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What is Time Off Management?

Picture this: It’s October. Your team is starting to submit vacation requests for the holidays, and they all want time off. You have to ensure that your customers get the support they need, but you also want to make sure your people get the vacations they deserve. 

At the same time, you realize that you want to balance those requests and expertise. All of your more senior team members knew to ask for time off well in advance, so you feel like your newer team members will get slighted. Plus, approving all of those requests means you’ll be staffed with only your less-experienced agents who may not be ready to handle things on their own by then. What do you do? 

This situation would be overwhelming for even the most seasoned workforce management pros. But having a solid Time Off Management process in place can help answer the tough questions and guide your decisions. 

The best part? You might even be able to keep everyone happy (or, at the very least, mostly happy).

Does this matter to you? Keep reading if…

  • You know you’re going to be overstaffed during upcoming days and want to give your agents the opportunity to take time off.

  • The holidays are approaching and your agents are looking to book time off around those dates.

  • You have upcoming times when more people want to take time off than you can allow and you aren’t sure how to make those decisions.

  • Your agents need flexibility but you are unsure of how to provide it without compromising your schedule.

First things first, what is Time Off Management?

Time Off Management is—you guessed it—the management of employee time off.

On the surface, it seems like it’d be a straightforward topic. But, if you’ve ever managed more than a handful of employees, you know how difficult it actually is. 

Time Off Management isn’t just a challenging task, it’s also surprisingly nuanced. There are three types of time off that you’ll likely need to manage:

  • Pre-approved time off: Your standard time off requests, planned in advance by agents and employees. Some of the most common examples include taking time for holiday travel or taking a Friday off for a long weekend.

  • Volunteer time off: This type of time off is driven by business needs. If (and when) the workforce team identifies a need for reduced staffing, leadership might offer to let people leave work or take a day off instead of reducing payroll by other means—like cutting meetings or training sessions.

  • Flex time off: Flex time off is a system where schedules have some flexibility built into them, and it’s probably best illustrated by an example. Say Fred needs to take the afternoon off but has no paid time left. You know his absence that afternoon will still cause some challenges, but later in the week will be even more challenging. So, you allow Fred to “flex” the afternoon’s hours and make them up later in the week when you could really use the added support. Flex time can also be used as a way to shift hours toward a time when they’re more needed. In this case, you might offer to let staff leave when workloads are low and make the time up later when they're higher.

Of the three types of time off, pre-approved is generally the most common. It tends to be the easiest to deal with since you have plenty of notice to plan, but you also have the added complication of checking it against agents accrued time off.

While pre-approved leave isn’t without its challenges, it’s really the ad-hoc requests and flex time that are increasingly complex to manage. Yet, they’re also powerful staffing tools when you handle them right. Being aware of all the different scenarios where you might need to adjust and manage schedules enables you to be prepared when those inevitable emergencies happen.

3 benefits of an effective Time Off Management process

There’s no way around it: Nobody is going to work 52 weeks every year. Giving your team time off is necessary. 

What isn’t necessary, though? A planning process that’s a stressful disaster. Or worse, flying by the seat of your pants with no plan at all. By implementing a structured system for Time Off Management, you can keep your team (not to mention yourself) happier. 

Here are just a few of the benefits of being more strategic about planning and managing your team’s time off: 

  1. You can allow your agents to take the time off they have earned without it being a detriment to your customer experience. This is crucial for team morale, as you’ll quickly have a crew of unhappy agents if the answer is “no”  or “not now” every time they request time off.

  2. You’ll be equipped with a fair system for determining who can take time off and when. Ironing out the details also gives you the opportunity to provide your agents visibility into the process. They’ll understand why decisions are made certain ways rather than feeling slighted if their request needs to be turned down.

  3. You can boost certainty and security on your team. By planning well into the future, your agents won’t have to wait as long to know if their request is approved. No one likes the uncertainty of not knowing if they can make time off plans, not to mention it’s extra-expensive for your agents to make plans for their time off at the last minute. 

How does a Time Off Management process actually work? 

So, you’re convinced that your time off process needs an overhaul but the idea of planning for all of the various scenarios makes you feel cross-eyed. Where the heck do you start? We’ve got you covered.

Step #1: Have a strategy for dealing with pre-planned time off 

First, it’s important to have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with those times that have a higher-than-normal volume of requests. 

The most common examples are major holidays. Rough cuts of time off requests and allotments should be made in advance (e.g. 80% of your final estimations) and capacity planning is the perfect time to get these loose estimates of hours. 

This helps you avoid letting too many people take off far in advance, and also gives you some wiggle room and flexibility to accommodate people who were unable to plan for the holiday that far ahead of time. You’ll then update and target specific hours when you go through your short-term planning. 

Step #2: Begin with your short-term planning

Speaking of short-term planning, Time Off Management is almost always easier if you approach it after you’ve completed your planning for the week or month. With that information in hand, you can get a clear picture of when you have overstaffed (or alternatively, understaffed) situations coming up—and that clarity makes for good planning. 

Remember that these short-term plans should already account for the pre-planned time off requests (as discussed in the previous step), so the main things you’ll need to look at through this process are:

  • How much room you have available for ad-hoc requests
  • When you need to offer voluntary time off to cut back on overages
  • How much flex time you have available (and when)

Step #3: Create “buckets” of time off for each day

Next, you’ll review your plan and create “buckets” of time off that employees can dip into. These buckets can be based on expected staffing overages for the day or you can set them based on a minimum acceptable level of coverage. 

Either way, make sure you leave yourself some buffer—you don’t want to accidentally spread your staff too thin. A good rule of thumb might be to limit yourself to 80% of the overage amount. For example, if you have 10 hours of extra coverage on Tuesday, add eight hours to the bucket for that day but keep the extra two as a buffer. 

PRO TIP: Rather than using one time off bucket, split it into three smaller ones: morning, day, and evening. Otherwise, you run the risk that agents who are awake earlier in the day use up all the time off, leaving the later-staffed agents without any options—and feeling frustrated, to boot. 

These buckets enable agents to take time off with minimal impact to service levels, since you’ve already reviewed and decided in advance that X amount of hours are available for time off. It also gives the whole team some added flexibility—the hours can be used the same day to help out agents in real time. 

PRO TIP: Things don’t always stick to your plan. If things get unexpectedly busy, remove the rest of the time from the buckets. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stretched even more when agents rush to get time off now that you’re swamped. 

For example, if someone is running late, they can request some time off to avoid being counted as an absence. You can use flex time in a similar manner to help out employees that don’t have any PTO left (assuming your company rules allow it). 

This process ends up benefiting both your team members and the organization as a whole. Your agents know that there’s flexibility, which can help alleviate major stress, and the business gets to reduce what would otherwise be unnecessary payroll expenses. 

Step #4: Track and manage time off on a daily basis

As you go through the week, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your time off schedule. If you don’t, it’s easy to run into situations like the following:

  • Allowing too many people to take off in the same time frame.

  • Not following a first-come, first-served system, which is the only truly fair way to offer time off like this.

  • Giving time off to employees that don’t have any accrued time left (which can be a big no-no in some organizations).

  • Pushing flex time into different billing cycles. For example, time off on Friday gets flexed to the following Monday, which is a new pay period and can mess with the employees full-time status or throw off a tight budget.

You can review your time off buckets as you go through your regular Real-Time or Intraday Schedule Management procedures. This way you’ve got an accurate picture of everything related to your scheduling each day.

It’s also important to note that you should try to avoid denying requests based solely on length of time. There’s almost always an alternative to an outright “no,” and offering one is a fantastic way to build goodwill with your employees. 

For example, if someone requests eight hours but only has four hours of PTO left, you could offer the half day instead of denying the request altogether. 

Don’t let your team’s schedule go on vacation

Giving your agents time off is absolutely necessary. It’s an investment in your staff to keep them happy, healthy, and productive.

With that said, it’s your job to come up with a fair plan that benefits both your team and the company, and that’s where Time Off Management comes in. 

Keep these reminders in mind to ensure your time off calendar is a source of relaxation and not stress:

  • Effective planning on your part ultimately means increased agent happiness. The better you are able to plan, the more quickly you can respond to your team’s time off requests with confidence.

  • Flex time is an often-overlooked option and should become a part of your playbook. This helps give you some additional leeway with requests, so that you ideally don’t have to deny as many as you normally might.

  • Make your agents aware of how time off plans are made. Even if they can’t get everything they want approved, the transparency into why will help with morale.

Managing time off and keeping employees happy can be a daunting task and we don’t blame you if you feel like you need some time off after you’re done! But by implementing these tips, you should find the process way more straightforward (and hopefully a little less stressful).

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