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Managing employee vacation request

Managing employee vacation request when they overlap and create conflicts

Cristina Lavecchia, Editor, HRinfodesk, published by First Reference, March 2017

At some point, you will inevitably face a situation where multiple employees request the same vacation days. In such type of situation, someone is bound to not be happy with the outcome. However, if situations like this are handled properly, both the business and workplace culture do not have to suffer.

A recent HRinfodesk poll asked subscribers how they manage when their employees' requests for vacation time overlap and cause conflicts. The results of the poll indicate,

  • 54 percent = Manager works with employees to find resolution.
  • 33 percent = Whoever asked first gets priority.
  • 5 percent = The manager decides.
  • 5 percent = Employees negotiate the conflict among themselves.
  • 3 percent = HR or senior management decides.
  • 0 percent = Draw a name from a hat or flip a coin.

To help you through the less than ideal situation of conflict amongst employees because they are vying for the same time off, let's discuss some of the most popular responses mentioned above:

  • Manager works with employees to find a solution. Working with your staff to resolve a vacation time conflict, rather than a manager approving and disapproving requests alone, can make a world of difference. “It's messier,” warns Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, “but it brings the process out into the daylight. You have to make sure the message is that you value vacations and you want everybody to enjoy them.” Plus, people are more willing to “step up to make things work”, if everyone feels as though they are solving the issues together as a team.
  • Whoever asked first gets priority. The “first come, first served” approach is a common method of handling vacation requests in the workplace. Planning well in advance can help curb the difficulty that comes with managing employee vacation requests. “The key is to have employees schedule their time off in advance and make sure you don't have too many people out at the same time,” said Robert Hosking, former Executive Director of OfficeTeam. “Managers should ask their employees to submit their requests for time off as early as possible. The earlier managers can determine which employees will be out, the sooner they will know if they need to make arrangements to maintain required staff levels.”
  • The manager, HR, or senior management decides. When deciding whose vacation request gets denied and whose gets approved, it is important that decisions are made in accordance with the workplace vacation policy and accompanying procedures, or collective agreement (if applicable). Also, do not be critical about how employees spend their time away from the office, advises Valcour and Stew Friedman, Practice Professor of Management at Wharton University. “The employee who is deeply involved in competitive dog shows will be just as recharged by spending a week doing that than the employee who wants nothing more than to sit by a pool at a pricey resort. As a manager, it's not your job to judge or prioritize how people choose to spend their time off.”

When it comes to deciding the method to use to help manage employee vacation time requests and conflicts, there is no one standard “right” or “wrong” approach (given it does not violate the law (e.g., employment standards, human rights, just to name a few)). However, basing a method on your organization's needs may prove to be most successful.

What can employers do?

In stating the above, employers are not the only ones who find vacation scheduling and conflicts to be frustrating; employees do as well. So much so that a third of Canadians do not use all their vacation days because their work schedule makes it challenging to plan for vacation, according to Expedia.ca's latest Vacation Deprivation Study. “[A] staggering number of Canadians (53 per cent) continue to consider themselves vacation deprived.”

So, how can this frustration among employers and employees, alike, be averted? Consider the above discussions, together with the following tips:

Have clearly written vacation policies and procedures

Provide a copy to all employees and ensure that they are being complied with. When creating or reviewing your vacation policies and procedures, according to Michele Glassford, lawyer and Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro, you may want to consider the following issues:

  • how early must employees request vacation time?
  • is there a fair system to determine competing vacation requests? Are employees aware of the system?
  • is vacation time mandatory?
  • is there a system to have employees cover each other's work during vacation?
  • does the vacation policy have provisions for the intersection of vacation time with other leaves, such as sick leave or bereavement leave?

Customize scheduling solutions to your business' needs

“Be sure to really listen to employees and supervisors” and “make any adjustments needed”, says Marcia Scheffler, Sr. Director of Human Capital at MEDA and regular contributor to First Reference Talks blog. “In human resources, it can be difficult to pin down best practices. The true best practice is to effectively balance employee needs and organizational effectiveness.”

Do not forget to comply with employment standards legislation of your jurisdiction

Employment standards legislation in each Canadian jurisdiction sets out the minimum vacation time and vacation pay. In addition, employment standards legislation in each Canadian jurisdiction, an employer has the right to schedule vacations according to business requirements as long as the employer ensures that an employee receives a vacation within the time period (i.e., 12 months in some cases, it depends on the jurisdiction) after becoming entitled to it.

However, “these are the minimum standard and should not be equated with best practices for your company”, states Scheffler. “Inform your employees about their rights! Explain to employees how your policies comply or exceed these standards.”

Lead by example

“Often the people who need vacation the most begin to feel as if they are irreplaceable and feel guilty about taking a two-week vacation,” expresses Scheffler. “For the health of your organization and your own mental and physical well-being: Take a vacation!