The HR Administrator’s Guide to Managing Vacations and Other Employee Absences

With the Fourth of July and other summer long weekends right around the corner, businesses the world over are expecting an increasing number of employee absences, as employees stretch 2- or 3-day weekends into 4- or 5-day breaks.

But since not every absence comes about in the same way, your response to each one shouldn’t be identical either.

After all, one employee’s long-planned and long-prepared beach weekend has much less of an impact on your business’ operations than another employee’s surprise no-show on the day after a holiday.

vacation planning 4 julyHere are the four types of absences you can expect, and the four best ways to respond to them:

1. Planned absence

Planned absences are the best-case scenario, because they give you the most time to prepare. But don’t just approve them and forget about them: With great lead-time comes great responsibility.

Start by getting sweeping approvals. The more stakeholders you can notify, the less objections you’ll have to deal with down the line. Get managerial sign-off, and use a shared vacation calendar for easy reference in the future.

As the date approaches, make sure that any affected deadlines will still be met, communications channels won’t be interrupted, and emergencies will be still be dealt with. Then wish your employee bon voyage, because they’re good to go.

2. Last-minute absence

These things happen. Don’t panic. If you’ve been asked, and not simply told, resist the temptation to immediately say “no.”

Instead, consider how you can make it work: Can that day’s tasks be handled by anyone else? Is unpaid leave an option? Could deadlines be pushed back slightly? Would a half-day be long enough, could a phone call replace a face-to-face, or could the time be made-up on the weekend?

Consider also what happens if you insist the employee come in to work: Will they be miserable and unproductive? Could other people get sick? Would the employee resent you forever for having missed a once-in-a-lifetime event (think weddings and funerals)? Is turnover a risk? Could this be the last day of good weather for months?

3. Unexpected absence

Uh-oh, someone didn’t show up. Maybe the traffic was inconceivably bad, or the surf was outrageously good.

First, check your vacation calendar and consult with the employee’s supervisor to make sure you’re not missing anything. Then, try to get in touch with the person: maybe they’re not actually “absent,” they’re just running very late.

When you’re sure it’s a no-show, document the absence. You’ll want it to be available as a reference in the future, whether it’s for a one-on-one discussion, a formal performance review, or even termination papers.

If you can wait until the employee is back before you determine whether it should count as a “sick” day, a “vacation” day, or something else, do so.

Finally, get to work making sure things don’t fall apart. Is that person’s team now short for the day? Can someone come in to help? Could you re-assign someone for a half-day, or push back some meetings? It’s not HR’s role to step in and do the work, but it is HR’s job to predict the unexpected, and make sure that everything is in place to cope with it (even if that only means starting to prepare for next time).

4. Virtual absence

The dreaded virtual absence is what happens when your employee still shows up, but isn’t really “there.” Maybe they’re upset that a vacation request got turned down, the fireworks outside are a distraction, the handful of people in the office do better in a busy environment, or the broken air conditioner means it’s too hot to concentrate.

While disorganized PTO planning can be an influencing factor for virtual and sudden absences, the problem is ultimately one of motivation and engagement. The virtual absence is a signal of a greater pain, either of the managerial relationship or of your leave approval policies.

Structure your response with recognition, changes, goals, feedback and/or rewards like you always do, and things will be ship-shape before you can say “Labor Day.”

Joseph Fung is co-founder and CEO of TribeHR, pioneer of the industry’s first social HR platformTry it today.


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