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Fairly Managing Vacation Requests: A Brief HR Guide

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The first few months of the year aren't exactly the most inspiring, are they? Most of us have long since forgotten our New Year's resolutions (go to the gym three times a week, who wants to?), it's the dead of winter and the first green shoots of spring are still weeks away.

So it's perhaps no surprise that the start of the year is traditionally the time when we all think about submitting a vacation request and jetting off to sunnier climes. But not everything is rosy in the office when the vacation requests start pouring in...

Annual leave as a nuisance?

Annual leave is one thing that virtually all employees truly value, but it can also be the biggest cause of anger in the workplace. In 2013, surveyed 500 employees about their vacation entitlements and found that 1 in 20 employees had strategically booked their vacation just to annoy a colleague.

Additionally, 13% of workers said they never share their vacation plans because they fear their colleagues will book the same appointment. Finally, 1 in 10 office workers said booking vacation appointments is the biggest cause of conflict in their company.

Fast forward to 2023, and the topic of annual leave is more relevant than ever. As COVID-imposed restrictions have faded and much of the world has reopened to visitors, people are rushing to book those precious vacations they've so dearly missed.

All of this can create a perfect storm of holiday-related conflicts that are difficult for managers to manage. With so many of us wanting to take time off, plus having to carry over holiday from last year, it may not be possible to please everyone when it comes to approving holiday requests; this could lead to disputes and disharmony among employees.

Fair handling of vacation requests: important measures for the human resources department

What can you as an HR manager do to help your company handle vacation requests fairly this year while ensuring there are enough employees to keep the company running?

Establish a clear annual leave policy

First and foremost, make sure all employees are clear about the correct process for booking annual leave. If everyone is well informed about how much vacation they are entitled to and knows when it cannot or must not be taken (e.g. during peak periods or company closures), problems are less likely to arise.

Let your employees know if you have rules about how many people on a team can have time off at the same time, if there are certain employees whose vacations can't conflict, or if some employees have priority over others. If all employees are aware of the situation in advance, they will be more likely to accept it if they cannot take their vacation exactly when they want.

Make sure your annual leave policies are easily accessible - ideally in your HR system - so everyone knows where to find them, and that there is a clear process for approving and rejecting leave requests.

Plan ahead of time

Managing annual leave is a task that often causes great concern for managers. Juggling conflicting requests while ensuring there are enough hands on deck can be a logistical nightmare. Luckily, good HR software can make this task much easier.

The most advanced absence management software solutions provide real-time calendar and diary views, allowing managers to see exactly who is absent and when, not only within their own team but also in other departments as needed.

A system with up-to-the-second calendars for teams and colleagues makes it easier for managers to spot emerging bottlenecks and easier for employees to check when colleagues are away (or booked for other activities). This means they can plan their absence to minimize the negative impact on the company and reduce the risk of discord between employees.

HR systems can also make it easier for managers to keep track of vacation balances so they can ensure team members don't leave their annual entitlement until the last minute.

Encourage your employees to book early

If you know that all employees' vacation entitlements are tight, you should encourage employees to submit their requests early. There is no point in burying your head in the sand and hoping that no one requests vacation during the busiest times, especially in the summer or on holidays. If everyone knows to plan ahead, they can't complain if their desired date is already taken.

Your employees should also be aware that there is no guarantee that their vacation requests will always be granted. Once an employee has submitted a vacation request, it is important that you have an HR system in place that makes it easy for the manager to contact them immediately so they know where they stand and confirm the bookings or can reschedule if necessary. This leads us to another point...

Provide a clear reason for rejections

If a vacation request is rejected, managers should know that they must clearly explain their decision in order to ensure compliance with the policy.

Most people will understand that not everyone can have time off at the same time and that there must be enough employees available to meet customer requests or fulfill orders. Don't expect employees to fight among themselves over vacation dates. Not only is this incredibly unfair, but it will also create tension and bad feelings within your teams and potentially difficult conversations that you will have to have.

Be tough but fair

When disputes arise, make sure you handle them fairly and treat all employees equally. It can be very easy to become resentful if you feel that colleagues - for example those with children - are being favored during the school holidays.

Finally, remind your managers that they are only human! There will always be exceptional circumstances, e.g. if an employee has to travel abroad for a wedding with their immediate family or if they have the chance to go on the trip of a lifetime.

Make sure employees see that you understand that their vacation is important to them, and try to work with managers to reschedule work or find additional cover to fill the gap. Even if you end up having to decline, your co-workers will appreciate that you tried to help them.

In conclusion, managing vacation requests fairly is crucial for maintaining harmony in the workplace. With clear policies, proactive planning, and transparent communication, IceHrm can navigate holiday conflicts effectively.

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