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Articles and resources covering leave management, employee time and attendance, absence management and more.


Timesheet Rounding: Do it Right to Stay Compliant

timesheet rounding

Timesheet rounding is a widespread practice in companies everywhere that use timeclocks or apps for clocking in and clocking out. For the most part it’s considered an acceptable practice when it comes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Department of Labor (DOL) if – and this is a big IF – employees average out in a way that they get paid for all the time they have actually worked. In this article I’ll walk you through the issues, challenges and best practices to make sure your company’s timesheet rounding doesn’t put you on the wrong side of the law.

Timesheet Rounding in Perspective

Automatic timesheet rounding is something that happens pretty routinely in a lot of companies where hourly workers have to punch in and punch out for accurate recording of their working time. Yes, it’s the 21st century, so a lot of companies have eliminated the traditional “punch-clock” of yesteryear and accomplishing clocking in and clocking out a variety of different ways, including smartphone apps, ID card swiping, attendance beacons, and even biometric scanning.

However hourly employees clock in and clock out, their exact starting and ending times are often rounded to the nearest time increment. For example, an employee who clocks in at 8:56 am or 9:03 am is likely going have a clock-in time automatically rounded to 9:00 am. Of course, this does depend on what the official time increment is at any given company. If it’s based on a five-minute interval, then the 8:56 would round down to 8:55 and 9:03 would round up to 9:05.

The big question you have to ask yourself from a company perspective that uses timesheet rounding is WHY? The practice comes from a day and age when rounding made it easier to calculate a person’s time and wages – but this was back when all that was being done manually. The practice has stuck around at many companies for no other reason than that’s the way it has always been done. But here’s the thing – with all the new modern ways to do time tracking automatically down to the second with virtually no work on anyone’s part, there is no reason to do timesheet rounding!

Yes, you will have to invest in a new system if you haven’t already done so. But many of the time tracking and time clock solutions available today are surprisingly affordable and very easy to implement. Two simple action takeaways from this article right now:

  • If you do timesheet rounding for no good reason, then stop doing it.
  • If needed, update your time tracking capability to stop timesheet rounding.

Stopping the practice of timesheet rounding is the best course of action, especially from the employee perspective. There have been cases where timesheet rounding has resulted in workers not getting paid for all their work. In fact, among companies that do timesheet rounding, 34% have admitted to deliberately rounding down to reduce payroll costs or minimize early clock-ins (source). You can bet that whenever that happens, word spreads quickly and makes hourly workers paranoid. There is a general mistrust of timesheet rounding among many hourly workers. Your company can avoid these problems and the resentment and mistrust they breed by simply choosing to not round timesheets at all. Ever.

If you stop timesheet rounding, then you also don’t have to worry about making sure your system does it fairly. What you can’t do is have any kind of system that always rounds down, because then you’re definitely guilty of cheating your workers out of compensation they owed for time they actually worked. That’s no good, obviously, and is also illegal. And if your system went they opposite way and always rounded up, you’d end up paying people for time when they weren’t working and that is just, well, stupid from a business perspective.

Timesheet Rounding Best Practices

If your company is going to insist on continuing with timesheet rounding, then at least consider the following best practices to make sure you remain fair and compliant with applicable laws:

  • Use the shortest increment possible: FLSA regulations clearly state that timesheets can be rounded to “the nearest 5 minutes, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour.” With time increment options of 5, 10, and 15 minutes, you should choose 5 minutes. Why? Because the effects of rounding have the least amount of impact at the smallest increment. If you round to the nearest 15-minute interval, those rounded amounts add up quickly. If there’s ever a dispute or allegation that it wasn’t done correctly, there’s going to be a lot of rounded time on the table. It could end up being a huge financial liability for your company.
  • Never round unpaid breaks: Most hourly workers are given a timed lunch break of 20-30 minutes (or more at generous companies). You definitely don’t want to be rounding time for any of those sorts of breaks. If you do, state and federal investigators are going to question whether workers are getting or taking their full break, which can land you in hot water with regulators.
  • Accurate time tracking: Your timeclocks have to put in places that facilitate hourly workers punching in before doing any kind of work, including preparatory work such as turning on equipment and so forth. Same thing with punching out. Once workers have punched out, there shouldn’t be any work-related tasks that remain to be done. It’s on you as the employer to arrange your work areas and timeclocks in such a way that people aren’t inadvertently performing work that isn’t somehow captured by the time tracking system.
  • Audit your timesheet rounding: At least once each year you should perform a full and detailed audit of your timesheet rounding scheme to make sure it is both fair and compliant.
  • Choose your method wisely: You might decide to indiscriminately round to the nearest increment and let the chips fall where they may. But over time if it turns out this approach favors the employer and not the employee, you could get into trouble. You might decide to round all clock-ins to favor employees and all clock-outs to favor the employer. That’s fine, but track the data over time and see how it turns out. If the employer is getting more of the benefit of rounding, it’s problematic. Choosing to do all rounding to favor the employee will keep you safe legally, but might not be the smartest business decision to make.
  • Check state laws: At the federal level, the DOL approach to timesheet rounding has been explained. But your state might have a different take on timesheet rounding that overrides the DOL regulations. Make sure you find out about timesheet rounding in your state!

As you can see, timesheet rounding is a surprisingly tricky business, which is why I strongly recommend you stay away from it. In part this is because if you get it wrong, you are likely to get in trouble for it. The DOL loves to come down hard on unfair timesheet rounding. The last thing you need is to become the object of a wage and hour grievance because it probably won’t go in your favor.

Yes, timesheet rounding is perfectly legal, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you have to be doing it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that although it’s legal, it’s just not smart given the more technologically up-to-date ways time tracking can be handled in the 21st century. Give up on timesheet rounding and don’t look back!

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Leave of Absence Management: How You Handle it Matters

leave of absence management

The laws surrounding protecting the rights of workers to take a leave absence are many, and vary widely from place to place. Some of the laws a from the federal government, some are in place at the state government level, and yet others may apply to particular local areas. It doesn’t take much digging to find a surprisingly wide array of different kinds of leave, including pregnancy, birth, adoption, family illness, organ donation, disability, military service, crime-victim status, bereavement, family responsibilities, personal emergencies, and so on. All potential situations requiring time off can make leave of absence management difficult to figure out. And yet, figure it out you must, not only to stay compliance with applicable laws and regulations, but also to minimize the impact a leave of absence can have on your company.

Leave of Absence Management: The Compliance Angle

In order to be compliant and mitigate the risk of litigation for failing to comply with leave laws, you obviously need to become familiar with all the regulations and laws that apply to your company’s location. Keep in mind you need to look at three different levels: Local, state, and federal laws, regulations, and ordinances. Once you understand your legal obligations around leaves of absence, also keep the following considerations in mind at your specific company:

  • Recordkeeping: A key aspect of maintaining compliance and leave of absence management is keeping detailed records of employee time off. This is absolutely essential for protecting your company should there be any allegations or litigation related compliance around time off. It’s surprising how many companies are still managing this through a combination of paper forms and spreadsheets. This is especially mystifying when you consider that this is the 21st century, and there are all kinds of highly affordable yet robust time tracking and leave management software options that are cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications accessible through any device with an internet connection and web browser. CaptureLeave is an app your company should examine if it’s time to make the switch to time off tracking technology.
  • Consistent policies: Another important aspect to leave of absence management is making sure all employees are treated not only fairly and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, but also with consistency. Employees of the same type and level must be treated similarly when it comes to leaves of absence. If similar employees are treated differently in this regard, whether intentional or not, the result can be an expensive lawsuit. Even if any allegations are eventually found to be untrue, the litigation cost itself can still be a major hit to the company’s bottom line. For example, you might really want to let a star performer have additional leave beyond what’s normal because you don’t want to lose them, but if you’re not willing to offer the same additional leave to your worst employee in a similar situation, then you’re not being consistent, which can make you vulnerable to claims of discrimination.
  • Conflicting leave laws: Because there can be a veritable web of laws around leave, there can be overlap and outright conflict between the laws. Because of this, any given situation could result in an employee being eligible for more than one kind of leave. When multiple laws intersect, it is rarely a smooth interaction. There are a whole range of new state and local laws around sick leave, and you need to make sure you company leave policies are aligned to those. You also need to check state worker’s compensation laws that might apply. And then at the federal level there’s the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that might also apply. It’s enough to make your head spin, but you do need to sort through it all to determine how you’ll comply with all of them. And it’s easy to make mistakes by having company policies that don’t comply. As just one example, a lot of companies have a policy that says an employee can be terminated if they are unable to return to work after they’ve used up all their FMLA protected leave time. But if the reason for the leave meets the definition of a disability under the ADA, then the company policy is not in compliance with the ADA if additional leave is a reasonable accommodation. Another common mistake is when a company doesn’t offer any time off until a new employee has been on board for some amount of time, which in some cases is as long as a full year, but local and state leave laws may stipulate a shorter time period when time off needs to kick in, such as 90 days.
  • Intermittent leave: There can be some cases where what is recommended for the employee by a medical professional is intermittent leave. This can be a logistical nightmare for an employer. If this happens, be sure you immediately work with the employee and their medical team to nail down the details of what the frequency of duration of leave times will be so you have enough time to work up a plan for how to cover that worker’s duties on an intermittent, recurring basis. You may have to press the medical professionals involved to be as specific as possible about the intermittent leave, which is fine. You need to know so you can plan around it.
  • Returning to work: Another aspect to pay careful attention to is the return to work at the end of the leave. The whole point of legally protected leave is that you have to put that person back to work at your company in the same or an “equivalent” position (meaning virtually identical in terms of pay, benefits, and so on). Failing to do this is a sure path to an unwanted lawsuit.

The Logistics Angle of Managing Leaves of Absence

Even when you handle a leave of absence in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, this doesn’t mean it won’t still be a major headache for you to deal with in terms of its impact on your company. Consider the following:

  • Scheduling: An extended leave of absence can deliver a serious blow to your company through lost productivity. There are some things you can do to reduce this impact. First, immediately find out who among the person’s colleagues can form a team to take on additional duties for a limited time while a better plan is formulated. In an ideal world, you would engage in a enough cross-position training that ensures there are one or several people who know how to do that person’s job. Depending on the position, you may be able to line up a temporary replacement through a staffing agency as a more permanent solution during the duration of the leave.
  • Leave abuse: There will always be people here and there who try to game the system. Make sure you company policies are very clear about the consequences of leave abuse, and make a point of enforcing them consistently in every case. Send a clear message that this will not be tolerated.
  • Verification: Related to leave abuse is going ahead and verifying the reason a leave of absence is being taken. If the laws in your area provide the right for you to verify the reason for leave requests, then by all means do it. Do so in a sensitive, respectful manner, of course, but if it’s your legal right as employer to request certification, you should do so. This will help reduce instances of leave abuse. Just make sure you know when and how you’re allowed to verify a leave request according to the laws that apply to your company.

When it comes to making sure your company’s leave of absence management policies and practices are fully compliant with all legal requirements (and considering the potential costs of being found non-compliant), it may be very worth your while to consult attorneys who know this area of law as it pertains to employers. Seek out legal consultation from professionals with demonstrated expertise in topics such as Employment Law Compliance Advice and Training, Employment Litigation, and Workplace Accommodation and Leave Issues. After all, this is one area where it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How to Choose Between a PTO policy and a Traditional Time Off Policy

PTO Policy

At first glance, a paid time off (PTO or PTO bank) policy versus the usual vacation/sick time approach seems like the better option. After all, having one set number of days people can use at their discretion must be a heck of a lot easier to track than vacation time, sick days, personal days, and paid holidays, right? But make no mistake, there are downsides to a PTO policy many companies don’t think about or anticipate when making the switch. This article will walk you through some the issues and challenges to think about in how to choose between a POT policy and traditional time off policy.

The Shape of PTO Versus Traditional Time Off

Before getting into the pros and cons of the two different approaches to time off, it’s worth noting how the two policies tend to play out in companies:

  • Traditional Time Off when averaged across employers typically includes 10 paid holidays, 14 days of vacation, 2 personal days, and 8 sick days over the course of a year.
  • A PTO Policy at most companies that have it tends to offer an average total of 30 days of paid time off that can be used at the employee’s discretion for whatever purposes.

The Downsides of a PTO Policy

Let’s start with the potential downsides of going with a PTO policy:

  • Reducing the time off benefit: If you add up the average days of time off at most companies with a traditional approach, you might notice the various types of leave add up to a grand total of 34 possible paid days off from work. But the average PTO policy only offers 30 days off. A lot of companies, when they made the switch from a traditional time off policy to a POT policy, reduced the overall average number of days off. In some cases this is a sneaky way to cut their costs. But this sort of thing is bound to be noticed by savvy employees, and could result in serious declines in morale and productivity that more than wipe out the gains of this back-door reduction in benefits. If your company is thinking about making the switch from a traditional policy to a POT policy, carefully consider the potential backlash and unintended negative consequences if your switch ends up reducing the amount of time off people get.
  • More time away from work: Instituting a POT policy could also end up causing an overall increase in the number of days employees are absent from work. When you have a traditional time off policy, most workers don’t use all of their sick time, which means they’re at work more than what the policy allows for. But with a PTO policy, you need to understand that most workers are going to essentially view all of it as vacation. They will certainly use all of it, and they’re going to use it for vacation without even thinking about what will happen when they’re sick. As a result, you actually end up having more people away from work with a POT policy because it will rarely go unused.
  • Coming to work when sick: If your employees tend to use up all their PTO for vacation time away from work, they’re more likely to go ahead and show up to work even when they’re sick and ought to stay home. The want to power through their days even when they’re sick because they don’t want to “waste” their PTO time on an illness. As a result, they bring their sickness to work and spread it around, making everyone less productive or forcing others to take time off for being sick. Yes, PTO is meant to cover both vacation and sick time, but in practice most workers view all PTO as vacation time.
  • Unused time liability: At most companies, if you have a traditional approach to time off, sick time is a use-it-or-lose it proposition where unused sick time doesn’t carry forward. Vacation time, on the other hand, often does. In a PTO policy, unused time does usually carry forward. As a result, companies with a PTO policy tend to end up carrying forward more time off that eventually has to be honored in some way, making it a liability. Companies with a traditional policy carry forward less time because some of the unused time off does not get carried forward.

Managing the Issues Around Time Off

It’s surprising to many how thorny the issue of switching to a PTO policy can be if you haven’t thought about the challenges raised above. However, if you’re smart in how you go about making the switch, it is possible to craft and implement a PTO policy that works for everyone. Keep the following in mind:

  • Be fair: Don’t try to pull the wool over the eyes of your workforce by sneaking in an overall reduction in their time off benefits by giving them less time off under a PTO policy than they had under the traditional system. It’s simply not worth all the resentment and backlash you’re likely to experience.
  • Advance notice: You also have to be smart about how the policy is crafted and making sure people understand how it will work. For example, you still need to know in advance when people are going to be away from work. A PTO policy doesn’t mean an employee can just phone in and say they’re not coming in for the next two weeks. But you also need to allow for emergencies, including illness. Think it through and make it clear. Define “emergency” so employees know what qualifies. Make sure people know any “blackout dates” when PTO can’t be used for vacations because it’s an all-hands-on-deck time of the year, and so on.
  • Managing sicknesses: Also make it clear to employees that they should not come to work sick, and if they do you should send them home to protect the rest of the workforce. If employees use up all the PTO time on vacation and don’t have anything left for when they’re sick, consider letting them run a negative balance that they have to make up for at some point.
  • Compliance: When switching over to a PTO policy, you have to decide whether or not you will carryover unused time. Check your local and state regulations to be sure you’re in compliance with any requirements.
  • Communicate: If you’re going to do the switch to a PTO policy, plan for it to take effect on January 1, and start talking to your employees about it several months ahead of the switch. When it comes to making sure employees understand company policies around time off, there’s really no such thing as over-communicating. It’s one of their most valued benefits, and they want to know everything about it – and more so if it’s going to change.

Most employees and job seekers see PTO as the preferred way to receive a time off benefit. They don’t have to justify every day off and have more control over how they use their time off. Many see it as more vacation time if they don’t tend to get sick very often. From the company perspective, it also seems like a win thanks to the reduction in administrative time and resources to track multiple types of leave for each employee under a traditional system. A PTO policy can be a win-win for everyone if it is carefully crafted and clearly communicated. Think through the potential downsides, avoid the missteps other companies have made with PTO policies, and above all else, treat your employees fairly – your people are your most important asset!

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The Return to Work After Parental Leave

Depending on how generous parental leave is at your company, the employee who used it may have been away from work for at least several weeks or months. This employee’s life has changed dramatically while being away. Coming back to work, in most cases, is going to be emotionally and mentally challenging for the returning employee. But there are lots of different things that can be done to facilitate a smoother transition back into company life for any employee returning to work after parental leave.


A Sympathetic Approach to Those Returning from Parental Leave

Anyone who has had to navigate the return to work after parental leave already knows how difficult a transition it can be. If you’re tasked with HR functions and duties in your company and have not experienced this transition, it can be difficult to understand what those returning from parental leave are going through. 


You’ve probably heard it said that becoming a parent changes everything. Well, it’s true. Nothing feels the same. Your priorities shift dramatically. You form an instant and profound bond with your child. The depth of sheer love you feel for this new addition to your family is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. This is all in and of itself both wonderful and overwhelming. And then you have to go back to work? You’re going to just walk away from your child for hours and hours of each weekday? It literally defies everything you feel as a new parent. And yet the realities of modern life demand it if you can’t afford to be a stay-at-home parent. This is why reentry can also include a surprising amount of guilt. On top of all this you can layer in a general lack of sleep that typically accompanies having a new child, which further heightens all the emotions. What I’ve described here doesn’t even come close to representing the full reality of an employee on parental leave who is coming back to work. But it hopefully gives you at least a glimpse into what they are probably experiencing.


The best approach to take from an HR perspective is a sympathetic one if an empathetic understanding is beyond your reach because you haven’t experienced this particular kind of transition yourself. And yes, there will have to be some limits on just how understanding you can be within the confines of a company that needs each of its employees to perform to the best of their abilities for the sake of company success. Reasonable compassion is another way to think of it.


Easing Reentry After Parental Leave

Below are some helpful ideas and tips to share with an employee who is returning to work after parental leave:


  • Encourage returning employees to be gentle with themselves. They’re feeling all kinds of overwhelming emotions. Remind them that this wave of emotions is just that – the wave will crest and then it will recede. The way they’re feeling as they’re transitioning back to work is not the way they will continue feeling. Let them know that you understand they’re going through an emotional transition and are there to support them in their reentry.
  • Scheduling considerations. If there is a degree of flexibility that can be allowed, it might be a good idea to ease the returning employee back into working life somewhat gradually. When they first come back, maybe they only work the equivalent of two full days per week. After a couple or few weeks of that, up it to three and another couple of weeks later up it to full time. The returning employee will see how they have to make the most of those part-time hours to really get things done and they will be more productive as a result of this welcome period of flexibility.
  • Family logistics. When you’re in touch with the employee about their return, encourage them to figure out their new family logistics well ahead of their reentry. What you want to avoid is having their first day back also be the first time they’re dropping their child off at daycare or leaving them with a nanny or sitter. That’s an invitation to disaster. They need to experience what this new set of morning routines will be like so they’re not surprised when it needs to happen for real. These can even be “dry runs” just to get a feel for how it’s going to happen. They can even make the full commute to work and then just turn around and go back.
  • Meeting with their boss. Make sure at some point (but not the first day) soon after returning the work that employee has a one-on-one with their direct boss to just talk about the realities of their new live as it relates to their job. The returning employee should acknowledge that they may be a little “all over the place” emotionally but that they’re fully committed to their job and the company. Being proactive in this way, including what special projects or work trips they’re up for will help. 
  • Communicating with colleagues. Also encourage the returning employee to be open about their schedule and expectations with colleagues. If not, those colleagues will make their own assumptions about your commitment. They should make sure everyone knows their hours and when you need to leave on a regular basis so people know not to expect them to respond to something in the last few minutes of their day. And as things change with their schedule over time, continue to keep colleagues informed.
  • Be supportive. In line with taking a sympathetic approach to employees returning from parental leave, it’s a good idea to be generally supportive. And encourage the employee to seek out sources of support on their own as well, such as a parents group or online network of new parents. If your company has resources available to new parents, make sure the employee knows about them.


Make no mistake, any employee returning from parental leave is undergoing a huge shift emotionally and in their priorities as well. Their lives will necessarily be different, and that includes their working life as well. If you want to retain these valuable employees, take a sympathetic approach and be as flexible as possible while still being firm about basic expectations regarding performance. Following the tips and strategies outline above will go a long way towards ensuring it all works out well for the employee and the company.

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The Time Off Crisis in America

There’s no easy way to say this, so here it is: Americans suck at taking time off from work. Somewhere along the way our strong work ethic has been twisted into a truly unhealthy inability to take time off. US workers already start off with less paid vacation than most countries, and an inexplicable percentage of Americans don’t take all their paid vacation time in any given year. This is not something to proud of. The benefits of vacation time to individuals and the companies that employ them is well documented. How can this deplorable situation be fixed?


Time Off by the Numbers

Take a look a Wikipedia’s page with a list of minimum annual leave by country. You’ll see three columns, one for paid vacation days per year, paid holidays per year, and the grand total of paid leave days per year. You will no doubt be envious of the dozens and dozens of countries where workers get between 20-30 days or more of paid leave every year, including Germany (30 days), India (27 days), France (36 days) and the United Kingdom (28 days). 


While you’re looking at the United Kingdom, you might notice the United States on the next row the table, where there is a big fat 0 in all three columns. What’s up with that? People do get paid time off in the US, right? But here’s the thing about this Wikipedia list: This is a list of paid time off guaranteed by law. And there’s the rub. There is no legal requirement in the US forcing private companies to give any set amount of paid vacation or holidays. None. Zero. Zip. Nil. So we’re already starting off from a disadvantage in the US, where we’re all made to feel like we only get any paid vacation or time off by the grace and generosity of our employers. 


The average American worker is granted about 10 days of paid vacation per year. So much for the generosity of employers. And that’s an average, which means while some get more, plenty of others get less. In fact, one in four (yes that’s 25%) American workers get no paid time off at all.


But now to add insult to injury, here’s the kicker: According to the US Travel Association, for those American workers who have the gift of paid time off so generously bestowed upon them, fully 52% of them don’t use all of it! In fact, the collective American workforce left 705 million unused vacation days on the table in 2017. To make matters worse, there’s the relatively new concept of a “workcation” where people take a vacation but keep working while they’re away. All of this begs the question: What in the world is wrong with us?


Whether the concept of a workcation strikes you as the dumbest idea ever or appeals to you on some level depends on a variety of factors. The US Travel Association’s latest study dealt with the workcation idea, which they view with a very skeptical eye since the group’s mission is to encourage people to take a healthy amount of time off from work. The study surveyed 4,349 American workers at least 18 years old who were working more than 35 hours per week and received at least some paid time off from their employer. Of those surveyed, only 29% found the idea of a workcation appealing, 70% called the concept unappealing, and only 10% had actually taken a workcation. It’s also interesting to look at the generational angle in the data. Among Millennials, 39% find the idea appealing, whereas only 28% of Gen Xers and a mere 18% of Boomers thought the idea was appealing. The report concludes, “Workcations may have value, but they are not a substitute for actual vacations.”


Media Reaction to the Workcation Concept

As you might imagine, opinions are divided about whether or not the workcation is a good idea or a bad idea. Here’s how some media outlets and individuals have weighed in:


  • CNN Business: This 2014 CNN article noted that when approached as a flexible concept, it can be quite useful. One example was a Glassdoor.com employee who took a five-day trip where he worked during the Wednesday travel day on the plane, worked a full day on Thursday in his destination, then didn’t work at all the rest of the trip from Friday-Monday. So, he enjoyed a wonderful 5-day trip and only used two days of paid vacation. 


  • Wall Street Journal: The WSJ’s 2015 article seemed to be encouraging people to give the concept a try. 


  • Vanity Fair: Also in 2015, Tina Nguyen wrote that while she could see the value in some situations, she thought the name was really dumb (just call it working remotely) and was somewhat horrified at the idea of a parent missing out on key moments with family during a trip where they kept working a full schedule. 


  • The Muse: Erin Greenwald extolled the virtues of the workcation when handled properly and not taken in lieu of real vacations. If you can work remotely and enjoy a great change of scenery, why not? She also gives a bunch of tips for how to successfully set one up for yourself.


  • FastCompany: This 2017 article by Stephanie Vozza is full of tips and strategies for taking a power workcation where the change in location allows you to hyper-focus in on plowing through one or several specific projects while still giving yourself opportunities to enjoy your destination.  


But the fact that we’re even discussing the possible merits of a workcation show how broken our relationship is to time off from work. 


Is the US a Nation of Workaholics?

The short answer to this question is clearly YES, but why? For those willing to experiment with the idea of workcation, some report that they fear how taking “real” time off will make them look more replaceable to their employers. Others say they have such a stressful workload that they simply can’t take a real vacation, but they could at least do some of their work in a more relaxing, less anxiety-ridden environment. Yet others are convinced that everything would totally fall apart while they were away from work for a real vacation. Whatever the reasons and rationales, we are definitely a nation of workaholics, which is a very dangerous place to be. Why? Because it pushes people towards workplace burnout.


The World Health Organization (WHO) recently brought new attention to the problem of workplace burnout. In the recently-released 11th revision to the International Classification of Diseases, burnout is more clearly defined than in the previous version. It’s not a medical condition or disease, but could become a contributing factor to both. Here’s how it’s described: 


Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.


People need real time off from work, not workcations, to experience the full benefits of vacation. They need to truly disconnect from work, rest, relax, recharge, and come back with new energy and focus. Companies that want to keep their workers fully engaged and motivated need to take steps that encourage or even require them to take all of the paid leave to which they are entitled, and not for workcations. 

Whatever kind of time off your company offers, you could be streamlining leave management with CaptureLeave, a cloud-based app accessible through any web browser that allows you to ditch the spreadsheets and paper forms and automate more of your HR workflow related to managing time off. Try it out during a 60-day free trial to find out how it can make your life easier, then enjoy affordable monthly pricing after that based on the number of users.

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Avoid the Summer Vacation Request Blues

The average American worker who has been with the same employer for five years gets around 14 days of paid vacation beyond the usual array of holidays. Unsurprisingly, because summer has traditionally been seen as the time for vacations, your company’s HR staff person in charge of approving leave time has probably (or hopefully) already handled most of the season’s summer vacation requests. This means they are probably still suffering from the summer vacation request blues. But there are ways to avoid many if not all of the hassles and headaches next time around, so bookmark this one for future reference!


Why are Summer Vacations so Popular?

Many people might wonder why in the world most everyone is anxious to take paid vacation time during the summer. The obvious answer is because that’s when school is out for families with children, so summertime is when the whole family can go on a trip together. But it wasn’t always this way. 


When agriculture was the predominant family concern for most households in the 18th and 19th centuries before the Industrial Revolution, kids were typically in school from December through March, then took an extended break, and were then in school again from May through August. Seems like an odd schedule, right? But it’s not when you consider that farming households needed all the help they could at two key points of the growing season: planting time in the spring and harvesting time in the fall. 


Once the Industrial Revolution took hold and cities became places with lots of factory work, the situation was far different still. Children basically attended school 11 months of the year. Parents who were factory workers needed their kids to be in a safe place while they worked, and school was the best option. 


For better or for worse, summer has become the traditional time when families seek to go on a vacation together, leading to lots of summer vacation requests throughout the workforce.


Handling Summer Vacation Requests Like a Pro

How can you handle summer vacation requests like a pro? Follow these tips and strategies:


Clear Policies and Procedures: If you have a clearly defined policy and procedures about how employees are to request paid leave such as summer vacation requests, it’s understandable why you might be frustrated when people don’t follow them. But ask yourself this: How much do you communicate in an ongoing way with employees about leave requests? It’s nice to think that the employee manual or handbook that you handed each new employee over the years is their constant companion and that they would open it up and review the company policies and procedures around leave requests before making one. Get real! That boring, dry handbook was shoved in a drawer never to be seen again. It’s up to YOU to communicate regularly with employees about these sorts of things. A simple email in late May or early June reminding people to put in their summer vacation requests as early as possible, along with a summary of the procedures for how they make requests could go a long way towards lessening the stress you experience at this time of year.


Rules of the Road: It’s also worth reviewing the rules you’ve created around summer vacation requests and changing them if they’re not working well. Your rules should cover how employees file their requests – and I sincerely hope it doesn’t involve filling out a paper form, because this is the digital era of the 21st century and there are simple, affordable leave management apps available to help you streamline all of this! You should also include when time off requests can be made, such as X number of weeks before the leave or blackout times when you know the company’s got an all-hands-on-deck event or situation coming up. If July happens to be the peak business month for your company, just make it clear that July is off-limits for summer vacation requests. And again, the responsibility for communicating all of this to the company workforce is yours, not a staff handbook sitting on a shelf.


Overlapping Requests: How do you handle overlapping summer vacation requests? Obviously you can’t have everyone deserting the office for the same two weeks of the summer. Every company has to develop its own way of dealing with this. Common options include first-come-served, a seniority-based system, a combination of both, input of the employee’s direct supervisor, employee flexibility around changing dates, and so on. But avoid using only seniority as the deciding factor because then the same people will always magically have their requests approved, creating resentment in others. They key is to communicate with the parties concerned, explaining your decision and what it was based on. If you don’t communicate and show the rationale for decisions made (i.e., explaining why you’re denying someone’s summer vacation request), employees will end up feeling resentment. The most important aspect in all of this is to make sure there is no appearance whatsoever of “playing favorites,” which only creates ill-will. 


Maintaining Productivity: It’s always important to check in with a department manager or team leader around leave requests in order to make sure the needs of the business are met. Most departments and teams can address their own needs for a one or two week vacation by redistributing essential tasks, but if a temporary worker needs to be brought in, be ready to help make that happen. 


Communication: If you hadn’t already picked up on this, the key to handling all kinds of leave, including summer vacation requests, is to communicate early and often. Anticipate summertime leave requests and remind people of the rules of the road. Explain very clearly any vacation denials to close the loop and avoid creating disgruntled employees.


In the five points listed above, I only mentioned using a good leave management app once, so now it’s time to more clearly make that point in closing. If you are still dealing with paper forms and spreadsheets to manage leave time and summer vacation requests, now is the time to discover how much time (and money) you can save with the right technological tool. You could be leveraging the power of cloud computing to make your life so much easier. Check out CaptureLeave, a surprisingly simple yet powerful software-as-a-service solution designed to streamline many aspects of leave management, including time off requests. And don’t you deserve to have the right tools to make your job as efficient as possible? You can try CaptureLeave for free during a 60-day trial, after which you’ll enjoy affordable pricing as a monthly subscription based on the number of users. CaptureLeave will ensure you never have to experience the summer vacation request blues again!

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