How to Handle Employees’ Summer Vacation Requests

Getting organized can help keep your business running, even when your staff's out of town.
Time-off policies can vary, but there is some basic information you’ll want to include in your handbook to give employees the summer vacation they deserve. (Photo: XiXinXing/Shutterstock)

Between the beautiful weather and kids being out of school, people want to take vacation during the summer months. But how can you give your staff the time off they deserve, while keeping your business running smoothly?

While managing summer vacations can be a bit of a puzzle, there are some best practices to make it easier on both your business and your team. Here are some ways to grant time off fairly and avoid being short staffed.

Put the policy in writing


“Ensure that your employee handbook addresses employee leave issues. It should remind employees that leave is granted at your discretion and set forth the procedures for requesting leave.” -Erin Jackson (Photo: Erin Jackson)

A murky time-off policy is bound to create issues, potentially frustrating your staff. Create a clear policy and put it in writing so everyone understands the rules.

“Ensure that your employee handbook addresses employee leave issues. It should remind employees that leave is granted at your discretion and set forth the procedures for requesting leave,” said Erin Jackson, a managing partner at the law firm Jackson LLP, where she helps healthcare practices develop employee handbooks and manage employment matters.

Time-off policies vary, but there are some basic pieces of information you’ll want to include, said Robin Schwartz, an human resources professional and managing partner at MFG Jobs.

“The procedure for asking for time off might dictate how far in advance vacation needs to be requested, who should be included in the request, how requests are handled (such as on a first come, first served basis or by seniority) and when employees can expect responses to requests for vacations,” she said.

If you need all hands on deck at specific times of the year, note any black out dates in your time-off policy, as well.

Related: 7 Tips for Developing an Effective Employee Handbook

Implement it fairly

Time-off requests tend to come in batches, especially right around a holiday. Since you can’t let everyone take vacation at the same time, how do you prioritize the requests?

Consider your company culture and business needs, then develop a transparent way to make decisions on who gets time off and when, said Andy Thiede, a consultant at human resources firm KardasLarson with more than 25 years of experience.


According to Andy Thiede, a consultant at KardasLarson, it is important to develop a transparent way to decide who gets time off and when. (Photo: Andy Thiede)

She has some suggestions on ways to choose which employees get time off when more than one person asks for the same dates:

  • First-come, first-served: “Grant the time off to the employee who first requested the days off,” she said.
  • Seniority: “Grant the time off to the employee with the most tenure,” she said.
  • Consensus: “Meet with the employees who want the same weeks off. By discussing it together, some employees may agree to choose another week, or choose to take only part of the week off,” said Thiede. “Give consideration for extenuating circumstances, such as out-of-town relatives coming to stay, or a milestone family event, such as a wedding.”
  • Lottery: “Consider random selection among the employees who want the same time off.”

Whichever strategy you choose to use, implement it consistently and fairly.

“Stay above the nitty-gritty details and use your workplace policy to assess whose requests will be granted and whose will be denied,” advised Jackson.

That way, when you can’t give an employee the time off they’d like, he or she will understand the reasons why.

Related: How Bosses Can Improve Relationships With Employees

Incentivize people to stick around

Being generous with granting employees time off keeps morale up. But rewarding the staff who stick around during popular vacation times can have a similar effect, while simultaneously keeping your business staffed.

“Consider offering an incentive for employees who don’t take any time off during the summer,” said Jackson. “Maybe these employees get to take extra free vacation days during off-peak times or receive a bonus when fall arrives.”

By offering a compelling incentive, you might find that the requests for time off dwindle, and you’ll be fully staffed all season long.

Related: Dan Ariely on How to Motivate Employees at No Cost to You

Cross-train your staff


Cross-train employees so that they can help take over for other staff members who are on vacation. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Employees on leave can create gaps on your team. Make sure members of your staff have the skills to pick up the slack outside of their primary roles, advised Schwartz.

“Be sure that there is at least one other employee cross-trained to handle the major functions of positions within your organization. This is not only helpful when many staff members are out on vacation, but also if there is an unexpected vacancy in your company,” she said.

Giving staff opportunities to pick up new skills throughout the year will not only prove useful when people take time off, but also keep employees engaged with the work.

Related: 5 Reasons Small Business Owners Should Mentor Others

Scale down during the busy season

Customer demand often dictates how much work there is to do at a small business. But if you have special tasks that need to get done, try to push them back to a less busy time of year.

“If possible, consider if your organization can scale down certain projects or work during summer months. It’s inevitable that this will be the time of year with the most employee requests for vacation,” said Schwartz.

Related: How to Hire Reliable Summer Employees

Vacation time rewards your staff for their hard work. By creating a transparent time off policy, honoring requests fairly and consistently and organizing your business operations, your company can be more resilient to the effects of time off — and give members of your team a rejuvenating break.

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