Time management

4 Ways to Track Vacation (and other PTO)

How you track vacation can mean a fine line between a time consuming or simple task. Here are 4 ways to track vacation and PTO.

“What is the best way to track vacation?” This is a question that’s often on the minds of those in charge of time off tracking. It’s one of those tasks that many wish they could defer to someone else. Why? Because it’s an intricate process that requires near-constant attention…for every single employee. 

But first things first. Before going down the road of figuring out the best way to track vacation (and other PTO), you’ll decide what time off types you’ll offer. Paid time off (PTO) is unique to each business. Typical time-off types include vacation time, holidays, sick days, and personal days, among others.

From there, these time-off types will make up your time off policy. Here you’ll decide how much PTO employees are entitled to, rules around when allowances renew, whether employees accrue time or get their balance upfront, and whether they can carry over time from one year to the next.

Once all of this is decided then you get into the everyday management of tracking vacation and PTO. This is also unique to your business and is worth putting some thought into. How you actually track vacation and other PTO can mean a fine line between a time consuming or simple task.

4 ways to track vacation & PTO

Employers throughout the ages have come up with many creative ways to track vacation and other PTO. While we all have systems we feel work best for us, it’s important not to get bogged down in the comfort of familiar methods when there may be other options out there that make our lives much easier. 

Here are some of the most common ways employers track vacation and PTO:

1. Paper

While it’s true that tracking PTO this way is going the way of the dodo, some employers still prefer to track vacation with the help of post-it notes on a desk or wall calendar, a cork or dry-erase whiteboard, or a spiral notebook, to name a few.

While there’s nothing wrong with these methods, manually keeping track of annual leave entitlements, holiday booking schedules, and paid sick absences can be needlessly time-consuming (and prone to mistakes and inconsistencies). Not to mention, paper can’t be consulted unless the calendar or notebook is within close proximity; continual updating can get messy and timely; and more importantly, hard copies are vulnerable to becoming damaged or lost.

This method is best suited to a small business (and if keen organization is second nature to you).

2. Email

A step up from tracking PTO via a trusty paper trail is the reliably accessible, yet sometimes confusing email. Many employers feel, rightly so, that keeping a record of employees’  PTO via various email threads—which do keep a flawless record of requests, dates, and any other extraneous details—is the way to go. After all, emails can be consulted from anywhere, and cannot be easily lost. Used in conjunction with a paper calendar, this may seem manageable for a small staff, but the more employees you manage, the more confusing this will become. Having one cohesive visual for all employees which can be easily updated would be a major step up.

3. Spreadsheets

This brings us to spreadsheets. Excel or Google Sheets can represent adequate solutions for small to medium-sized businesses. After all, if you’re adept at spreadsheets, you can make a PTO calendar that stores information on multiple employees. But, like the previously mentioned solutions, once you’re dealing with more than a handful of employees, you may run into drawbacks.

Spreadsheets can be a real headache, particularly if your business allows for any non-traditional arrangements, such as half-days off, or a mix of remote workers, part-timers, and full-timers. Sometimes your unique business needs cannot be properly catered to through a spreadsheet. Payroll and time-off errors are also more common with any manual process like spreadsheets (or email and paper).

There may come a time when finding the budget (and the will) for proper tracking software becomes a priority.

4. HR software 

It’s true the tracking methods above don’t require a budget but they do require time. The hidden costs associated with these “free” tracking methods come in the form of the administrative costs of spending valuable time calculating balances and accruals and responding to requests. All of which can be overwhelming for HR, office administrators, and managers. According to Bersin by Deloitte, businesses with newly upgraded HR systems can actually see cost savings of 22% per employee.

There are a host of things to consider when searching for HR software. One of the most important things is determining what requirements will best suit your business needs. There are a lot of options out there when it comes to HR software so having clearly defined requirements will make your search as easy as possible.

What are the benefits of using HR software to track vacation?

There are countless benefits to having the right PTO tracking software in place.

Benefits to HR managers & employers

  • Smoother overall process. When all PTO and leave requests are stored on a single platform, everything runs more smoothly. Since ensuring employee eligibility and updating leave balances is all automated, you’ll cut down on time and effort, as you won’t need to worry about processing errors or delays.

  • Cost-effective. One of the most amazing (and often unexpected things) about PTO tracking platforms is that they can offer significant savings by reducing the time and money spent on manual intervention and paperwork. We hear all the time how PurelyHR customers save hours a week on leave management. That really adds up!

  • Valuable data. HR software provides a simple way for HR administrators to access and share valuable insights on PTO, their workforce, and more. No more manual reporting.

Benefits to employees

  • Convenience. PTO tracking systems give employees (and managers) all of the PTO information they need at their fingertips. No more emails to send asking for balances or mysteries around the status of a request.

  • Transparency and visibility. A system that is accessible to everyone and with features such as a shared leave calendar provides transparency that email, spreadsheets, and paper never can. No more mysteries about who’s out of the office on any given day.

  • Easy-to-use. Sending a time-off request can be done in just a few clicks. No more trying to craft the perfect email requesting a day off. HR software simplifies the process for both managers responding to a request and employees submitting a request.

The bottom line is that PTO tracking software is quick, user-friendly and exceedingly less frustrating for you and your employees than more manual methods. Here at PurelyHR time off tracking is one of our specialities. We help thousands of small and medium-sized businesses save time and money on vacation tracking (and other everyday HR tasks).


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