5 Ways Managers Can Handle Pent-Up Demand for PTO

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe June 1, 2021
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5 Ways Managers Can Handle Pent-Up Demand for PTO

​Most employees put their travel plans on hold last summer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that more people are vaccinated and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn't discouraging Americans from flying domestically, managers might soon be dealing with pent-up demand for summer vacations.

Last summer, 72 percent of Americans didn't take a vacation and 44 percent of working Americans didn't use any of their paid time off (PTO), according to a survey by ValuePenguin and LendingTree.

"Managers need to prepare for this wave of summer vacations and start coordinating schedules as soon as possible," said Felicia Daniel, SHRM-CP, human resources manager at TINYPulse, a Seattle software company. "I've been telling managers to set up 15-minute meetings now to find out what people are thinking about for upcoming vacations."

In a typical year, scheduling vacation time for every employee isn't difficult because employees tend to take PTO at different times, said Jill Santopietro Panall, SHRM-SCP, owner and chief consultant at 21 Oak HR Consulting in Newburyport, Mass. "Some families might take a spring break, while others prefer a summer vacation. But, with so few people taking vacation in 2020, most employees are itching to take time off [now]. As a manager, your goal should be to make sure everyone takes vacation."

Here are five ways managers can handle multiple requests for summer vacations:

1.    Set firm guidelines now.

Before the requests start coming in, decide now how many people can be out of the office at one time and whether requests will be granted based on seniority or on a first-come, first-served basis, Panall said. If summer is your busy time of the year, consider setting a two-week blackout date when no one can be on vacation unless it is an emergency, she said. But keep in mind, the more restrictive the policy is, the more likely it will upset employees. "People want to do what they want to do, especially if they're requesting time off to be with family," she said.

2.    Encourage employees to take shorter vacations.

Although many employees may be dreaming of a two-week vacation on the beach, it might not be feasible to take that much time off and still allow everyone to take a summer vacation.

Employees at CocoDoc, a software development company in Beverly Hills, Calif., agreed to limit their summer vacations to one week to allow all 20 employees to take time off this summer. "It wasn't easy to convince employees to take shorter vacations," said Alina Clark, CocoDoc's co-founder.

3.    Offer an incentive to anyone who delays vacation plans.

Because it wasn't possible for all 38 employees at Lock Search Group, an executive recruiting firm in Toronto, to go on vacation at their preferred time, anyone who agreed to delay their time off was given five extra paid vacation days. "This might seem like a lot, but since we had an avalanche of time-off requests, we had to offer an incentive whose benefits significantly outweighed the cost of rescheduling," said Ben Lamarche, general manager.

4.    Eliminate the use-it-or-lose-it policy. 

Most companies have a use-it-or-lose-it policy to prevent employees from accruing and cashing out paid time off before leaving for a new job or retiring. However, eliminating this rule will allow employees more time to use their PTO, making the need to take time off less urgent, Lamarche said. 

5.    Prepare for staff to be unavailable.

One way to make sure nothing falls through the cracks when employees are on leave is to require anyone going on PTO to provide a summary of each daily task they perform, a list of upcoming deadlines, advice for solving any potential problems and a roster of important contacts. Managers should begin as soon as possible to prepare a spreadsheet with each team member's name, their daily and weekly tasks, and the best contact number for while they're out, Daniel said.

"Be clear on your expectations when an employee is going on vacation," said Lauren Thomas, senior director of transformation and centralized services at Public Service Enterprise Group, a New Jersey energy company. Thomas recommends that employees set up an out-of-office message with an alternative contact in case something urgent arises while they are on vacation.

"Although boundaries should be respected and managers shouldn't require an employee to work while they're on vacation, it is still important for an employee who is leaving to provide information about the time they will be available to answer urgent work-related questions while they are away," Lamarche said. 

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. 

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