A guide to managing staff annual leave effectively

Team Discussing Annual Leave


How do you manage employee leave right now? Whatever the size of your business – this is something you must deal with. Maybe you are struggling with the whole holiday management process and are looking for something better than a leave plan to prevent team members taking too much or not taking enough holiday. You might be interested in learning more about absence management software, or just looking for quick tips to sharpen your process at no cost.  

Many businesses find that they have headaches approving and tracking holiday requests and blind spots in noting when and why unplanned absences have occurred, so in this post, we will go back to basics on everything around managing staff annual leave effectively 

Managing annual leave in the workplace

Managing annual leave in the workplace can be difficult. Research into annual leave shows HR managers are finding it increasingly difficult to manage staff holidays.  

A study by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) found that 26% of organisations have no system in place to track employee absences. How do you manage team leaves without the data? It’s certainly tricky, and can lead to many problems, including: 

  • Not being able to accurately forecast future absences
  • Increased workload for HR and managers in problem solving 
  • Higher levels of stress for employees

If you are struggling with how to manage annual leave in your workplace, there are some steps you can take to make this process more effective, but first, what do you need to know about the requirements? 

Managing annual leave: What are annual leave requirements? 

How many days of leave are employees entitled in a year? That all depends on where you are based, but the UK rules on annual leave say that workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days (or equivalent) paid leave per year. This is in addition to public holidays. 

Employees should receive their full entitlement to annual leave from the start of their employment. However, employers can choose to give staff accrued leave instead – which means you would allow them to take time off gradually over the course of the year. 

There is no maximum legal number of days that an employee can be given, and this is entirely up to the employer, but it is important to be fair. You don't want team members to feel like they can't take any time off or that they must hoard their days in case they need them later in the year. When you look at how to manage annual leave, you first have to have a good understanding of your current offering, and how that is performing for you.  

Don’t forget that your casual and flexible workers too. We recommend reading how to calculate holiday entitlement for casual workers to understand this in more depth.  

What are the three types of leave?  

There are three types of leave: Annual Leave, Sick Leave and Maternity/Paternity Leave. All employees have the right to a minimum amount of annual leave, depending on their length of service. Employees can also take sick leave for illness or injury and maternity/paternity leave to care for a new child. How many types of leave are there for your business? That’s up to you! If you can lay out clear ground rules you could offer mental health days, duvet days or charitable endeavour days.  We recommend looking at this guide from the CIPD, the Professional Body for HR and People Development.  

How to manage staff holidays

How do I manage leave requests?  You might be on board with the idea of employees having time of and getting a handle on the process, but you may also be wondering how do I manage leave requests or how do you plan annual leave in practise?  

There are a few options when it comes to recording staff leave.  

1. Using a leave plan to manage annual leave requests 

What is a leave plan? A leave plan is a document that sets out an employee's entitlement to annual leave, sick leave, and other types of leave.  

  • The leave plan should be signed by both the employer and the employee and kept on file in case there are any disputes about entitlements.  
  • The leave plan is part of the process, but it can’t cover the method.  

By using a leave plan, you are legally covered, but still have admin burden from approvals, tracking and managing leave requests.  

2. Using spreadsheets  

You might also be using spreadsheets to manage staff holidays, which is common for SMBs who start out looking for a solution. Unfortunately, these are far from perfect and don’t address the root cause of those tricky admin issues. Here’s why they can cause an issue:  

  • From research with our customers, we know that while spreadsheets provide order and a place to store data on annual leave, they don’t eliminate the tasks around approving, filing requests
  • Human intervention is often needed - with secondary support from a calendar to ensure days off can be aligned by department. 
  • They also fail to highlight issues with annual leave – such as someone not taking time off regularly, unless a report is run specifically to investigate it.  

In short, spreadsheets and manual leave tracking leave wide gaps in your overall business knowledge. 

3. Quick wins to improve your staff leave right now  

HR software is built on the basis that absence management (which includes holiday management) will be a constant business need that needs to be effectively managed - which is why these functions are finely tuned to be perfect for most businesses. Instead of manual tricks and longwinded workarounds, software built for purpose tackles the key issues and provides instant relief from the problems in managing leave.  

If you aren't ready to consider staff management software, then there are still quick ways to improve your annual leave process.  

First, try and digitise. While dedicated absence management software can automate a lot of the process and make it easier to track and manage leave requests, you may still be able to move things further online. Consider the use of online tools such as: 

  • Dropbox  
  • Google Sheets
  • Trello 
  • Existing platforms  
  • Email systems

Could they be adapted to help alleviate the admin strain of annual leave booking? 

The structure of what you could do will vary depending on what you use, but you could effectively have a place where you add: 

  • Annual leave policy 
  • Reminders 
  • How to book annual leave guides 
  • A calendar of other employee’s time off for cross-reference.  

It's not a perfect system, but it could add a level of self-service for the employees, taking some pressure off the one point of contact in the business, and may also show the tracking of who has edited what and when - for full clarity. 

Leading on from this point, it can be useful to make sure everyone is aware of the annual leave policy and do's and don'ts when booking or requesting staff leave. This is often covered at onboarding, but this is a time when information overload can take over, and employees end up making their own rules and sharing these unofficially. Why not run a company-wide refresher session which lays out the ground rules and process for booking annual leave and what is and isn't acceptable? This refresher could again secure some breathing space from the admin. 

4. Using HR software for managing annual leave in the workplace 

We always say that People HR’s system can take the stress out of absence management, and we believe that a software solution is the best choice for a growing business.  

Here are some of the main benefits of managing annual leave using software.  

  • Speed: Annual leave can be requested, authorised, and added to your staff holiday planner in seconds with a single tap. This is a real benefit for both employees and employers alike. 
  • Automation: Holidays can be approved automatically, according to your rules.  
  • Business protection: If you have busier periods or multiple holidays already booked, you can 'lock' these days to ensure you have all hands-on deck. This saves you from having to manually cross-check numerous spreadsheets to see who else might be off, from which teams and for how long.  
  • Ensure employee wellbeing: Absence tracking also helps you to identify trends before they become a problem. For example, employees that have worked six months consecutively with no leave could be at risk of burnout, and likewise, employees that have a pattern of sick leave may need some additional support from you.  
  • Simplicity: You can allow your people to request annual leave from anywhere and on any device. 

All of these features are available in the People HR system.

Why not watch a 4 minute demo and see what is available? 

Annual leave management: In summary  

With all of this in mind, it's clear that managing annual leave can be a difficult task. However, by using the right tools and processes, you can make it much easier for yourself. 

With People HR's absence management software, you can make sure your business doesn't grind to a stop when your employees take time off work.  

Our absence management software makes it easy to manage all types of staff absences in one place.  

Connect with us today. Watch the video 4 minute demo, or book a personalised demo.