How To Handle Holiday Vacation Requests

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on May 12, 2023
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Holidays are a time for joy and celebration, but it can also be a hectic and stressful time for small business owners. Between managing increased customer demand and handling employee vacation requests, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

In particular, the task of handling a large amount of employee vacation requests during the holidays can be a daunting one. When multiple employees approach you about vacation time, what exactly do you do? How do you manage time-off requests fairly? Juggling the various staff vacations and keeping things running smoothly can seem like an impossible feat.

If you're struggling with this issue, you're not alone - but there are steps you can take to manage the process effectively, keep your business running smoothly and grant time off requests fairly.

RELATED: How to Schedule Employees Fairly on Weekends and Holidays >>

Is Your Vacation Policy in Writing?

First things first, having a clearly outlined vacation policy, especially around this time of year, is absolutely essential. This way, when you do get multiple requests for the same time period, you can refer to the policy. In turn, this provides greater transparency on this issue.

The PTO policy as outlined in your employee handbook or manual could address the following:

  • How many employees can take off at one time
  • The number of days of notification employees need to give for paid time off
  • How long employee vacations can be
  • The vacation time approval process

The more details you include in any such policy, the easier it will be to navigate more demanding times, such as the holiday season, when it seems everyone wants to take off. 

Unsure how to write a holiday policy? Check out this expert-written sample policy that you can adjust to use for your business >>

sample holiday work policy downloadable guide

Once you do have an established vacation time-off policy in place (and in writing), then it might be a matter of getting somewhat creative when it comes to managing time off fairly, especially at the end of the year. Here's how:

Communicate Often

This cannot be stressed enough -- communication is critical for just about any facet of your business. And when it comes to scheduling time off during the holidays, communicating with employees more often than not will only help the situation.

This could mean sending out emails that restate the company vacation policy. Remind your staff well ahead of time the holidays are coming and, therefore, people need to get their vacation requests in. Underscore the importance of managing time off fairly while still ensuring the business can continue to operate normally.

If you have to deny a vacation request, be clear and concise as to why. And it’s always a good idea to have an open-door policy so your employees feel comfortable talking to you about their concerns regarding holiday time off.

How to effectively manage vacation requests

Create a Calendar

This would be a calendar specific to the holiday season and the vacation time that people are requesting. A calendar of this nature is an ideal planning tool for everyone involved.

Employees can see who is taking off and when, and business owners can more efficiently handle multiple holiday vacation requests. By having an accessible vacation calendar, you shift the onus of responsibility onto the employees. That is to say, they will be able to keep tabs on what dates are available and thus see when they might be able to request time off.

The key is to get the calendar up and running sooner rather than later. The earlier employees can start requesting vacation time, the more orderly the process is apt to go.

RELATED: How to Deny an Employee PTO Requests >>

Offer Incentives for Date Changes

If a conflict does arise between employees vying for a specific date(s), then you might offer incentives for someone to change their request. You could allow one of the employees to work from home for a few days if they agree to change their time off to another week.

You might also offer monetary compensation by way of a bonus to the employee who agrees to switch. Coming up with creative ways to manage time off fairly increasingly seems to be a central part of a business owner’s job during the holiday season.

RELATED: Ask the Expert, How Does FMLA Work During the Holidays? >>

Keep Your Strategy Simple

Among the simplest strategies to this end is first come, first serve. Most business owners don’t want to deny any vacation requests, but the entire staff can't be absent at the same time.

Making it known early on that vacation time will be approved in order of written requests will spur people to make some decisions regarding their time off needs and put it in writing. Especially if you have a vacation calendar in place, once they see certain dates are filled, they will have to come up with alternate plans. You, as the boss, have essentially left it up to them to determine their own fate as far as time off during the holidays.

Understand State and Local Laws

When it comes to whether or not you can legally deny vacation requests, it is important to stay abreast of state and local mandates. There is certain paid leave that is in fact mandated, though time off around holidays generally is not something you are legally obliged to grant.

If you are uncertain about anything related to the holidays where time off/vacation requests may be concerned, it is best to consult with experienced HR professionals who understand the nuances involved with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates regarding religious holidays. Axcet HR Solutions is always happy to help. We’ve dealt with just about every topic associated with juggling PTO requests. Call today and see how we may be able to assist you!

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