How to Avoid Vacation Schedule Disasters

Remember the recent episode with American Airlines, when a glitch in the company’s vacation scheduling system allowed all pilots to take leaves on Christmas week? The result could be a true catastrophe for American: thousands of planes could have remained grounded during the busiest season of the year.

Because everyone wants a vacation on Christmas week.

The crisis has been resolved by offering pilots 150 percent of their rates for Christmas week flights and involving reserve pilots to cover the gaps – in other words, by enormous unexpected costs and management efforts.

This example shows how disruptive vacation planning mishaps can be – even for large businesses like American Airlines. For smaller companies, they can be fatal. And, to make things worse, smaller companies tend to use multipurpose tools that don’t provide necessary level of vacation schedule control.

Good news is that there are efficient ways to prevent this kind of problems.

1. Develop written policies

The first step to the efficient vacation management is a clear policy. Develop concise rules for taking leave time and inform your employees about them – this also applies if you make changes to an existing leave management regulations. Include the policy in your company’s employee handbook and make sure that everyone has access to it.

2. Set a deadline for new time-off requests

Usual practice is requiring to submit leave requests are required to submit one month in advance. However, sometimes it is recommended to plan yearly leaves in the beginning of the year – to prevent people from taking their leaves in the last couple of months of the year. Not uncommon are also situations when an urgent time-off needs to be approved.

Consider possible options, define which one is appropriate for your purposes, and write it down in your leave management policy.

3. Build a request and approval procedure

This procedure helps avoid unexpected changes in your company’s or department’s vacation schedule which usually create chaos in work management. The best way to decide whether a request should be approved or not is having the team’s leave schedule where all upcoming absences are shown.

What’s important here: don’t afraid to say no if an employee requests a time off for a period when it is not technically possible – and instruct subordinate managers to decline vacation requests if planned workloads don’t allow that. However, be consistent with this: reasons to restrict leave requests should apply to all of the employees equally.

If there are any critical periods defined by the nature of your business, consider a time-off blackout for those dates. For example, if you have busy time before Christmas, you simply cannot afford approving leaves for a half of your staff.

4. Consider offering bonuses or incentives for work during the most popular vacation times

Speaking of critical periods, sometimes it’s hard to find sufficient resources to perform work in the most popular vacation time. Not for all companies it’s feasible to shut down for time before and after public holidays. Even slowing down in those periods can be harmful for businesses.

If that’s the case, consider offering incentives for work in those periods. Increased hourly rates, extra leave time, and bonuses for working during that time can work.

5. Be prepared for absences

Planning your team’s workload in advance is important, but often it is also reasonable to reserve some time for unexpected absences, like for example sick leaves. Usually they are unpredictable, however, you can estimate approximate time based on leave time schedules for previous years. That’s why it’s recommended to keep historical data on employees’ absences.

6. Use vacation planning software

It’s hardly possible to manage leave requests submitted by email, by phone or on paper – and creating a schedule even for a middle-sized team easily turns into a manager’s nightmare. In this case, seems to be easier to adopt a leave management tool for processing leave requests.

Special tools offer calendar views for upcoming leaves, automatic calculation of leave balances, and request and approval functionality. They tend to significantly reduce time necessary for managing absences and planning work for future periods.


Developing a thoughtful vacation scheduling policy is essential for preventing disasters at work in busy time or popular vacation seasons. “Traditional” leave management approach without special tools turns out to be challenging and require additional time – that’s why many companies prefer to utilize software solutions for managing absences, processing time-off requests and planning schedules for future.


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