Vacation Wars

Some years ago a colleague – a very conscientious hardworking staff member – was boldly declaring she enjoyed 50 leave days a year! Naturally as everyone else only had 25 days leave a year we wanted to know what was going on (writing as a Brit due sympathies to USA colleagues who continue the noble vacation ethic of the Founding Fathers). She pointed out somewhat dryly that she enjoyed not only her own 25 vacation days but a further 25 days at work when her boss was on vacation. As her “boss” I had to admire this stoical point of view.

We are approaching that time of year where many are thinking about vacation and holiday. It is also the time managers get caught out when discovering key personnel are away presumably enjoying themselves. Of course “key” redefines itself at this time. It won’t be the first time the absence of the quiet conscientious worker in a “small” part of the process brings the whole system to a grinding halt. In the main “weightier” process is brought into sharp focus as auto-responders hit the network heralding re-alignment of project schedules and business goals. They also reveal the staff who could keep things on course also “jetted” out a few days earlier. Workplace tension increases, blame culture kicks-in and the unstated implication of the “I’ve already paid my deposit” riposte is uttered in hushed tones over the water-cooler.

When staff encounter large chunks of leave, “ring-fenced” several months, if not a year earlier, for popular holiday periods they feel aggrieved. Facing little pity from others who got their vacation schedule sorted “in good time” only makes resentment worse. Nevertheless managers learn to live with a few irksome weeks of leave “grabbing” and figure out how to make up later. Eventually the popular holiday periods are out of the way, staff get back and settle down to business. If only it was that simple. Staff who have worked all through the holiday period now take their banked vacation for an out of season group soirée. Vacation and leave scheduling can be an all round year nightmare.

Poor vacation or leave scheduling can raise staff temperature that will keep them warm right through the winter months and into the following year. If that isn’t bad enough it can be more serious for the business. Missed deadlines, extended time to market and frustrated customers. Without a proper system of vacation scheduling managers may learn to ignore staff resentment, or even the wrath of senior management. Few managers however can learn to ignore the pincer grip of both.

Being caught like this need not happen. Good vacation or leave scheduling involves planning ahead and that much seems obvious. It is the context of other business goals and workplace scheduling that is often missing which leads to these conflicts. Simply recording a vacation balance against a staff leave entitlement is not good enough. All that does is tell you when someone can’t have anymore vacation or leave. Similarly the easy to use 10{bb248b365451375cae95cbd497b3c598d5b16f8829e7d6139daa8093dca7be13} rule doesn’t really help. The vacation or leave criterion can be met but a combined absence from the same key group can still paralyse those left behind until staff get back.

The following suggestions hammered out of workplace experience can make a big difference for the manager assailed throughout the year with vacation and leave conflicts. First make sure it is your job. There is a simple test for this. Do staff put vacation or leave requests to you for approval? If the answer is yes it is your job, if the answer is no then it isn’t. The practice of submitting leave requests through line managers that do not approve leave is a confusing and useless practice. Managers who manage approve leave. Summer is approaching so get it sorted at the next management team meeting.

Get a vacation schedule in place
You need to align your vacation scheduling alongside other information about staff organization and workplace schedules e.g. departments, teams, shifts, and assignments. It doesn’t have to complicated and will provide a proper context for approving vacation or leave.

Make sure public holiday dates are flagged well ahead of time
These are traditional magnets for leave requests. They often get overlooked, especially by staff that don’t have children of school age around providing a constant reminder about the annual holiday schedule. When staff suddenly “discover” they have an “extra day off” it is commitment, for the manager it is inconsiderate. A pity when you are working just as hard simply not to notice.

You need to know how many staff are requesting leave at the same time
The only thing going for the 10{bb248b365451375cae95cbd497b3c598d5b16f8829e7d6139daa8093dca7be13} rule is it’s easy and has the appearance of fairness. Ironically it is usually present when there is nothing else. Looking at dates is useful, knowing which days of the week is better. Dates are used for records; days are used for planning, so use both to get proper context. If you must use a 10{bb248b365451375cae95cbd497b3c598d5b16f8829e7d6139daa8093dca7be13} rule be prepared to be flexible. There is nothing more frustrating for staff than to be denied a vacation or leave opportunity that does not impact the business.

Identify leave requests as first round and second round choices
When it comes to vacation or leave at popular times of the year staff want to know they are being considered. A system of first round choices followed by second round choices enable more staff to enjoy some of their vacation during popular holiday periods. Staff will often work out arrangements with colleagues before even involving you. What hurts is when they don’t get considered at all and fall victim to some ill-thought out “seniority” policy, or 10{bb248b365451375cae95cbd497b3c598d5b16f8829e7d6139daa8093dca7be13} rule that can be both inflexible and unfair.

You need more than an outstanding leave balance
A simple calculation about leave taken and leave outstanding is not that useful. You need to track both leave that has been taken, and when leave has been scheduled but not yet taken. This will avoid a rush of unplanned vacation and leave requests toward the end of the year as time runs out. Hard working staff just may not realise how much leave they have left. Even if they don’t thank you they will understand the sense of what you are trying to do.

View vacation and leave status by defined group
For a manager it is more important to view vacation or leave status by department, team or job groups rather than by individual staff. Even when the overall number of requests is within limits approving staff leave from one particular team or job group can severely impact the rest of the business.

Make it a routine not an anniversary
You need to have access about the status of vacation when you need it. It should be part of your weekly if not daily management routine. Not two or three times a year when it is already causing a problem that takes several hours if not days to sort out.

Vacation is important and for many it is special. It doesn’t just affect the staff themselves but the people they plan vacation and leave with. Vacation and leave scheduling directly affects how staff think, feel and perform for the organization well into the following leave year. On the other hand don’t expect staff to point out the reasons why their vacation or leave shouldn’t be approved. As a manager you may not please everybody all of the time when it comes to approving vacation and leave schedules, but you will earn respect when making better sense of it.