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Manage PTO Staffing Strains With These Tips

Manage PTO Staffing Strains With These Tips

According to BerniePortal’s First Class PTO report, many small and mid-sized employers experience staffing strain at the end of the year as many employees look to take PTO at the same time. By planning in advance, you can reduce this strain and create a smoother holiday season for your entire team. 

A few options include getting ahead of time off requests with a reminder email to employees, switching to a rollover PTO approach and instituting vacation blackout periods.



What You Need to Know about PTO Approaches.

Many small and mid-sized employers experience staffing strain at the end of the year as employees take off work at the same time. However, staffing issues can crop up at any point. 

For many organizations, the two most common PTO approaches include: 

  1. Annual Allotment: This approach represents a specified number of days per year that will either expire or roll over based on an annual date. The date could be Jan. 1, or it could be based on the employee’s hire date. Often this approach is called PTO carryover.

    1. Example: If you have 10 PTO days per year, you might have the ability to roll over up to 3 days from one year to the next. The anniversary date will typically be the hire date.

  2. Accrual Bank: This approach represents PTO that is accrued based upon a predetermined schedule, such as monthly or quarterly. The days are generally accrued up to a “positive limit,” after which no more days are accrued until some are taken. Accrual time may have no fixed rollover or expiration date, or it may be managed through a combination structure, where days accrue but must be taken prior to the employee’s hire date or end of the year.

    1. Example: 10 days are accrued per year, on a monthly schedule, up to a positive limit of 20 days.

Recently, unlimited PTO packages have grown in popularity among employers as a tool to retain and attract employees. While this approach may seem especially generous, these policies can increase work trust and performance, avoid an end-of-year rush, and save your organization time, energy, and money in the long run. 


How Does PTO Impact Holiday Time Off?

For small teams, providing PTO while maintaining an effective workforce is a big challenge—especially around the holidays. Many organizations are looking for PTO tools with “at-a-glance” calendars that allow for easier staffing decisions—and others still may want to audit and update their time-off policy to save resources in the long run.

Consider the following scenarios HR may face during the holiday season:

  • “Employees bank their PTO and then take large chunks of time off, which presents a problem with coverage, as we are a small office with limited staff.”

  • “We have PTO strain when more than one employee requests time off due to small staff size, especially around the holidays. How do we manage without demotivating?”

Utilizing the correct strategies can make huge improvements to your PTO related staffing strain. Create an actionable plan, and follow through. 


How Should You Schedule Blackout Dates?

Blackout dates are often a necessary part of managing a PTO policy. Certain industries are busier during specific seasons and drop off during other times of the year. You can imagine that tax season is a time where there is likely little room for an accountant to take PTO. 

There are a few ways you can go about dealing with blackout days. You can base it off of a busy time of the year, and close off the option for PTO by all employees. 

Perhaps you wish to be open to some PTO time to allow your employees the option, but worry that too many wish to take it during your busiest season. If this is the case it would be best to create a strategy to effectively limit PTO usage as opposed to cutting it out entirely. 

You can base this system on a first come, first serve basis. This would certainly entice employees to book their PTO in advance rather than opting to use it during the busy season simply to avoid losing the days. 

The other option would be to base it on a seniority scale. Those who are more tenured with the organization, would gain first priority on taking PTO during said blackout period.


6 Ways to Avoid Holiday PTO Strain 

Here are a few solutions for managing staff holidays and employee time off requests:

  1. Send a Fourth Quarter PTO Reminder: Get ahead of the inevitable with an end-of-year PTO reminder. Encourage team members to check their balances and remind employees of your policy—do days roll over, or expire? Are holiday PTO requests considered on a first-come, first-serve basis?
  2. Switch to a Rollover Approach: If PTO days expire at the end of the year, the mad dash to take time off is almost inevitable. Consider allowing a certain number of days to rollover up to a certain limit—some team members may prefer to take a bigger block of time off in the next year, reducing holiday strain.
  3. Vacation Blackout Periods: As previously mentioned, blackout days are often essential to certain industries. If you need all hands on deck during the holidays, consider a vacation blackout period. PTO is offered optionally and at employers’ discretion, so you have the ability to block off periods of time when no PTO requests will be approved. If you go this route, be sure to make it a part of your official PTO policy—don’t surprise employees with it at the end of the year.
  4. Consider a PTO Audit: A PTO audit is an essential part of ongoing HR compliance. In some cases, conducting a time-off policy audit may require a few small adjustments to accommodate an organization’s workforce. In others, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a PTO review could save your organization from financial ruin. Communicate any updates with the following template.
  5. Require Advance Notice: Requiring an advanced notice on all PTO requests can also help combat staffing qualms. Should employees be required to give advance notice, you would cut out those choosing to use their days at the very last minute in attempts to not lose the days that do not rollover. 
  6. Utilize an HRIS: An HRIS system should include a paid time off (PTO) tracking feature that is accessible for both the employer and employee. Your PTO tracking system should permit the employee to request time off, track accrual balance, and monitor PTO usage. A quality tracking system will remove the need for spreadsheets, increase efficiency, reduce error, reduce staffing strain, and increase employee participation.

Regardless of which method you implore, it is always wise to leave yourself and your managerial staff some breathing room should you need to call a sudden audible. There may be times where, should you accept PTO requests, you will be short staffed and ill equipped for the work day. You will need to be prepared to make these calls should it come down to this. The best option to avoid employee resentment is to be open and honest about the process from the very beginning. Be sure your employees fully understand the needs of the company, and the reality of what PTO during the holiday season could look like. 

Alongside wages and group benefits, paid time off is an important piece of employees’ full compensation arrangement. Ultimately, building a credible, consistent PTO policy is key, especially if you know there are seasonality concerns. Be sure to communicate your policy to employees as part of their onboarding process so that they are effectively able to plan their time off.

BernieU Course: Paid Time Off Tutorial: How to Build and Audit a Great PTO Policy

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