With many people looking forward to long overdue holiday in 2021, now is the perfect time to check how well your absence management processes are working – and identify what could be improved.

In an ideal world, annual leave would be booked and approved months in advance with a perfect balance between an appropriate level of cover for the business, and everyone able to take their preferred dates.

In reality, this is rarely the case. And later this year, we might also witness people wanting to take leave at very short notice, to take advantage of any easing in COVID-19 restrictions.

A clear company policy can go some way to avoiding the more obvious problems, like employees booking non-refundable expensive trips BEFORE their leave request is approved, or scheduling a midweek break that coincides with an essential company meeting.

toil calculation holiday

However, policies can only take you so far. What makes policies work in practice are HR systems that makes it simpler for you – and managers and their employees – to work together to manage time off in the best possible way.

Here are 9 essential features in a good absence management system that will ensure you can manage holiday absences with ease.

Automatic calculation of entitlements

Ensuring that holiday entitlements are calculated fairly and in real time based on specific working hours, local holidays and company rules (and local legislation) will save you hours of time – and ensure everyone is allocated the right amount of time off.

holiday calculation table

Secure self-service

It goes without saying that your HR system needs to have employee self-service – and it needs to be secure. If employees don’t find it easy to check entitlements and book time off, or they worry about the safety of their personal data, they just won’t use the system.

calendar absence management

Multi-approver workflows

For some businesses, a single-step approval (or even self-approval) is all that is needed. However, where employees hold multiple posts, or are involved in different projects or areas of the business, multiple managers may need to approve an absence request – or at least be notified of the absence.

Team diaries

Up-to-the-second team and peer diaries make it simpler for employees to check when colleagues are away (or company events booked) so they can plan their absences to minimise negative impacts on the business.

absence holiday team calendar

Overlapping absences notifications

Busy managers may miss conflicting absence requests, but HR software should spot them easily. For example, Cezanne HR’s holiday request emails clearly show the details of any overlapping absences. The system also triggers email notifications prior to absence events, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if someone who is booked off misses a team call/meeting on a Monday morning!

Approval delegation

Line managers take time off too, so it’s essential that your HR system allows them to delegate approvals to their peers, or HR, while they are away.

Carry over calculations

Reflecting your annual leave carry over rules in your HR software can help avoid problems at the end of the holiday year – especially if you can generate reports showing how much time employees still have to left to book, so you can nudge them to use it up in good time.

Smart TOIL usage

Since both annual leave and Time off in Lieu normally have to be used by a certain date, it’s essential that your HR software ensures that employees use whichever leave entitlement expires first. That way, they won’t feel they’ve been short changed.


If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Fast, easy and specific reporting is a critical element of any HR system – not least when it comes to totting up how many days of holiday entitlement employees have yet to book, or drilling down into the detail to look at the patterns of absence for groups of employees to help with resourcing.

sickness absence report

For more absence management solutions, read our guide: Solve your top 5 absence management challenges

Sue Lingard author image

Sue Lingard

Sue studied Personnel Management at the London School of Economics before taking on management roles in the travel, recruitment and finally HR software industry. She's particularly interested in how technologies enable HR teams - and the people they support - to work better together.