The summer holiday season is fast approaching and the avalanche of requests for annual leave are hitting manager’s desks.

It can be a challenging time of year for the HR team – who are often in the front line when it comes to dealing with last-minute staff shortages or calming disgruntled employees who have had holiday requests turned down.

Of course HR people need to be able to take holidays themselves too. So what’s the best way to make sure that the wheels keep turning smoothly while you’re away?

Here are some of the key things you need to consider if you want to avoid panicked emails and be able to happily switch your phone off while poolside:

Give the business plenty of notice

If you’re working in a smaller business – and particularly if you are the only HR person – make sure you give everyone advance warning of your holiday dates. That way, if the board has any urgent requests for HR data, or managers are planning to make any changes that will affect payroll, they will know to contact you well in advance.


Often HR get bombarded with questions which are quite easily answered by referring to policy documents. Most HR software systems provide a central portal where all policies and processes can be easily accessed. Make sure your policies on sick leave, disciplinary and grievance, health and safety are up to date and that everyone knows where to find them.

Encourage early holiday requests

It’s worth reminding line managers to encourage their team to get holiday dates in early, particularly if they are working in areas where there are rules about when leave can be taken or if colleagues are not allowed to be off at the same time. It’s easy for bad feelings about a holiday refusal to cause conflict and tension in the team – if everyone knows where they stand (and have been reminded) there will be no nasty surprises or ill will.

Keep tabs on key dates

Make sure you are aware of any key dates that will fall while you are away. Are there new people due to join, for example, or are probation periods coming to an end? Other dates you might like to look out for could be the start or finish of maternity leave, mandatory training falling due or visa renewals coming up for non-UK employees. If you have an automated HR system it can be set up to remind you when actions are due so that you can plan ahead.


With graduates flooding onto the market in July, it can be a good time for companies to pick up new, talented employees. There’s no sense in launching a recruitment drive, however, if key people are not going to be around to follow through on applications. In a competitive recruitment market, good candidates won’t hang around for long. Make sure recruiting managers have taken the holiday dates of key people involved in the interviewing and decision process into account so that they can plan accordingly.

Remind employees about self service

If you have an automated HR system, it’s probably a good idea to remind employees about the self-service options available to them before you head off on your holiday. Most systems have a place where you can store all of your important documents, which employees are access and help themselves to find answers to any questions they might have. Systems like Cezanne HR also allow employees to log sickness absence, request holidays and enter changes of address or phone number. A timely reminder of what employees can do for themselves could save an overflowing inbox on your return.

Subject access requests

The GDPR has put a new onus on organisations to respond to subject access requests much faster than in the past. To avoid panic setting in if a request arrives while you’re away, make sure you’ve done a dummy run and documented where you store employee data and any other information you may need to provide. You can find some further guidance on these requests and the relevant timescales here, so that it can be pulled together in the relevant time period if required.

Have an emergency plan in place

There’s an unwritten rule that says the worst generally happens when HR isn’t around. Make sure there is a fall-back plan in place so that if something serious happens in your absence, managers know who they should contact – whether that’s the CEO, a legal helpline or outsourced HR support.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.