Ah, the holidays. The time of year filled with cheer and bustle, the smell of cookies and pine trees—and one of the biggest challenges many HR professionals face: putting together the company PTO calendar.
As the calendar shifts toward the holiday season, most employees start thinking about travel plans, and this can often result in a bottleneck of paid time off (PTO) requests. Fortunately, an organized approach can alleviate confusion and help prevent frustration for both HR managers and employees alike—as long as everyone remains flexible.
“It’s more of an art than a science,” Jennifer Floyd, (Senior Certified HR Professional) of HRExpertsOnDemand.com, told The FruitGuys Magazine. Floyd suggests starting with a specific policy that allows for adaptation.
When drafting your time-off policies, consider things such as whether your company needs a blackout period—i.e., a period of time when business needs demand that vacations are curtailed or severely limited—and how far in advance of their vacation employees must put in their requests. Whatever policy you put into place, be sure to create a system for tracking requests and vacations, and make sure it’s clearly communicated to all employees.
No matter how detailed your PTO policy is, there may still be conflicts when multiple employees want to take the same days off.
First In, First Out?
Many businesses have a policy that prioritizes time-off requests according to the order in which they’re received. Floyd notes, however, that this “can lead to a lot of requests on January 1,” which runs counter to the spirit of the FIFO practice. “Many companies counter that with a starting date, especially for the holiday season. Say, ‘Time off will not be accepted before October 1,’” she says. That kind of time range “still gives people time to figure out their needs.”
Communicating clearly as a team is the best way to alleviate the issue, no matter when the request period opens. In general, it’s best to explain the prioritization policy, and ensure that all attempts are being made to meet everyone’s needs, while still letting folks know they might need to compromise.
A traditional way of determining those compromises is by factoring in seniority of employment. “PTO is still founded in years of service,” Floyd says, so requests from employees with longer service at the company are often given priority. “If you have a 15-year employee and a 2-year employee, you’ll most likely want to choose the 15-year person.”
Still, that specific policy doesn’t have to be a given. “When you have a 15-year employee and a 2-year employee and they are both great performers, you can run into a conflict,” she says. One way to solve this is to empower the employees themselves. “I usually sit them both down and start with, ‘I want to make you both happy. Let’s work this out together.’ They usually come up with their own solution.”
In general, Floyd says, any policy serves as a baseline to refer to most of the time, but “It’s a fine line. You don’t want to be too black-and-white [about it] without using common sense. There’s never a perfect way to do it,” she says. “It’s really just an art.”
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.