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The Essentials of Time Off Management

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Picture this: It's October. Your team starts submitting vacation requests for the holidays and everyone wants the time off. You need to make sure your customers get the support they need, but you also want to make sure your employees get the vacation they deserve.

At the same time, you understand that you need to strike a balance between these desires and expertise. All of your older team members knew that they had to request their vacation well in advance, so you feel like your younger team members are being disadvantaged. Additionally, approving all of these requests means that you will only be staffed with your less experienced employees, who may not be able to handle things themselves by then. What can you do?

This situation would be overwhelming for even the most experienced human resources management professionals. But a solid time-off management process can help you answer the tough questions and guide your decisions.

And the best part? You may even be able to keep all your employees happy (or at least largely happy).

Is that important to you? Read on if...

  • You know you will be overloaded in the coming days and want to give your employees the opportunity to take time off.
  • The holidays are just around the corner and your employees want to take vacation during these dates.
  • There are times when more employees want to take vacation than you can accommodate, and you're not sure how to make those decisions.
  • Your employees need flexibility, but you don't know how to give it to them without jeopardizing your schedule.

First things first: What is time-off management?

Time-off management is - you guessed it - the management of employees' free time.

At first glance it seems to be a simple topic. But if you've ever managed more than a handful of employees, you know how difficult it actually is.

Managing time off is not only a difficult task, it is also surprisingly complex. There are three types of exemptions you will likely need to manage:

  • Pre-approved time off: Your standard time off requests that are scheduled in advance by agents and employees. The most common examples include vacation trips or a long weekend vacation on a Friday.
  • Voluntary time off: This type of time off is determined by business needs. If the HR team determines that downsizing is necessary, management may offer employees to take time off work or take a day off rather than reducing payroll in other ways, such as:  by shortening meetings or training courses.
  • Flexible release: Flexible release is a system in which a certain degree of flexibility is built into the roster. Let's say Fred needs to take the afternoon off but no longer has any paid time. They know his absence will still cause some problems this afternoon, but later in the week it will be even more difficult. So allow Fred to "flex" the afternoon hours and make them up later in the week when you might really need the extra support. Flextime can also be used to shift hours to a time when they are needed more. In this case, you could offer your employees time off when the workload is light and make up the time later when the workload is higher.

Of the three types of exemption, pre-approved exemption is generally the most common. It is generally the easiest to manage as it can be planned well in advance, but there is also the additional difficulty of reconciling it with the staff's accrued vacation days.

Although pre-approved leave is not without its problems, ad hoc requests and flextime are increasingly complex to manage. However, they are also a powerful HR tool when used correctly. Being aware of the different scenarios in which you may need to adjust and manage schedules will help you be prepared for those inevitable emergencies.

3 Benefits of an Effective Time-Off Management Process

There's no getting around it: no one is going to work 52 weeks every year. Giving your team a break is necessary.

However, what is not necessary? A planning process that is a stressful disaster. Or even worse: you just plan ahead and have no plan at all. By introducing a structured system for leisure management, you can make your team (and not least yourself) happier

Here are just a few of the benefits of planning and managing your team's time off more strategically:

  • You can give your employees the opportunity to take the time off they deserve without sacrificing the customer experience. This is crucial for your team's morale because you'll quickly have a group of dissatisfied employees if the answer is "no" or "not now" every time they request time off.
  • They have a fair system in place to determine who can take time off and when. Working out the details also gives you the opportunity to give your employees insight into the process. They will understand why certain decisions are made and will not feel offended if their application has to be rejected.
  • You can increase certainty and security in your team. If you plan far into the future, your employees will no longer have to wait as long to find out whether their application will be approved. Nobody likes the uncertainty of not knowing if they can plan their vacation, not to mention that it's particularly costly for your employees to plan their vacation at the last minute.

How does a time-off management process actually work?

So, you're convinced your exemption process needs an overhaul, but the idea of planning for all the different scenarios makes you cross-eyed. Where the hell do you start? We have the solution for you.

Step 1: Develop a strategy for dealing with pre-planned time off

First, it is important that you have a plan for how you will deal with times when the number of requests is higher than normal.

The most common examples are major holidays. Rough cuts in time off requests and allocated hours should be determined in advance (e.g. 80% of final estimates), and capacity planning is the perfect time to get these loose estimates of hours.

This way, you can avoid too many employees taking time off far in advance, and you have some wiggle room and flexibility to accommodate employees who couldn't plan their vacation that far in advance. When planning for the short term, you can then update and specify working hours.

Step 2: Begin your short-term planning

Speaking of short-term planning, time-off management is almost always easier if you start it after you've completed your planning for the week or month. With this information, you can get a clear picture of when you are overstaffed (or, alternatively, understaffed) - and this clarity makes for good planning.

Remember, these short-term plans should already take into account the pre-planned exemption requests (as discussed in the previous step); so the key points you need to consider in this process are

  • How much leeway you have for ad hoc requests
  • When do you have to offer voluntary time off to reduce overtime?
  • How much flexitime you have available (and when)

Step 3: Create “buckets” of free time for each day

Next, review your plan and create “slots” for employees to take vacation. These buckets can be based on expected staffing levels for the day, or you can set them based on a minimum acceptable level of coverage.

In any case, you should make sure that you plan a certain buffer - you don't want your employees to be accidentally overloaded. A good rule of thumb would be to limit yourself to 80% of the excess. If you e.g. For example, if you need to work an extra 10 hours on Tuesday, put eight hours in the bucket for that day, but keep the additional two hours as a buffer.

PRO TIP: Don't just use one leisure area, divide it into three smaller areas: morning, day and evening. Otherwise, agents who are awake earlier in the day risk using up all their free time, leaving late-working agents without any options - and feeling frustrated to boot.

These areas allow agents to take time off with minimal impact on service quality because they have already checked and decided in advance that a certain number of hours are available for time off. It also offers additional flexibility to the entire team - hours can be used on the same day to help agents in real time.

PRO TIP: Things don't always go according to your plan. If there's unexpectedly a lot going on, take the rest of your time out of your buckets. Otherwise, you'll be stretched even further as agents rush to get time off because you're overloaded.

For example, if someone is late, they can request time off to avoid being counted as an absence. Similarly, you can use flex time to help employees who are running out of PTO(assuming your company rules allow it).

This process benefits both your team members and the company as a whole. Your employees know there is flexibility, which can help significantly reduce stress, and the company can save on unnecessary labor costs.

Step 4: Track and manage free time on a daily basis

As the week progresses, you should keep a close eye on your leisure schedule. If you don't do this, you can easily end up in situations like the following:

  • You allow too many people to take vacation in the same period.
  • They do not adhere to the first come, first served principle, which is the only truly fair way to offer such an exemption.
  • Release of employees who no longer have accrued time credits.
  • Shifting flextime to different billing cycles. This is how e.g. For example, a Friday release is moved to the following Monday, which is a new pay period and can mess up the employee's full-time status or mess up a tight budget.

You can check your leisure areas while carrying out your regular real-time or intraday scheduling procedures. This way you have an accurate overview of all aspects of your daily scheduling.

It's also important to note that you should try not to reject applications based solely on length. There's almost always an alternative to a firm "no," and offering one is a great way to build goodwill among your employees.

For example, if someone requests eight hours but only has four hours left, you might offer half the day instead of denying the request entirely.

Don't let your team's schedule get out of control

It is absolutely necessary that you give your employees a break. It's an investment in your employees to keep them happy, healthy and productive.

That's why it's your job to come up with a fair plan that benefits both your team and the company.

Keep these pointers in mind to ensure your leisure calendar is a source of relaxation, not stress:

  • Effective planning on your part ultimately means more satisfaction for employees. The better you can plan, the faster you can respond to your team's leisure needs.
  • Flextime is an often-overlooked option that you should include in your policy. This gives you additional flexibility when processing applications, so ideally you don't have to reject as many applications as you normally would.
  • Make your employees aware of how time off plans are created. Even if they don't get everything they want approved, being transparent about the reasons helps boost morale.

Managing time off and keeping employees happy can be a daunting task, and we can't blame you if you feel like you need some time off after you're done! But if you follow these tips, the process will become much more straightforward (and hopefully a little less stressful).

Efficient time-off management is crucial for employee satisfaction. Implementing strategic planning and utilizing tools like IceHrm ensures a seamless process, promoting a balanced work environment.

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