Balancing business and employee needs: 5 tips for managing staff annual leave

Managing staff holidays can be tricky. In fact, the holiday rush can cause employers a major headache. The holiday months are most renowned for their impact on managers trying to balance leave requests with the needs of the business.

And it’s not only business needs that require delicate balancing when it comes to annual leave. Manage staff holidays badly, and resentment and infighting could cause you more grief than you anticipated.

Why not keep the staff holiday headache at bay with these 5 handy leave management tips:

5 responsible tips for managing staff holidays

Clearly your staff can’t all take leave at the same time. Managing leave during the winter holiday season isn’t easy. Not every employee can have first dibs. But, with careful planning you’ll hopefully avoid disgruntled staff and some of the staff holiday management pitfalls.

1. Fairness and Consistency

Treating all holiday requests fairly and consistently is essential for good employee relations. While it’s tempting to favour certain employees for a number of genuine reasons, preferential treatment will allow resentment to build amongst staff. And that isn’t good for your business.

Deal with conflicting requests fairly. If two key staff members want to be off at the same time, try to negotiate at least some staggering. Sometimes a little ‘push-and-shove’ may be required on both sides.

2. Clear policies and procedures

Having a clear policy when it comes to annual leave will help to achieve fairness and consistency. Leave entitlement, policy and procedure should be explained to staff at the beginning of their employment, and should also be laid out in employee contracts. In addition, a staff handbook that employees can refer to should include the same.

If necessary the annual leave policy should include restrictions. You may stipulate if only a certain number of employees in a particular role can be off at the same time. For example, if you have several delivery drivers, you won’t want them all to be away on leave at the same time. If there are certain busy times of the year or specific deadlines when you need to be fully staffed, you may want to rule out or limit those times for leave requests.

Typical leave rules could include:

  • Procedure for approving holidays (typically done on a first-come, first-served basis)
  • Limit holidays to a maximum of 2 weeks at one time
  • Rules on carrying leave forward to the next year and if allowed how many days
  • Leave restrictions – any specifically busy times when no leave is allowed
  • The right to propose alternative dates or reschedule holidays according to business needs

Summer holiday guidance for employers is available from The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). It’s worth getting leave policies right to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings with staff later on.

3. Plan ahead

It’s wise to have a notice period for leave requests of longer than 3 or 4 days. This can be incorporated into your staff leave policy and explained clearly in the staff handbook. It encourages staff to think ahead when planning holidays and it means you’ll know in plenty of time should you need to plan cover for particular roles.

Having a company holiday diary will help with planning and can also be used to remind staff they need to book holidays before their annual leave year expires. Tools such as the availability planner by Planday can make managing staff rotas and holidays a whole lot easier.

Sharing holiday schedules with staff also encourages them to take responsibility and avoid holiday clashes with colleagues. Transparency helps staff to plan their leave around others in advance.

4. Encourage staff to spread leave over the year

Again, apart from in exceptional circumstances, it’s definitely not a good idea to allow staff take most of their leave allowance in one go. It won’t be good for your business. For a start, you’ll be hard-pushed to cover the workload without deploying other staff or getting someone else in. And secondly, from a wellbeing perspective that employee will have no significant other breaks for the rest of the year.

Equally, don’t think it’s a plus if some employees aren’t too bothered about taking holidays. It’s not a good idea to have staff with untaken leave at the end of a leave year. Encourage staff to spread holidays over the year. You could even set a deadline for when all leave requests need to be submitted. It will help avoid the mad rush to use up holidays at the end of the leave year too.

5. Think about temporary cover

It may not be something you want to consider because of the cost, but arranging temporary cover at times may ultimately be best for the continuing success of your business. For example, if all of your employees in one department have school age children, you’ll undoubtedly encounter a scramble for leave requests during school holidays.

If your staff are people you want to hang on to, you may need to make some compromises. Hiring someone on a temporary basis over the winter months could be an expense worth investing in. It could keep staff motivated and projects on track.