June 22, 2021

6 Tips for Managing a Vacation Request Rush

The U.S. is opening up post-pandemic, and after being stuck at home for over a year, people are itching to travel.

Because they haven’t been able to go anywhere for so long, workers have stockpiled vacation days. This means HR departments can expect a rush of employees wanting to take paid time off.

“With nowhere to get away to during the COVID-19 pandemic, PTO has gone largely unused — and some companies are bracing for an explosion of vacation requests,” writes Alexia Elejalde Ruiz, associate director of media relations and external communications at the University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The rush to take paid time off has the potential to create chaos for HR teams if they aren’t prepared to manage the influx of vacation requests. Here are six tips to help you balance employee PTO requests while keeping your organization functionally staffed. 

Tip #1: Let Employees Roll Over More PTO to 2022

Does your company have a PTO rollover policy or a use-it-or-lose-it policy? If it’s the latter, now may be a good time to pause it and switch to the former, if only temporarily. If you already allow for rollover days, consider upping or removing the cap on the number of hours that can be carried over.

By giving employees the opportunity to roll over more vacation time into next year, you may be able to avoid the onslaught of time off requests coming in for peak vacation times. This creates more flexibility for employees to use their personal time without worrying about being penalized for not taking the time off or being denied their request because too many employees want the same days off. 

Tip #2: Offer to Buy Back Accrued PTO

Another option for managing a PTO rush is for the company to buy back employees’ accrued time off. Employees, especially those who are struggling financially, will appreciate the extra money while employers benefit by not having as much requested time off to balance with staffing needs. The biggest drawback is the financial feasibility if employees start requesting payouts for most or all of their PTO for the year. Consider setting a maximum payout limit per employee if offering to buy back paid time off. 

Tip #3: Hold a PTO Lottery

To manage PTO requests, a lot of vacation policies work on either a first-come, first-serve or a seniority basis for approvals. While they serve their purpose in helping to manage PTO requests, these types of policies can create animosity in the workplace.

To give everyone a fair chance at taking the days off they want, consider doing a lottery system for the prime days employees typically request off. Randomly draw as many as you can afford to be without on a certain day or days. 

table of travel items, maps, brochures, camera, sunhat; vacation request concept

Tip #4: Incentivize Employees to Delay Their Vacation Request

Another way to alleviate a rush of PTO requests is to reward employees who are willing to change their plans and schedule vacation days at less-popular times. Based on what makes sense for your company financially you could offer the following:

  • an extra day off or a floating holiday.
  • a half day or early dismissal day.
  • they get first request for another major holiday.
  • compensate them financially for delaying their time off.

These types of incentives may encourage some employees to consider taking alternative vacation days. 

Tip #5: Let Employees Set Vacation Days Among Themselves 

HR could also turn PTO scheduling over to employees in an effort to avoid everyone requesting time off at the same time. In larger companies, this can be done by department. 

Ensure managers know the minimum number of employees needed to keep operations moving and let them guide the conversation with their employees about how to schedule PTO in the department. HR would still need to be involved, but it would be to oversee the decisions made by the teams.

Tip #6: Encourage Employees to Take Shorter Vacations More Often

Vacations don’t always have to be a week or two long for employees to fully relax and recharge. In fact, taking multiple short vacations throughout the year can ultimately be more beneficial than taking long vacations, reports Josephine Chu, producer and editor at USA Today. So, why not encourage employees to take shorter breaks, like three-day weekends, throughout the year instead of one long break during peak vacation periods? This will stagger PTO requests and employee absences, making it easier for HR to manage. 

Paid time off may become a point of contention this year between management and workers as people start hitting the road again for vacation. These tips can help HR manage PTO to the benefit of both the organization and the employees. 

Images by: Daniil Peshkov/©123RF.com, Kwanchai Chai-udom/©123RF.com