstances.

The following application processing methods can, with certain caveats, be used individually or in combination depending on the needs of your business. Here too, you should keep everything in writing.

1.First come, first served

This approach is common, self-explanatory, and can help fend off last-minute requests for time off. But while a first-come, first-served policy can make it easier to manage time off during off-peak times of the year, it still has its pitfalls, especially during busy times.

For example, it can happen that the same employees are always the first to jump in and grab the coveted vacation days. Whatever the reasons, this can be unfair to other employees and can easily lead to resentment and poor morale - both of which are bad for business.


The other common method for managing time off requests is seniority. This approach can improve company culture by motivating employees to stay longer and rewarding those who remain loyal to your company the longest. However, it is important that you know your target audience.

Today's job market isn't what it used to be - it's rare for an employee of this generation to stay in the same job until retirement. Unless your company continues to offer you compelling growth opportunities. For Millennials - who are already more inclined to change jobs every few years - the seniority approach may simply emphasize favoritism "by default", which could be a reason for them to move sooner.

3.Reward system

While the goal should never be to discourage employees from requesting vacation, there is another way to handle vacation requests in a given scenario: a reward system. You can give preferential release to employees who have done excellent work and have not requested time off recently. You might consider giving these employees their first-choice vacation to prevent burnout before it happens.

4.Lottery system

To give everyone a fair chance of getting the days off they want, consider introducing a lottery system for the most popular vacation days. Putting the names in a literal hat and drawing them together, in person if possible, can even serve to develop the team at the same time. The idea is to randomly draw as many names of employees as you can afford to miss on that day(s).

5.Rotation system

Employee complaints about favoritism stem in part from the way you handle your time off requests. To be more fair, you could introduce a roster (rotation system). For example, employees could take turns getting time off on popular holidays like Christmas Eve.

You can organize this in different ways, but the basis is simple: when planning vacation, each employee submits his request in turn. The order is then changed in the following period. To be extra fair, ask your co-workers for suggestions on how to change the order. You could reverse the order, put the first five employees at the end, or randomize them - whatever works best. The overall goal is to give all employees an equal opportunity to make their first choice over time.


Regardless of how you approach exemption requests, establishing a firm deadline for submitting requests is an undeniably smart move. While flexibility is important for your relationships with employees, it's equally important to keep your company's needs in mind - you want to avoid being short-staffed, especially during peak seasons.

However, it is crucial that you let your employees know any deadlines in advance. Setting a deadline for requesting time off can easily be combined with a first-come, first-served approach.

Be transparent with your employees

Regardless of which method(s) you choose to manage your vacation requests, transparency is essential. Using a shared calendar is a great way to promote transparency in the workplace and can help prevent vacation or holiday conflicts. You can hang the calendar in a common area or make it available online - the main thing is that it is easily accessible to all employees. This allows your employees to check availability before blocking the appointments for their requests.

IceHrm time off management software offers a very convenient (and modern!) shared vacation calendar that is compatible with Outlook, Apple and Google Calendar. You can break free from the shackles of email, spreadsheets and paper calendars.

Employees can access their account balance at any time, applications are easily sent and approved, and extensions, calculations and notifications for pending applications can be automated. It also allows you to create custom exemption types and policies tailored to your company's needs.

For streamlined time-off management, consider IceHrm software. Stay fair, transparent, and efficient in handling employee requests.

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