Managing holiday requests fairly in 2022

The first few months of the year aren’t exactly the most inspiring, are they? Most of us will have long forgotten our new year’s resolutions (gym 3 times a week, anyone?), it’s the dead of winter and the green shoots of spring are still weeks away.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that the beginning of the year is traditionally a time when we all start thinking about submitting a holiday request and jetting off to sunnier climes – where possible, of course. However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses in the office when the annual leave requests start rolling in…

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Annual leave aggravation?

Annual leave is the one thing that virtually all employees truly value, but it can also be the biggest cause of aggravation in the workplace. For example, in 2013 officebroker.com surveyed 500 workers about their holiday entitlements and discovered 1 in 20 had strategically booked their holidays simply to annoy a colleague.

In addition, 13% of employees revealed they’d never share their holiday intentions for fear of co-workers booking the same time. And lastly, 1 in 10 office workers said booking holidays was the biggest cause of conflict in their organisation.

Fast forward to 2022, and the topic of annual leave is hotter than ever. With the UK emerging from COVID-enforced restrictions and much of the world also re-opening to visitors, people are rushing to book those precious holidays that have been sorely missed. Plus, 2022 sees several events in the UK that are sure to act as a focus point for holiday requests, including an extended bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

This all has the potential to lead to a perfect storm of holiday-based conflict that managers may find difficult to cope with. With so many of us looking to take time off, and the additional complication of fitting in leave carried over from last year, it may not be possible to keep everyone happy when it comes to granting holiday requests; this could lead to disputes and disharmony amongst staff.

So, what can you do as an HR manager to help your organisation manage holiday requests fairly this year, while also making sure there are enough people around to keep the wheels of the business turning?

Have a clear annual leave policy

First and foremost, make sure everyone is crystal clear about the proper procedure for booking annual leave. If everyone is well informed about how much holiday they are entitled to and are aware of any periods when it either cannot or must be taken (i.e. peak periods or during company close-downs), there’s less likelihood of problems arising.

Be sure to highlight to your staff if you have rules about how many people can be off in a team at any one time, if there are specific employees whose holidays cannot clash, or if some staff have priority over others. If everyone knows the situation up-front, they are much more likely to accept it if they can’t take their holiday exactly when they want to.

Make sure your policy on annual leave is easily accessible – ideally in your HR system – so that everyone knows where to find it, and it is clear that there’s a procedure as to the approval and refusal of holiday requests.

Plan well ahead

Managing annual leave is a task that often causes managers enormous angst. Juggling conflicting requests whilst also making sure there are enough hands on deck can be a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, good HR software can greatly reduce the pain.

The most up-to-date absence management software solutions offer real-time calendar and diary views, so managers can see exactly who is off when, not just in their own team, but also in other departments if necessary

Having a system that includes up-to-the-second team and peer diaries make it easier for managers to spot bottlenecks on the horizon, and for employees to check when colleagues are away (or booked out on other activities). This means they can plan their absences to minimise negative impact on the business and reduce the chance of inter-personnel grumblings.

HR systems can also make it simpler for line managers to keep an eye on holiday balances, so they can ensure team members don’t leave it to the last minute to use up their annual entitlement.

Encourage people to book early

If you know that getting everyone’s holiday entitlement in is going to be tight, encourage people to get their requests in early. It’s no good burying your head in the sand and hoping that no one will ask for leave in the busiest periods, especially over the summer or festive breaks. If everyone is aware they have to plan ahead, they can’t complain if their preferred slot has been taken.

Your employees should also be clear that it’s not guaranteed their holiday requests will always be granted. It’s essential that once an employee has submitted a holiday request, you have an HR system that makes it easy for their manager to get back to them promptly so they know where they stand, can confirm bookings or re-arrange their plans if necessary. Which leads nicely onto…

Give a clear reason for refusals

If a holiday request is turned down, make sure line managers know they have to give a clear, policy-backed, explanation for their decision.

Most people will understand that not everyone can be off at the same time and there needs to be enough people around to respond to customer demands or fulfil orders. Don’t expect staff to fight it out between themselves over holiday dates. Not only is this incredibly unfair, but it will only lead to tension and bad feeling in your teams, and potentially to you having to manage some difficult conversations.

Be firm but fair

If disputes do arise, make sure you are dealing with them fairly and treating all employees the same. It’s very easy for resentment to creep in if people feel colleagues – with children, for example – are being given priority during school holiday times.

Finally, remind line managers to be human! There are always going to be exceptional circumstances, such as if an employee needs to travel abroad for a close family wedding, or if they have the chance of a trip of a lifetime.

Make sure people can see you understand their holiday is important to them and go the extra mile to see if you can work with managers to juggle work around or get extra cover to fill the gap. Even if you still have to say no in the end, people will appreciate the fact you have tried to help.

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