Running Your Business

Building a Paid Time Off Policy That Ensures Everyone Gets a Vacation

  • Even if you're short-staffed, it's important to make sure all employees get a vacation

  • Plan ahead so busy periods are determined, and cross-train your employees so more than one person knows how to do critical tasks

  • Offer employees who take vacations during the off-season (if you have one) bonus days

Posted by July 10, 2018

Your paid time off policy only works if people actually get to use their vacation days. It’s even better if they get to take them when they want to.

Generally, that means during the summer. But what do you do if you’re already short-staffed? It can kill morale if you say “no” to people’s vacation requests, and you could become even more short-staffed if team members call out sick or quit for greener pastures. So, here are a few things you can do to help make sure everyone gets a vacation when they need one.

Plan Ahead

Of course, you can’t plan things perfectly—unforeseen issues often arise. But a lot of tasks can be planned and prepared for in advance. To start, put all the critical deadlines on the calendar; if you’ve got a super busy period coming up, where you really can’t stand to have anyone gone, put that on the calendar as well. Then, tell your team you want them to submit their summer vacation requests by a particular date. If everyone requests different dates, you’re all set. If people want overlapping dates, you’ll have to sort it out.

Some companies do this by seniority or by hierarchy, but often it’s best to let the people who want the same dates talk it out. People tend to be more flexible when they understand. If Jane’s request is to go to her brother’s wedding, that will probably outrank Jon’s request to go hiking. The mountains will be there the following week.


It’s a good idea for team members to be cross-trained on different duties. Make sure that more than one person knows how to do every critical task in the office. In addition, more than one person should have access to crucial passwords. This exchange of knowledge should be something that is ongoing.

Even if you’re sure someone won’t take a vacation, they may become ill or resign for any number of reasons. Cross-trained employees are key to a successful business, and preparing for vacation season is a good reminder.

Lower Your Standards

This seems like terrible advice—why would you ever want to lower your standards? Well, if you’re short-staffed, something has to give. Depending on the business, there should be certain tasks or projects that can take a backseat for a while. If you know you might get behind on filing in July, you can make a plan to get caught up in August.

Hire a Temp

This, of course, doesn’t work for all businesses—but if it’s possible, definitely consider it. Yes, it costs money. But it means you can rest assured that while your employees relax on the beach, their work is getting done.

Offer Bonus Days for Vacations Taken During the Off-Season

Most employees want to take a vacation during the summer or over the holidays. So, it’s a good idea for organizations to incentivize employees to take time off during other months by offering them an extra day of vacation if they do so.

That extra day just might encourage some employees to take their trips in October or February. This can help ensure there are always enough employees in the office.

Why Go Through All This Trouble?

You may be thinking, “It’s just time off—so, why go through all this trouble?” Well, vacation is included in employees’ compensation. Your company wouldn’t say, “Oh, it’s just $2,000 we’re subtracting from their paychecks, what’s the big deal?” If the organization promised two weeks of vacation to someone earning $50,000 a year, that’d be similar to stealing $2,000 worth of their time. That’s not a good thing—for the business or your coworkers’ well-being.

Everyone needs a break. If it’s good for them, it’s good for the bottom line. Therefore, making sure everyone gets proper vacation time should be a priority for all businesses.

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