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When to say ‘NO’ to Time Off

Plot twist! In this post, we’re going to be discussing when to decline time-off requests, which is a little bit out of the ordinary for us. We’re usually telling you to give more vacation time to your employees. But, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t also recognize that sometimes situations come up where you can’t approve a request.

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

Whether it’s because it doesn’t comply with your PTO policy or someone is abusing those policies, when declining time-off requests, here are a few things to consider.

1. Communicate your PTO policies clearly and often

Your PTO policy needs to be very clearly defined so that when an outlying request comes in you can easily refer to it. Frequent communication and education about your PTO policy with your staff will also mean that employees will already be aware of the rules. If they know the policy, they will know they’re coming to you with the hopes of having an exception made.

2. Be understanding and compassionate

If it’s a situation where employees may already be aware their request will be denied based on 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 bad news. Time off is the bridge that connects work and personal time. Don’t burn that bridge.

3. Be cautious with exceptions

If you’ve clearly defined your PTO policy and communicate regularly with your staff then the number of outlying requests should be kept to a minimum, but it’s hard to 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 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.

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 Fridays or Mondays. 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.

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.” Here are a few instances: 

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 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. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to decline time off requests at all? Unfortunately, that’s not always reasonable. Everyone would love to take a 3-week trip to Spain but at the end of the day we are all here to work and there are duties that need to be completed and deadlines that need to be met.

As an example, if a request comes through from a department who have a big project due at the end of the month and you have already approved another team member’s request, maybe now isn’t 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 provide an alternate suggestion for a time that works better. The employee might not even be aware that their request would cause staffing issues and a simple discussion is likely all it will take for them to rework their request.

*In Time-Off 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 employees’ 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. We’ve 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 sufficient 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 a different case if it’s for something like a last-minute trip with friends.

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, it may be time for a refresher.

2. Enforce your policy 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 supervisors for time-off requests. All managers should have the power to take action if they notice anything is a bit off.

*In PurelyHR you can set which managers will review staff’s time-off requests.

Bottom line, time off is a benefit. And one where everyone will benefit when it’s used properly.

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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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