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Top tips to manage staff holiday requests during the summer peak

School's out, and summer's here. That inevitably means more colleagues requesting annual leave, adding further complexity to the schedule.

But enabling your teams to take some well-earned time off doesn't have to cause you a headache. So here are our top tips for handling holiday requests and maintaining a full rota over the summer.

1. Have a clear holiday policy and communicate it

It might sound basic, but the importance of a cohesive annual leave policy can't be underestimated.

A lot of the back and forth between managers and their teams can be eliminated if staff know when they can and can't book holiday and the official process for doing so. It also helps ensure that all requests are treated fairly (more on that later).

Since most organisations will have something in place already, the key thing for managers is to ensure they communicate the holiday policy regularly - not just during onboarding for a new joiner.

We recommend reminding staff of the policy and procedure for booking leave before the main summer and Christmas holidays. This could be in a staff meeting or by email, but a dedicated company internal communication or instant messaging platform will be even more effective.

2. Stay on top of everyone's holiday entitlement

Managing staff holidays over the summer might involve encouraging some team members to take time off.

Otherwise, you may have a giant headache at the end of the year, with employees who haven't used enough of their allocation needing to take more time off during the busy Christmas period. In some cases, the organisation will end up paying them for untaken holiday hours.

Ensuring staff take regular time away from work to recharge is also vital in preventing burnout.

​Calculating holiday entitlement is not always straightforward for shift-based or hourly workers, so we've created a free tool to make it easy. You can download it here.


3. Let holiday management software take the strain

Let's face it, holiday admin is no one's cup of tea, and that's where holiday management software comes in. As well as saving managers time, there are lots of other benefits that come from using a dedicated system:

  • Faster and more streamlined requests and approvals. An automated system for sending and processing leave requests makes the process quicker and easier for everyone involved.

  • Avoid clashes. When going through approvals, the system shows managers who else is off so they can easily see if a new request overlaps with another staff member's approved holiday.

  • Accurate holiday and payroll data. Having one system of record for annual leave ensures that taken and untaken allowances are always correct and instantly accessible for reporting, payroll, and compliance purposes.

  • Full transparency for staff. Seeing who is off at any time helps staff plan their own leave and gives them confidence that the process is fair.

4. Have a plan for shift cover

Ideally, you will know who will be off well in advance so you can amend your schedules accordingly. But over peak periods, you are likely to have more staff than usual away in any given week, and illness and other unplanned absences can still leave you at risk of being short-staffed.

It's worth speaking to your staff ahead of significant holidays to see if any are looking for extra hours or happy to take on overtime if needed. For example, students and other part-time staff might have more free time over those periods to cover for full-time staff taking leave.

More than ever, technology is making it much easier for frontline organisations to match the demand for hours from existing staff with additional available shifts. Here at Sona, it's something we've been enabling and championing since we started, and we've written extensively about it. For more on this subject, check out:

5. Handle requests with fairness and compassion

Managers' primary responsibility is to keep their locations and services safely staffed, even during peak holiday periods. However, in reality, not every employee will get all the holiday days they want to take approved.

The key is not letting their disappointment turn to anger and frustration. This can happen if employees feel they have been treated unfairly compared to their peers or that their employer didn't acknowledge their needs.

Managers must never forget that holiday requests are an emotional issue - you may not know the full context behind a colleague wanting a particular day or days off.

The key is to stick to the rules in your leave policy and show that you are being fair in handling requests. The further in advance you and your staff can plan time off, the less chance someone ends up disappointed.

And if they do, clearly explain why you can't approve their request in a compassionate way that acknowledges how this is likely to make them feel.