It is gratifying to be the nice manager that accepts employees’ vacation requests all the time until you end up with an empty office and a mounting pile of work that won’t do itself no matter how long you stare at it with pleading eyes. The key solution is not to despairingly try to complete all unfinished tasks by yourself, nor to deny your employees their legally merited annual leave, because it greatly contributes to their feeling refreshed to work again and to prevent long-term burnout. There has to be a system by which vacations are managed. This prepares for when people take unexpected days off (when falling sick or having accidents) and is used to handle peak times for vacations, like the summer, Ramadan and the holiday seasons.

Strategize vacations

Short vacations (1-2 days)

Taking a day or two off shouldn’t be that big of a deal or that complicated of a process for the employee; because it’s usually asked for urgent situations or to repose after great stress. So be flexible. Excuse people. Convene with your team and agree that to inform you about a short vacation, they should send a notification via email (see template below) because verbal conversations could be forgotten and so that you could track and validate everyone’s days off.

Subject: [Short vacation] Notice for X day vacation leave

Dear [MANAGER’S NAME],

This email is a formal notice for an X-day vacation that starts on [DATE]. I will be back at work on [DATE].
If you have any questions or considerations, we can set a quick meeting.

Yours sincerely,
[YOUR NAME]

Up to one week

The process gets a bit more complicated if it’s an extended vacation. If an employee wants to take up to 7 days off, he or she has to notify you at least a week in advance and get an approval, so that some formalities could be settled. These include:

  • Completing all unfinished tasks that are due the upcoming period be completed before leaving.
  • Handing over tasks and projects to someone else to cover up for the employee going on vacation.
  • Creating an out-of-office message that is automatically emailed to clients, partners or people that are frequently emailed.

See Also: Long Time No Sea? Prepare for your vacation with this checklist

Long vacations ( > 7 days)

bus van surfing board beachIf someone wants to use up a big chunk of their annual leave, it will take more than just a week in advance to manage their request and see how their queued work will be dealt with during their absence.

The ideal way to manage long vacations would be to plan them at the beginning of the year; for example: knowing that during June, Ahmed will take 2 weeks off for his honeymoon; or Nour will be on pilgrimage during September. The earlier the notification about such long vacations, the better; because it allows finding someone as a back-up and managing workload during that period using a thorough handover process.

If it’s not possible to know precisely at the beginning of the year when each employee would be off, then as a manager, set a quarterly meeting to ask and discuss with your employees the dates of their vacations. Be as cooperative as possible, but also make it clear that you can simply refuse their vacation request if it does not correspond with the work plan and workload. It would also be advisable to set a blackout period, during which no one could take a vacation if it is known beforehand that the company will be going through a busy phase.

Set guidelines

  • Announce a deadline for vacation requests

Have a “first come, first serve” rule, except in emergency cases, so that people learn to plan their vacation days in advance. By doing so, you will avoid the build-up of work pressure at certain dates, and you will be able to work out alternative delivery dates for tasks that are due.

  • Use applications (ex: Pingboard, Hubplanner) and calendars (ex: Google Calendar) to manage vacation dates

Exploit technology to your benefit to create less room for error, by having vacation dates clear and organized on an online chart. This makes it a quick reference for all employees to know if and when a certain person is on vacation without having to ask everyone in the office about them. It’ll also assist in relieving the stress of manual planning and organization of a team’s vacation dates, into an uncomplicated process.

Some of these applications provide free services like Pingboard, Google (Calendar, Sheets) and Slack; while other applications like Hubplanner and Go Clockwise are paid.

  • Allow working remotely

If work can be done somewhere outside the office, then grant your employees the leisure of working in an environment that is comfortable for them. This will give them the space of working freely and the encouragement to be more productive. Research has shown that most people do prefer working remotely, as it helps them master the work-life balance and cuts down on time wasted while commuting. If people feel less stressed, then the need to take a couple of days off to repose will decrease, alleviating the pressure of employees’ vacation days accumulating.

  • Try to get employees available for contact in case of emergencies

Yes, vacations are designed to get out of work and not be contacted, but urgent times call for desperate measures! Make sure that your employees would be available for remote work if a situation absolutely, ultimately requires that you contact them.

  • Conduct a rigorous handover session so that workflow could be regulated throughout the year

During the quarterly meeting, set time for a thorough session during which you could train the employees on how to run an efficient handover process regarding documents needed and information that should be stated. The session should also include clearly assigning a backup person for each employee that would cover up their work during their absence. This way, the hectic rush of who will do whose work is eliminated whenever someone takes a vacation.

Save the following handover template and share it with your team, so that they could use it.

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