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Life is messy, and there are endless reasons a person might need time away from work. From fun-in-the-sun vacations to unexpected physical or mental health issues, family emergencies or COVID, our needs are diverse.

Enter personal time off, AKA paid time off (PTO). Though managing PTO like a boss takes a bit of finesse, it’s worth perfecting your system. A solid PTO policy can render your recruitment efforts more fruitful. You’ll attract higher quality talent, something every managed service provider (MSP) lives to do. It also boosts employee morale, which in turn leads to greater productivity.

What is PTO?

PTO is a company benefit program or policy that allows employees to take compensated time away from work for vacation for any number of personal reasons.

In order to simplify administrative work, as well as recognize the diverse needs of employees (not to mention their privacy), more and more companies are foregoing the distinction between vacation and other “personal” days. In other words, rather than 10 sick days, 10 vacation days, and 5 mental health days, an employee would be allotted 25 paid days off to use as they see fit.

How much PTO your company offers will depend on various factors. For one thing, the location of your business will probably have some bearing of what laws your company is subject to.

When to decline a time off request

Time off is essential to the wellbeing of all employees, so approving time off requests should always be the goal. That said, there are situations that might force you to decline a request, and it’s important to be aware of what they are.

Their absence will cause problems

Scenario: you’ve already approved one team member’s request, but a second absence from the same department seems unwise given the giant project due in just a few weeks. Potential solution: sit down and talk to the employee. They may not even be aware that their absence would cause staffing issues. Suggest an alternate time that will work better and see if a resolution can be reached.

It violates company policy

If you communicate the rules for requesting time off clearly and frequently and include them in your PTO policy, you should be able to prevent requests that violate company policy. Nonetheless, it may still happen on occasion. When it does, consider it an opportunity to discuss the request with the employee. Whether or not you make an exception, documenting the discussion will help to clarify the reasoning behind your decision.

They didn’t give enough notice

It’s good workplace etiquette to give proper notice when requesting PTO. Still, the amount of notice that must be given should be clearly outlined in your PTO policy. Communicating expectations clearly will certainly reduce last-minute requests. Nonetheless, unexpected things do come up, and it’s up to you to make an exception—or not—based on the information at hand.

They’re asking for too much time away

Extended absences can be hard—particularly on small businesses. While there are times when it’s okay to take more than the typical one- to two-week vacation (or the “ideal” eight to 10 day vacay), it may be time for a talk if your employee’s time-off request err more on the side of a request for extended leave, or a sabbatical. The goal is not necessarily to convince them to shorten their vacation, but rather, to make amply sure it’s workable for the company and finding creative solutions when it’s not.

Things to consider when creating your time off policy

Whether you’re drafting an entirely new PTO policy or revising your existing one, be sure to consider the following factors.

How much time off?

Once you’ve landed on which types of time off you’ll be offering you need to decide how much time off each employee gets—per category and in total. If you’re not bothering with categories, just decide how many days in total.

To accrue or not to accrue?

Will employees be able to access their entire bank of PTO from the moment they’re hired, or will they accrue it throughout the year? Although an annual accrual rate is common in part because it’s simple and allows employees to schedule PTO more in advance, some companies go with monthly or quarterly accrual. Find what works best for your business.

To renew or not to renew?

Will an employee’s PTO renew each year, or will unused PTO carry over into the subsequent year? Regardless of what you decide, always be sure you’re compliant with state law, as the rules do vary. If you’re worried about employees accumulating huge sums of PTO, consider finding ways to incentivize time off.

The possibility of a payout

If an employee is leaving and has unused PTO, some states consider this a form of earned wages and require the employer to pay up. Even in states that don’t require this, many companies do it anyway because it’s good practice. Meanwhile, some businesses believe employees should be compensated for unused PTO even if they aren’t leaving—and others say yes, but at a lesser rate. In an effort to avoid payouts, some businesses  go the ‘use it lose it’ route, while others opt for the ofttimes controversial ‘unlimited PTO’. Weigh your options carefully!

Borrowed time

During a recent hire’s probationary period, you might let them ‘borrow’ from their future PTO so they can deal with any commitments made before taking the job. This can really help ease the transition.

Preventing infractions

Your policy should end with a section which clearly outlines step-by-step repercussions in the event that an employee violates the policy. Additionally, you might employ infraction tracking software to keep things organized.

When to switch policies

Any policy worth its salt is usually reviewed every three years at minimum, but ideally once a year. Additionally, it’s always smart to revise or change your policy when the unexpected or unprecedented happens (i.e., a global pandemic).

Clarifying the rules for requesting time off

If you’re managing your company’s PTO program, you know that it’s impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, but the best way to come close is by communicating clearly! Did we say that already? Here are a few rules for requesting time off you should communicate clearly and frequently.

How to submit requests

Identify a clear and simple process all employees need to follow when submitting PTO requests and commit to it. Try not to make exceptions, as they’re a slippery slope. Avoid overly complex procedures that might discourage people from making requests.

When to submit requests

If there are times of the year that are off limits, clarify which periods are free for the taking, as well as how much time off an employee can request per pay period and how often they can make requests. Also clarify how much advance notice is needed. A minimum of two weeks is the standard, but there may be reasons to alter this to fit the needs of your business.

When not to submit requests

Clearly identify any peak periods that your MSP goes through each year which are simply off limits. Since the busiest times of year for your business may also be the most popular period for requests, it’s very important to make this job requirement clear immediately upon interviewing a candidate. You might also consider setting a monthly deadline for requests or outlining how many employees from the same department can be off at once.

How to deal with last-minute PTO requests

Despite your stellar communication skills, last-minute time off requests still happen, and they can force you to reorganize your priorities, pull employees off urgent projects, ask them to work late, or even end up working late yourself. Consider these additional tips for dealing with the stress of the last-minute request.

Treat multiple requests with fairness

You’ll at some point find yourself in a situation where multiple employees are requesting last-minute time off for the same period—yet you can only handle one absence. A first come, first served policy may be the best way to ensure fairness in such a case and will also encourage employees to get their requests in earlier. Then again, you might prioritize someone’s funeral over a concert, or someone who never makes requests over someone who does so often. That said, it’s not always clear cut. It helps to have clear written protocols in place for different scenarios.

Always have backup

There are many scenarios in which having a few on-call employees who are qualified to take over a given position can come in handy. Personal emergencies like illness, injury or a death do happen, after all. Your employees shouldn’t be faulted for such events, but neither should your business suffer. Rather than frantically reaching out to staff at the last minute requesting they come into work, create a list of backup employees—people who don’t work that shift but who are nonetheless available if something comes up.

Other ways MSPs can manage PTO and vacation requests

Quality of life is the deciding factor for many in-demand tech employees, so they tend to care just as much about PTO as they do about salary, if not more. MSPs looking to attract and retain the best talent need to take this seriously. In addition to having a solid policy in place, consider the following strategies for managing PTO easily and fairly.

Team-based vacation planning

If one sole manager (you?) coordinates all vacation scheduling, chances are your process is not as efficient as it could be. You may also be accused of playing favorites from time to time. Consider making vacation scheduling a team effort. It can be a bit messy at times, but making the process collaborative also makes it highly transparent.

The rota

A rota AKA a rotating schedule is an excellent way of sharing the job of PTO management between several people based on a predetermined schedule. You can also use a rota for employee requests with the goal, over time, of giving everyone an equal opportunity to get their first-choice picks. This option works best with staff input.

Need more guidance managing talent for your MSP? An expert partner can help

The bottom line is that it’s important you value your employees’ time as well as your own. Hopefully this guide has helped inspire new and improved ways to do just that. Next order of business: get busy scheduling your own vacation. You’ll be that much better equipped to handle the PTO requests of others if you also take care of yourself!

Beyond that, an expert partner might be able to help your MSP with solutions for sourcing and managing talent. Sherweb Helpdesk, for example, can assist your MSP with outsourcing certain support functions so that your current in-house resources can focus on other priorities.

Reach out to us to start a conversation about how Sherweb can support MSPs, or check out our partner guide for more information about how we can position your business for growth with value-added services and solutions.

Written by The Sherweb Team Collaborators @ Sherweb