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When to say ‘NO’ to Time Off

Plot twist. In this post, we’re going to be discussing how to decline time off requests, which is a little bit out of the ordinary because we’re often telling you to provide more vacation time to your employees. But, we wouldn’t be doing our job fully if we didn’t also recognize the fact that abuse does happen, maybe not in the ways we usually think it does, but we can’t deny it’s presence.

Wishing for a world where you would never have any issues with PTO is like wishing for a world where you could order a piece of cake without any of the calories. – Jared Goodman, Content Creator at PurelyHR

In any situation where you have to decline time off requests, there are three very important things we want you to consider.

1. Clear communication is always going to save your life.

Your PTO policy needs to be very clearly defined so that when an outlying request comes in you can refer to it very easily. And frequent communication and education on your PTO policy to your staff will mean that the employee is already very aware of the rules and is coming to you with the hopes of having an exception made.

2. Be understanding and compassionate

Given that the employee is most likely very aware of the chances this request will be denied because of the PTO policy, be gentle with how you handle it. Always strive to be fair and compassionate with your staff, especially when you have to deliver them some bad news. Time off is the thing in your organization that connects your organization to their personal time, don’t kill that value by how you allow or decline its usage.

3. Be cautious with your time off culture.

In relation to the first point,  if you’ve clearly defined your PTO policy and have frequently communicated it to your staff then the number of outlying requests should be kept to a minimum, but you can’t prevent them entirely. Be aware of the times you allow exceptions to occur. At times, they will be necessary and you definitely have the freedom to reward exceptions to high performing and exemplary staff. However, if you allow for them 99% of the time you will absolutely have issues when it comes time for the 1%.

Notice A Pattern? Start a Conversation.

Probably one of the most common forms of PTO abuse is this:

An employee uses up all of their sick leave relatively quickly, which then prompts them to dip into their vacation time. This is where the red flag is going to be most prominent for the HR Decision Maker, as you want the employee to be using this time to recharge in a healthy way so that work continues to be an environment for them to excel in, not to be overwhelmed by.

This situation can be extremely difficult for you. No manager wants to be the one to accuse an employee of abusing sick time, there’s almost no situation where the employee is going to not be defensive.  However, you are able to notice patterns.

When you suspect that abuse might be occurring, take a look into the employee’s usage of sick time. Maybe they only take sick days on Friday’s or Monday’s. This is a great place to start a conversation about what that employee needs from you. Perhaps there’s a way you can be a part of the solution for them. Also, express your concern about their PTO time and what it’s supposed to be used for and how you don’t want to see them lose that.

When to Decline a PTO Request

The question on everyone’s mind! Now that we’ve discussed the items you should consider before the discussion, and the patterns you should be looking for before the discussion, it’s time to figure out when to have… “The Discussion”.

  • When the request goes against company policy.

Obvious, yes, but also important enough to be the first point. We want to reiterate again how important it is for the health of your PTO policy to be incredibly clear about what the rules are and to frequently communicate them to your teams to ensure declinable requests aren’t something that happens every day or even every week. Doing this means that once something does come up it’s easy to handle.

This is the perfect time to have an open conversation with the employee about the said request and document it. Whether you chose to allow the exception or not, the documentation serves as information for future conversations as to the why behind your decision.

  • When their absence causes a problem.

Of course, every HR Decision maker can vouch for this – we would love to not have to decline time off requests at all, but the reality is that’s simply not possible, or even reasonable. Everyone would love to take a three week trip to Spain but at the end of the day we are all here to run a business and there are duties that need to be completed and departments that have priorities and deadlines.

For example: If a request comes through from the marketing department who have a big project due at the end of the month, and you have already approved another team members request, then maybe now is not the most reasonable time for a second approval. Have a conversation with this employee about how someone else is already going to be away and then maybe next month works better. The employee might not even be aware that their request is unreasonable and discussing this with them may make them realize this and reschedule their vacation time.

*In PurelyHR we allow all departments to see who is away and when in the main calendar, this keeps your employees informed on what might be a reasonable time for time off and what might not be.

  • Taking too much time off at once.

A few months ago we wrote a blog post about sabbaticals. If your employee’s time off request looks more like an elongated leave than a summer vacay then maybe it’s time to have a conversation.

Experts say the perfect vacation is between 8 and 10 days.   discussed before how frequent mini vacations can be even better for you than one long chunk (for de-stressing).

Long absences can be hard on an organization, especially one with smaller departments. And, of course, there will be times where it’s perfectly reasonable and celebrated but when that’s not the case it’s perfectly fine to start a conversation with the employee about the reasons as to why that might be and if there’s any way they can reschedule. The key here is to not discourage them from taking a big vacation by any means, just to make them more aware of the implications when they do and how to time it properly.

  • Not giving proper notice.

Giving proper notice for anything work-related has always been viewed as a professional practice, and this relates to an earlier point we had about respect. This is a two-way street and that can be easily outlined in your PTO policies. In PurelyHR, we have it built into the request platform to advise the employee if a request is not meeting the standards for appropriate notice.

But hey, we’ve all been there! Of course, things are going to come up and just like any other scenario, it’s important to have a conversation about how necessary it’s going to be to make an exception.

Personal emergencies or illnesses are completely understandable, but it’s important for you as an HR Decision Maker to understand that for the last minute trip to the city with friends might not be the most reasonable, especially given the conversation we just had about deadlines and smaller departments.

And lastly, but certainly not least.

  • When employees aren’t taking enough time off.

We may be beating a dead horse here, but I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that sometimes employees are going to need to be told to take some time off. Your high performers can get in the habit of being a work martyr and it’s important that the HR Decision Maker steps in to have the conversation around taking a break.

You’ll be a pleasant breath of fresh air for the employee as unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Take your employees well being very seriously and recognize the signs and symptoms of burn out before it happens and help keep them from resorting to running out of those sick days.

As difficult as it may be for some to accept, ultimately everybody will be better off when employees are taking time off appropriately.

Steps you can take to avoid PTO abuse

1. Make sure your PTO policy is as effective as it should be. Like many things, employers’ best defence against PTO abuse is a clearly worded policy that tells employees what is and isn’t OK. If it’s been a while since you communicated your policy, you may want to do that in the near future.

2. Discipline offenders consistently. A strong PTO policy is all well and good, but it won’t help if employees know they can get away with not following it.

3. Give all managers the ability to enforce your policy. Employees will often go to their direct supervises for time off requests. So all managers should have the power to take action if they notice anything is a bit off.

*In PurelyHR we provide the ability for you to set which managers you would like to have control over staffs time off requests.

*PurelyHR also recommends starting conversations when noticing abuse before resorting to disciplinary actions. Getting to the root of what might be causing the abuse for the employee not only is the best first line of defence against it but also contributes to a very healthy company culture of mutual respect and listening.

In addition to these things, you may also want to consider rewarding staff who don’t ever have any issues with PTO, and maybe even are the most engaged with your policy. Because remember, people who don’t take vacation time can be just as dangerous as those who take too much.

Bottom line is, time off is a benefit. And one where everyone will benefit when it’s used appropriately, and when it’s not it’s probably the right time to have a discussion about it.

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Jared Goodman

As Content Coordinator at PurelyHR, it’s Jared’s job to research the latest and greatest time off trends and deliver them in impactful ways to our customers. A self-proclaimed Anti-Hustler, Jared knows the value time off can have in a business, having burned out several times as a freelancer before finding true work/life balance at PurelyHR. It’s his mission to help all 100,000 of our users achieve that same satisfaction.

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