How to handle the pains of holiday management

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Holiday management can be a constant thorn in HR’s side. However, if you nail your holiday process, you’ll be rewarded with happier employees, fewer disruptions, and a more focused and effective management team. HR software centralises your employee absence management data, making it easier to manage and keep track of staffing levels.


According to Mitrefinch, the three biggest holiday management pains for HR are:


  • Annual leave entitlement
  • Employees fighting over holiday dates
  • Holiday approval disputes


In this article, we’re going to look at the common issues which exist in each of the areas mentioned above and explore ways to improve them.


How to calculate annual leave entitlement?


A common problem with annual leave entitlement, is working out exactly what that entitlement is in the first place. Luckily, this is easy enough to do. In the UK, if your employees are on an annual salary, or work predictable full-time hours, then you need to give them a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid leave. Or, if you employ casual workers without set hours, you can simply use the 12.07% rule, learn more.


Of course, calculating holiday entitlement isn’t the biggest issue at play here. In many cases, employees feel like their annual leave entitlement is unfair. If you calculate holiday entitlement wrong in the first place, and accidentally allocate less than the statutory minimum… then there’s no wonder employees feel mistreated. But other reasons can include:


  • Employees don’t understand their own entitlements
  • Employees feel their role deserves more than the statutory minimum
  • Employees have noticed colleagues with different entitlements


To help employees feel happier with their holiday entitlements, there are a few things you can do.


Tips to make holiday entitlements fair


Offer an attractive holiday package

It starts with making sure your basic, company-wide entitlements are attractive, and compliant. At a minimum, they need to comply with your local laws – but you should consider offering extras, too. For example, while you might not want to go as far as offering unlimited holiday leave, you could offer public holidays as extras, instead of throwing them in with employees’ statutory entitlements.


Treat employees fairly


Another tip, is to make sure leave entitlement is awarded fairly. You shouldn’t offer one employee more holiday just because you like them better, or because they were harder to recruit, for example. Of course, you can consider raising entitlements in increments along with length of service – it encourages loyalty and retention.


Make sure your holiday policy is clear and accessible


You should also make sure your leave policy is clearly worded, so people understand the calculations, and easy to access, so people don’t feel like you’re hiding something.


How to tackle multiple holiday requests for the same date?


Let’s take a quick look at what is possibly the biggest challenge when it comes to holiday management – at least, according to several HR professionals like Martine Robins, who runs the HR Dept Woking branch.


“The biggest challenge is people wanting the same period of time off” Martine says. “You need a consistent approach to ensure fairness, e.g. a policy and a process that is communicated and known.”


Martine’s suggestion is backed up by Personnel Today, which emphasises the need for a clear holiday request policy. And a popular option is to operate on a “first come first served” basis. But Personnel Today is quick to add that a clear policy alone is not enough – and line managers should be brave enough to turn down holiday requests, when the timing of leave would cause the business difficulties.


How to fairly approve holiday requests?


Even when you have the clearest possible holiday policy, and the confidence to refuse requests (within reason), you’re still not out of the forest. And you may even find that many employees end up in personal disputes over who gets which holiday – particularly around busy periods, such as Christmas.


Sometimes, employees clash over holiday dates for no other reason than simply disliking each other! A 2013 study by reports that 5% of people have admitted to booking a particular holiday date just to annoy a colleague.


If this kind of thing is happening within your organisation, then it might help to spend some time working on employee relations and company culture. There’s a lot you can try:


Invest in teambuilding initiatives


In a recent video interview we conducted with business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, we learned that teambuilding can be a great way to help employees understand each other better. It can be really useful to do some personality profiling in advance, so that you can set up very diverse teams. This helps people understand others who are very different to themselves.


Trust your employees more


This is an important step towards building a strong culture. When employees have more autonomy over their own responsibilities, they are more likely to work harder to help the business succeed. But when you treat them like they need babysitting, they’ll begin to act like babies.


Doing these things won’t fix everything, but people are more likely to turn to diplomacy when they like and respect each other – so it can certainly help.


Avoid disputes by keeping everybody in the loop


Finally, let’s look at the issue of holiday approval disputes. Now, disputes over holiday approvals can take many forms, and can come from many people, for many reasons. For example:


  • Employees might dispute declined holiday requests that they feel were unfairly decided
  • Managers might dispute holiday requests that were approved by other managers


Point two is actually the trickiest of the points. Because often, more than one manager will actually be affected by a holiday approval decision.


Some companies get around this by having one person assigned as the holiday approver, but stipulating that this person must first get the permission of other managers, and department heads, before giving that request final approval.


This method can help you to avoid disputes, but if you’re still using paper forms, emails, spreadsheets and phone calls, it can also be a huge hassle. And it can lead to holiday requests that take forever to approve, or get missed entirely, making employees even more miserable – and in turn, more likely to dispute future approval decisions.


Create a notification system for managers


Liz Walker, Commercial Director for digital marketing agency Distinctly, says that setting up a system of notifications for multiple team managers is the best solution to this issue.


“We use an online system which helps us to manage the authorisation process” she explains. “This system can be set up to send notifications to multiple team managers, which allows for multiple managers to discuss the request before authorisation is granted.”


As well as giving multiple managers a platform for discussion, Liz also says it helps mitigate the problem of managers being on holiday themselves. With a multiple person notification system, other managers are then able to inform senior management, who can make a judgement in the direct manager’s absence.


How to setup a holiday approval workflow with People HR


We built a holiday approval workflow feature into our HR software, to solve this precise problem. In our experience, we found HR were facing three major issues:


  • Inability to cover a holiday approver’s leave without manually re-routing holiday requests
  • Disagreements between managers when one approves a holiday another isn’t happy with
  • Department heads being left out of the loop, and not given the final say


The holiday approval workflow feature lets our customers assign multiple approvers to a holiday rule, meaning that when an employee requests a holiday, a number of things can happen:


  • Anyone can approve – great for covering an approver’s leave without re-routing holiday requests
  • All must approve – great for making sure everybody with a vested interest in this employee’s schedule get to see what’s happening, and confirm it’s OK with them
  • Approve in a specific order – great for when you need final sign off by a department head


Not a People HR customer? Start a free trial now and start building your own holiday approval workflows!