As a manager, you want to respect your team's time-off requests to promote a strong culture and employee happiness — this will help you retain top talent and keep your team motivated and engaged.
On the flip side, you also need to balance deadlines, team-wide projects, performance expectations, and more. This means you have to manage time-off requests in a way that makes sense for the greater team, too.
Needless to say, handing time-off requests can be difficult at times, which is why we've created this guide.
Time-Off Request Policy
A time-off request policy should streamline the process of asking for and granting time off. Your policy should include details about how far in advance requests must be submitted, how often one can request time off, instances when time-off requests won't be granted, and a way handle overlapping requests.
Now let's take a look at your guide to managing time-off requests.
The 10-Step Guide to Time-Off Requests
No matter how large your team is or which industry you're in, these steps will help you effectively manage time-off requests.
1. Establish how far in advance and how often time off should be requested.
The first rule for handling time-off requests is making it clear how far in advance you will be accepting requests. That can depend on your individual business and may range anywhere from two weeks to two months.
The timeframe can also be dependent on how many days are being requested off; you might only need to know two weeks in advance if it's one or two days but require several months' notice if someone is taking a two-week vacation.
In addition to how far in advance, employees should be made aware of how often they can request time off — do you have a strict rule on frequency?
Perhaps employees can only request up to three days off in a month, or maybe they can only submit a total of six time-off requests throughout the year. Whatever your limit may be, make that clear to employees well in advance and keep these rules consistent for all employees.
2. Make clear any time frames during which employees cannot request time off.
It's obvious that there are certain times of year that employees may be Hunger-Games-style battling to be the victorious one with time off. Those typically include the holiday season, school vacation time, and during the summer months.
Just because those are times when more employees want work-free days doesn't mean business is slowing down. It's difficult to keep up demand if there aren't as many people staffed on shifts.
Thus, if you have to block off some time frames during which employees aren't allowed to request time off, you should make that clear right when potential employees interview.
However, it's important to remain fair; if you're going to make that a strict regulation, it's never okay to bend the rules for one or two employees but not others.
3. Create a system for handling overlapping requests.
Similarly, regardless of it being a busy time of year or not, there may be times when more than one employee requests off the same days. This might be okay if it's only a couple of people who can easily be covered.
However, if too many staff members are asking for the same shifts off, you might have to make some hard decisions regarding who gets their request fulfilled. Here are some ways to handle overlapping requests:
First Come, First Served.
The simplest way to handle this scenario is on a first come, first served basis. Whoever submits the request first gets the days off. This policy will also encourage employees to submit their time-off requests further in advance, which is a bonus for you.
If multiple people want the time off for different reasons, consider comparing the reasons and selecting on that basis. For instance, if one individual is requesting time off to attend their sister's wedding, while the other has a friend in town that week, you might prioritize the former, as that reason seems to be more pressing.
Number of Prior Requests
Another potential policy is to consider how many time-off requests each employee has already submitted — or is expected to submit. If one individual has already requested off three other shifts during that month, while the other is only requesting off this one shift, you may decide to go with the latter.
4. Create a standardized system for submitting time-off requests.
In order to keep things clear for employees, it's good to have a standardized system that tells them exactly how to submit time-off requests. Never allow verbal time-off requests.
Chances are high that you will forget the request or misconstrue the day or time. And the more you accept verbal requests, the more likely that employees will take advantage of the informal format and request more days off or, simply, not show up to shifts.
Instead, have a formal yet simple method for collecting requests, such as one of the following:
Form (Online or Print)
A time-off request form is a great method and one that many employers use. Have the employee fill out their name, title, and team — if your company is large — the dates and times being requested off, and the reason for the requests if that's something you require. Then, you can return it to them with either an approval or a denial.
Many employee scheduling apps offer programs for employees to submit time-off requests. You can have them streamline all their communication with you via one app and collect these requests through the app.
Most likely, the app will also allow you to use a messaging platform to communicate with them any additional details and convey whether or not the time off will be approved.
For some managers, a professional email account is a home for all things important. Rather than having to copy information from emails onto separate platforms, you can simply organize your emails into different folders.
So, when employees email you time-off requests, you can place all those emails into one general "Time-Off Requests" folder.
5. Organize time-off requests easily.
While you want an organized system for employees to submit requests, you also want an organized system for you to keep track of requests and final time-off date approvals.
This is to ensure that an approved time-off request doesn't go forgotten, leaving you scrambling at the last minute when no one shows up to a shift. Here are some ways to keep everything compiled in a coordinated manner:
Create a folder.
A folder is a simple, yet effective, way to organize time-off requests. You can create a folder in Dropbox, Google Drive, your email account, or on your desktop, to name a few. Make sure to name the folder something you'll easily recognize, such as "[Company Name] Time-Off Requests."
Perhaps, within the folder, you can create multiple folders: one for pending requests, one for approved requests, and one for denied requests. You can also create individual folders for each employee's requests.
Add the requested dates to a calendar.
Long gone are the days of wall calendars. Technology has graced us with simple-to-use calendars that don't require a new, yearly purchase. If you have an Apple product, you'll have an iCalendar right on your device to which you can add events and reminders.
Or, you can use Google Calendar for the same purpose. Add events on days that employees requested off and reminders to find replacements in advance.
Create a spreadsheet.
Another option for organizing the requests is in a spreadsheet. There are many options, some of which are Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.
Here, you can create different columns for each employee and add in their shifts below their names. That way, when you mark off the shifts that were requested off, you can easily look across the spreadsheet to find which employees might be available to cover those shifts.
6. Build a rotating time-off schedule.
Rather than treating each employee's time-off request as a clean slate, you could consider a rotating time-off schedule.
Without even realizing it, you might be granting the same few employees time off over and over again, leaving others to continuously fill in for those unpleasant shifts. Some employees may feel irritated that they've always been screwed over.
In order to keep things fair, a rotating time-off schedule can be a great idea. Perhaps, at the start of each year, you can assign vacation time periods for each employee during which they're allowed to take off work.
Otherwise, if they need time off, they have to find replacements on their own. This method might be more helpful if you rotate shifts, too, such as rotating who has to work weekends, early morning, and late nights, if your workplace requires such shifts.
7. Reward employees who go a certain period of time without requesting time off.
You never want to lose track of the loyal employees who rarely take time off from work. There's nothing wrong with employees who sometimes need time off: there could be emergencies or special occasions that require them to need shifts covered. However, the steadfast employees who are always at their shifts are the unsung heroes.
So, to give them a shoutout of appreciation, you may consider rewarding employees who go a certain period of time — perhaps a month, three months, or six months, depending on how frequently employees have shifts — without requesting time off.
They could get a bonus, paid vacation time, a pick at their first-choice shifts, or even a raise — if your budget permits it. Show these employees that you recognize their loyalty to their jobs and willingness to organize their personal lives around shifts.
8. Have a list of backup employees for last-minute replacements.
Emergencies happen. From sudden illnesses and injuries to deaths in the family, they can't be controlled. It's often not at the fault of the employee if they have to call out of work last-minute, but that does mean it's left in the hands of the manager to quickly find a replacement.
To avoid the stress of calling down your staff list, begging for someone to come in and cover, you can create a list of on-call employees. These are people who don't work that shift but are available during that time to come in in an emergency.
You can breathe easy knowing that someone can cover, and the employee filling in will get to clock in some extra hours that week. It's truly a win-win situation.
9. Encourage employees to find their own shift replacements.
While time-off requests are perfectly fine for dates that are known far in advance, conflicts sometimes come up much closer to the shift. This is why it's important to encourage your employees to find their own shift replacements, if possible.
Rather than filling out a whole form and giving you more work to read the request, approve it, and find a replacement, employees can talk amongst themselves and do the work on their own.
This is a more informal system for individuals who only need one or two shifts covered, here and there. In addition, this is effective only in an organization in which any individual can cover another's shift. Sometimes, with varying roles and levels of expertise, this might not be possible. If it is, you can relax, knowing that the shift will be covered without your needing to intervene.
10. Consider if an employee is requesting more time off than working.
It's okay for an employee to request time off. Conflicts arise, and it's okay if an individual needs time away, as long as they request it in advance. However, if the same employee seems to be requesting off time more frequently than others, this might raise some red flags.
If an employee is asking off more time than they're actually working, perhaps this job isn't for them. You need employees who can be trusted to show up for shifts, be on time, and do a good job.
When someone constantly needs to be replaced, it's clear that you can do without them completely. Keep this in mind as you handle time-off requests in your managerial role.
Now that you know the tips and tricks of handling time-off requests, you can use the following template to create the perfect time-off request form for your employees.
Time-Off Request Form
Here's an example of the details you may require your employees to complete in a time-off request form:
- Employee name:
- Employee title/position:
- Employee team (if applicable):
- Employee time off request dates:
- Has employee found a replacement and/ or made plans for their workload while they're gone? Yes__ No__
- For manager: Approved request? Yes__ No__
- Employee signature and date:
- Manager signature and date:
Next, read our list of employee scheduling software to use for your team.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.