Spreadsheet vs Absence
Management Tools: Who Wins?

“Does this dark green mean approved or pending?”

“This formula is not calculating my PTO correctly!”

“Hey Bob! Could you please close Schedule.xslx? Because I want to request time off for Friday.”

It’s common for startups and small companies to use general-purpose tools for the most part of their operations: order management, resource allocation, timekeeping, and absence management. At the start, it works perfectly: just a couple of employees, direct communication with the business owner, and simple – if any – approval procedure.

The difficulties appear as the company grows. New requests create confusion, misunderstanding and conflicts. Now it’s obvious that it’s time to implement a special tool.

Mostly, small companies are reluctant to adopt software tools for absence management. Besides following the “we’re too small” mindset by inertia, it is caused by the intention to save resources. It’s not just subscription price – it’s also time required to learn how to use the tool, configure it according to the company’s needs, and onboard users. But the truth is, in the long term it looks more like wasting time and money than saving them.

How’s that possible?

Absence management with spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are a frequent choice for recording schedules: they are familiar to anyone and don’t require any efforts for getting started with them. A cloud document or a file on the company’s file exchange server, a simple chart or a complex system with formulas and dependencies – there are various ways to implement absence management with a spreadsheet. What are pros and cons of using a spreadsheet for managing vacations, sick leaves, and other types of time off?

Pros
Cons

  • Familiar to everyone
  • No additional cost
  • Ready-to-use leave management templates available on the Internet
  • Tedious and costly configuration process
  • Don’t work well in multiuser environment
  • Links to cloud docs and local storages get lost
  • Low levels of traceability
  • No automatic backups
  • No reporting and no data analysis tools
Pros
  • Familiar to everyone
  • No additional cost
  • Ready-to-use leave management templates available on the Internet
Cons
  • Tedious and costly configuration process
  • Don’t work well in multiuser environment
  • Links to cloud docs and local storages get lost
  • Low levels of traceability
  • No automatic backups
  • No reporting and no data analysis tools

As we can see, spreadsheets can work fine if the primary purpose is to set up a simple system and start using it right away. That’s why they are often used as temporary solutions for keeping record of absences before a special tool is selected and adopted. And as the business grows, replacing a spreadsheet with a functional absence management tool becomes critical.

Special absence management software

For managers who deal with a spreadsheet absence management system, having a handy tool where all absences are recorded, balances are calculated and the entire history is traceable sounds like a dream come true. For employees, it’s not quite so: people are usually reluctant to get started with new software. Data entry mistakes, additional effort spent on explaining software features, and additional time for correcting mistakes are common on initial steps of new tool implementation.

That’s why it is essential to thoroughly review available leave management software and select the tool that offers a smooth way of logging and managing absences. This will reduce initial reluctance and help transfer existing data sooner. It’s also important to take into account that instant benefits, such as employees’ self-service and convenient request and approval process, will simplify the onboarding process.

To sum up, special absence management tools have the following pros and cons:

Pros
Cons

  • Fast request and approval process
  • Automated calculation of leave balances
  • Reports for analyzing data and revealing trends
  • Designed to work in multiuser environment
  • Traceable history
  • Easy configuration
  • No errors caused by human factor
  • Additional costs
  • Efforts are required to get familiar with the tool
  • Additional time for getting started
Pros
  • Fast request and approval process
  • Automated calculation of leave balances
  • Reports for analyzing data and revealing trends
  • Designed to work in multiuser environment
  • Traceable history
  • Easy configuration
  • No errors caused by human factor
Cons
  • Additional costs
  • Efforts are required to get familiar with the tool
  • Additional time for getting started

The cons seem to be few, but sometimes they make implementation of absence management software unreasonable. This happens mostly in the companies where resources (both finances and employees’ time) are scarce. And the truth is, spreadsheets can work well for startups and small companies that don’t require complex leave management processes.

However, business owners that aim at the company’s growth realize that it’s worth spending additional resources on a special system. First, using a special tool prevents time waste related to configuration, double data entry, and manual operations. Another major benefit is preventing labor conflicts that appear due to confusions, calculation errors, and lack of data updates. Scalable solutions that can be adjusted to the company’s needs as the business grows are a perfect solution: they don’t require too much resources at initial steps and can be smoothly reconfigured when requirements change.

Summary

Specific business requirements can be different, but the general trend is starting absence management with a spreadsheet and switching to a special tool as the company grows and a more complex process is required. Actually, spreadsheets can meet absence management needs for a while, but in the long term, special absence management tools prove to be more efficient in financial and organizational terms.

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