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Top 5 Headaches of Managing Time Off

Human resources professionals have a lot on their plate no matter what the industry or field of their company. Hiring, firing, compliance, payroll, benefits administration, maintain employee records, crafting and disseminating human resources policies throughout the company, handling employee complaints and more. The list of responsibilities can feel endless. And one of the most frustrating items on that ever-expanding to-do list is managing employee leave time. Here are the top five headaches of managing time off that can leave human resources professionals feeling frustrated and overwhelmed – and what you can do about them:

Lacking Clear Policies is One of the Worst Headaches of Managing Time Off

How clear are the policies at your company regarding how employees go about taking time off? If there are not clear procedures in place, or if employees don’t know what those procedures are, then this will undoubtedly continue to be one of your headaches regarding managing time off at your company. This may seem like an obvious no-brainer, but when’s the last time you really looked at your company’s time-off policies? If you are continually finding time-off requests to be a problem, then chances are good that you need to revisit your policies, or do a better job at making sure employees know what they are.

Lacking a Strategy for Managing Conflicts

There will inevitably be times when you cannot honor multiple requests for time off within the same team or department. How you handle these situations when they occur is of vital importance. If you don’t handle them just right, you’ll have some very unhappy employees on your hands. What you need is a real strategy. Maybe it’s based on seniority or maybe you’ll use a first-come-first-served approach. Whatever strategy you do use, it is incumbent upon you to make sure the employees understand how such conflicts will be handled, and to clearly explain your decision in order to close the communication loop and not leave people feeling neglected, resentful, or wondering if you were playing favorites. Get it right!

Lacking a Plan for Unplanned Absences

A sense of panic can set in when a key employee or team member is unexpectedly out sick or due to some other emergency. This can be especially nerve-wracking if another key person is already out on vacation when the unplanned absence occurs. This can be one of the most stress-inducing headaches of managing time off you’ll ever experience because when it happens, there may not be much of anything you can do about it. The only way to effectively address this problem is with a high level of big-picture planning. Do you have a temp agency you work with that can quickly fill the gap? Have employees been cross-trained in such a way that there is someone who can step in when needed? Creating and implementing a formal cross-training program is a major undertaking, but one that will serve your company well for years to come when this situation arises.

Lacking the Right Company Culture

Every company has employees who seem to keep accruing unused vacation days, and those can become a surprisingly large financial liability when an employee leaves and the company has to pay them for unused time off. But beyond the financial liability unused time off, there is also the toll it takes on the productivity of your employees due to stress and burnout. For more information on this problem, see my previous article, Vacation Time’s True Cost to Your Company. Creating a workplace culture that encourages employees to take the time off they’ve earned is important, and it starts by having company leaders and managers model it themselves for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

Lacking a Good Time Off Tracking Tool

If your methods for managing time off include paper forms or electronic spreadsheets, then it’s high time for you to enter the digital age of the 21st century and get the right time off tracking tool that will lessen all your headaches regarding managing time off. This falls into the category of working smarter, not harder. Paper forms and spreadsheets are sucking up way more time than you or your company can afford. And there’s no reason to put up with that for even one more day when there are plenty of solutions out there that are easy to adopt and use for surprisingly little money. You owe it to yourself and your company to make this happen.

If you’re ready to start reducing and eliminating these top five headaches managing time off at your company, then we encourage you to take a closer look at CaptureLeave. This easy-to-use software-as-a-service (SaaS) application is available anytime on any device with an Internet connection and web browser. Discover just how easy it can be to manage the leave time of all your employees with a free 60-day trial. If you like what you see, then you’ll also be pleased with CaptureLeave’s affordable monthly pricing based on the number of users. Leave the headaches behind and start enjoying stress-free time off management today!

Limiting Unlimited PTO

As explained in previous articles throughout this blog, PTO is a concept that has been gaining traction for years in the business community. Rather than separating out vacation time, sick time, personal time and other forms of time off, employees are granted a specific number of paid time off days that can be used for whatever purposes the employee needs. The more recent twist on the PTO concept is one that sounds downright crazy to many companies – unlimited PTO.

With this new take, employees aren’t even given a specific number of PTO days. They are simply told that they can take as much paid time off as they want if (and this is a big if) they are meeting their performance goals. The truth of the matter is that such a policy can only work at a company by limiting unlimited PTO. If that sounds like an oxymoron, read on and you’ll understand why even unlimited PTO has to have its limits.

A Common-Sense Approach to Limiting Unlimited PTO

There are plenty of different ways your company can approach limiting unlimited PTO that make good business sense while also offering your employees the added flexibility that comes with an unlimited PTO policy. Here are a few:

  • Unlimited doesn’t mean unplanned. No business would last long if its workers could take time off without any advance notice. After all, your company needs to be able to plan on covering the workload when needed to keep company operations on an even keel. Work with your employees to make sure business goals will still be met. Unplanned sicknesses and emergencies will still happen, but unplanned vacation should not. You still need to have a time off request and approval process in place.
  • Limit who is eligible. It might not make the most sense to offer an unlimited PTO benefit to every single employee right from the start. Maybe new hires don’t get the benefit until they’ve shown good performance during their first few months. Set whatever reasonable eligibility thresholds make the most sense to your company.
  • Enforce performance goals. Unlimited PTO policies can only work if your employees are getting the job done well. Making unlimited PTO contingent upon performance goals means you have to have a robust performance evaluation system in place that frequently reviews an individual’s performance relative to firmly established goals.
  • Limit consecutive days of PTO. For the sake of continuity and work coverage, you should probably set an upward limit of how many consecutive days of PTO can be taken, such as two or three weeks maximum.
  • Minimize time off conflicts. Similar to limiting unplanned time off and consecutive days taken, you must also manage time off requests to avoid having too many people in one department being away from work at the same time. The overall burden of effectively managing employee time off does not disappear with an unlimited PTO policy. If anything, it will probably require even greater vigilance to make sure the system is not being abused.

The Benefits of Unlimited PTO

Limiting unlimited PTO is necessary for your business to meet its goals while also offering your employees a great perk. After all, what worker wouldn’t love the idea of unlimited PTO? Here are just some of the benefits:

  • An unlimited PTO policy makes employees feel valued.
  • It is a very attractive benefit to list in recruitment and hiring ads.
  • With unlimited PTO, employees will be less likely to come to work sick, thereby spreading an illness, as they won’t be trying to horde time off for a vacation.
  • Because no days off are accumulated, your company might be able to avoid unused vacation payouts depending on state laws – and won’t have to keep track of accumulated unused time.

For employees, the idea of unlimited PTO sounds like a dream come true, but from the employer’s perspective, it still needs to be managed within reasonable limits. Limiting unlimited PTO is the only way to make it a viable policy that meets the needs of both your company and your employees. Whatever approach is ultimately taken at your business, you still need to accurately measure and manage the time off your workers take. You don’t need an enterprise-level suite of software packages with more than you need to get this particular job done. Experience the power of our web-based, user-friendly CaptureLeave application by signing up for a free 60-day trial with very affordable monthly pricing after you see what it can do for you!

Vacation Time’s True Cost to Your Company

Every business is all too aware of how paid vacation time represents a cost to the company in terms of lost productivity. But most businesses have learned how to cope with and adapt to this basic employee benefit. What companies are less good at recognizing, however, are the benefits a business realizes when its employees take their paid vacation time. This article is about vacation time’s true cost to your company, but from the perspective of the costs incurred when your workers do not take their paid vacation time. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, there are real impacts when employees don’t take the time they’ve been granted.

Americans are Terrible at Taking Time Off

According to Project: Time Off (source), more than half (52%) of America’s workers left at least some paid vacation time on the table in 2017. This is the third year in a row that this figure has dropped (it was 54% in 2016 and 55% in 2015), but the declines have been very small.

Here’s an eye-opening way to look at this situation: In 2017 workers left a whopping 212 million days of vacation unused, which can be valued at $62.2 billion in lost benefits. In other words, each individual worker basically donated $561 of free work to their employer. Why do people do this? The reasons vary widely, but here are a few:

  • Not wanting to appear to be less dedicated or somehow replaceable.
  • Heavy workloads.
  • Lack of coverage for being away or feeling no one else can do the job.
  • Fear of derailing career progress.
  • Inability to switch out of “work mode.”
  • Company leadership doesn’t model taking time off.
  • Anxiety about potential layoffs.
  • Fear of backlash from colleagues and/or managers.

The figure of what employees essentially donate to employers through unused vacation days is actually too low because it doesn’t account for a surprisingly common phenomenon – workers who continue to do at least some work while on vacation. One recent study reports that 56% of American workers do at least some amount of work while on vacation (source), while another reports that fully 30% do a significant amount of work during vacations (source).

Unused Vacation Time’s True Cost to Your Company

At first glance, many businesses are more than happy to have their workers leave vacation days on the table. After all, the business is better off when employees work more, right? The problem is that this often not the case. Workers who don’t use their earned vacation are more stressed out, anxious, and more likely to get sick and have to stay home. The painful truth is that unused vacation time’s true cost to your company is very real – lost productivity when workers are unable to give you peak performance because they need a break – a real break that offers them the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate and come back to work ready to be more fully engaged in their jobs.

As an employer, it’s time to wake up from the illusion that you’re getting more out of your workers when they don’t take earned vacation time. The more likely reality is that you’re losing precious productivity thanks to employee burnout.

The benefits of taking vacation time are huge. In fact, they even begin before the vacation itself. Just planning for a vacation makes people happier and increases motivation for weeks ahead of time (source). And the benefits of a well-deserved vacation can last for months afterwards (source).

Reducing Vacation Time’s True Cost

When you take an honest look at your company’s workplace culture as it relates to taking earned vacation time, what do you see? Then take a look at the actual data from your human resources team in terms of unused vacation days from the previous year. If what you piece together includes a lot of unused vacation and a culture of not taking time off, you have your work cut out for you if you want your company to avoid the costs and realize the benefits of getting your employees to use their vacation time.

Examine your company’s time off policies and make sure they are crafted to encourage taking earned vacation time rather than being a barrier to it. Shifting company culture to one that encourages taking vacation time is harder, but it begins with having company leaders and managers serving as good role models in taking real time off.
Whether or not your workers take all the vacation time they’ve earned, you still need to track all the different kinds of leave they do take. CaptureLeave was created to provide a powerful but easy-to-use solution for managing leave time. Our software-as-a-service (SaaS) application is web-based, which means it’s accessible 24/7/365 from any device with an Internet connection and web browser. You never have to worry about installing updates or performing system maintenance as all of that is handled by us behind the scenes. You can experience the benefits of CaptureLeave with a free 60-day trial, and then enjoy affordable monthly pricing starting as low as $25/month for 5-15 users.

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Upcoming Leave Laws in 2019 and Beyond

The year is nearly over, which means now is the time to look ahead to see what’s on the horizon in 2019 in terms of upcoming leave laws that will impact employers in various places. It is still the case that the United States is one of only 13 countries in the entire world without a national mandatory paid leave policy for its workers.

The only true national policy in place is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to guarantee a certain amount of job-protected leave for workers to recover from an illness or injury, take care of a family member or care for a newborn child. But FMLA’s job-protected leave is unpaid. Movement towards other leave policies in the US has occurred at the state or local level. Still, there are currently only 10 states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia that have paid leave laws. So far, those laws only address mandating a minimum amount of paid sick leave. Here’s our run-down of what to expect in 2019:

Michigan’s Upcoming Leave Laws

Michigan’s Earned Sick Time Act requires all private employers with at least one employee to provide paid sick and safe leave of one hour for every 30 hours worked up to 72 hours in a year. This law is supposed to take effect in March or April of 2019, but the state’s Republican-led legislature has vowed to amend it before then to greatly limit its scope.

Duluth’s Upcoming Leave Laws

The city of Duluth, Minnesota, passed local Ordinance No. 15071, which requires employers in Duluth with five or more employees to provide workers with one hour of earned sick and safe time for every 50 hours worked. This local ordinance is set to take effect on the first day of 2020.

Westchester County’s Upcoming Leave Laws

Westchester County, New York, passed Local Law 10623. It requires covered employers to allow eligible workers to accrue one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 40 hours per year. This local law is set to take effect in April, 2019.

San Antonio’s Upcoming Leave Laws

Requires employers to provide one hour of earned sick time leave for every 30 hours worked within the City of San Antonio. This ordinance is set to take effect in August, 2019 for businesses with more than five employees, and in August, 2020 for businesses with five or fewer employees. However, the ordinance has already being challenged in court and is currently prevented from being enacted pending the outcome of those challenges.

Washington’s Upcoming Leave Laws

Requires employers to provide 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth/adoption of a child, or for the serious medical condition of the employee or the employee’s family members. This law is set to take effect the last day of 2019. Notice that there is a key difference between Washington’s new law and the federal FMLA law – Washington is guaranteeing paid parental leave while FMLA only guarantees unpaid leave.

Why Aren’t There More Upcoming Leave Laws?

It’s hard not to notice that the above list includes a grand total of three state laws and three local laws that apply to leave policies for workers. It begs the question, why is movement on this kind of legislation non-existent at the federal level and so sparse at the state and local levels?

Take paid parental leave after the arrival of a new baby, for example. An MSN poll (source) shows that 93% of the public supports paid maternity leave and 85% support paid paternity leave. Is parental leave a partisan issue, like so many others? Polling suggests that it is not a partisan issue, with 96% of Democrats supporting paid maternity leave and 93% supporting paid paternity leave. Among Republicans, 88% support paid maternity leave and 77% support paid paternity leave. Yes, there is a divide there, but a very small one relative to the deep divides that exist on so many other issues. The US ranks at the very bottom of all developed nations for how much paid leave workers can access, whether it’s paid vacation, paid sick leave or paid parental leave.

It would seem that one culprit is everyone’s devotion to keeping the nation’s businesses as unfettered as possible in support of individuals pursuing the American dream of working hard and “making it.” Apparently, working hard means not paying parents to spend time with their newborns, which makes little sense when you think of how important it is to get our children – the future of everything – off to a good start. But if you leave this issue up to the business community itself, the corporate focus on short-term profits will prevent most from doing what seems like the obvious right thing to do. This is why federal legislation for a national policy is needed.

A more historical factor that helps explain the lack of national paid leave in the US can be traced back to World War II. In its aftermath, European countries needed to rebuild both their populations and their infrastructure. They needed women in the workforce and therefore needed to have generous parental leave policies as well. By contrast, many of the women who had to take on men’s jobs during the war returned to home life afterwards. There simply wasn’t the same need to keep them in the workforce. As a result, parental leave simply wasn’t a priority.

Whatever the explanation, the lack of paid leave for workers in the US is profound compared to the rest of the developed world. But companies still need to track, manage and report on the leave time of their employees. CaptureLeave is a simple, user-friendly, web-based software application that gets the job done – and you can sign up for a free 60-day trial to see if it’s the right solution for your company.

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Is the Four Day Week Finally Catching On?

Most workers are familiar with the sense of anticipation that comes towards the end of the work week when you’re feeling tired and worn out – you need that weekend break! And then there are those magical times when you get a three-day weekend thanks to a holiday. Now imagine how much better life would be if your work week were always just four days instead of five. Sounds too good to be true, right? But it’s not, and an increasing number of companies are finally beginning to realize that the time has come to adopt the four day week.

Where did the 40-Hour Work Week Come From?

As it turns out, the 40-hour work week isn’t some kind of scientifically tested standard. It was the brainchild of the first woman appointed to a US Cabinet position – Frances Perkins – who served as Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She defined the 40-hour work week as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to protect factory workers from being overworked – not because of any evidence that it is an optimal number of hours for workers or the companies employing them. Now there is mounting evidence that the 40-hour week is not optimal for workers or their employers.

Benefits of the Four Day Week

The idea is relatively straightforward: By allowing workers to put in a four day week, employees will achieve a better work-life balance, have less stress, increase productivity, and generally be more engaged at work. Beyond just getting more work done, the work employees do might actually be of a higher quality. These aren’t just theoretical benefits. Real companies who have adopted some version of a four day week have experienced the benefits first-hand. Here are a few examples:

  • Perpetual Guardian is a New Zealand firm that manages trusts, wills and estates. It offered its 240 employees the opportunity to work four days each week while getting paid for five. It ran an experiment for two months to study the effects of reducing its work week from 40 hours to 32. Workers reported a 24% improvement in work-life balance and felt more energized at work. Managers reported that absenteeism went down and productivity went up without any prompting. It was the workers themselves who figured out ways to be more productive in less time, like making meetings shorter – in other words, workers naturally gravitated towards working smarter,not harder. It’s a shift in mindset on the part of employers who realize that the employment contract should be about work produced and tasks accomplished, not the number of hours spent in the office (source). Perpetual Guardian was smart about this experiment, leveraging it into a global conversation on productivity and even created a website devoted to their efforts at 4 Day Week. And the company’s board has now signed off on making the four day week a permanent change.
  • Amazon started conducting an experiment in 2016 that allowed some employees to work a 30-hour week for 75% of their salary while still receiving full-time benefits. Core hours for these workers are from 10AM-2PM Monday through Thursday, with the remaining hours put in on flexible basis according to employee preferences. Amazon hasn’t said much of anything about the results of its experiment, but has continued to advertise some positions based on this 30-hour model, so it must be working to some extent.
  • Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) is a web application development company that takes a unique approach to their workweek. For four months of the year (May through August) the company operates on a four day, 32-hour work week. It’s important to note that they’re not trying to cram 40 hours of work into four days. By eliminating one full day of work each week, the company has found that workers naturally prioritize differently and end up working more efficiently. The company’s workers seem to really appreciate having 3-day weekends all summer long.

Is it Time for a Four Day Week at Your Company?

The Society for Human Resources Management notes that while 43% of companies have some kind of four day week option, it’s typically only offered to a select group of employees. Only 10% of companies make it available to all their workers (source).Keep in mind that how you go about it does make a difference. The companies that are reaping the most benefits are those that reduce the overall number of hours worked, as opposed to just making four days of the week longer to give 3-day weekends. Those workers will certainly enjoy the longer weekends, but will they be any more productive during 10-hour days? More research is needed in order to figure out the optimal arrangement, as well as to determine whether the approach taken should be different according to the type of work that is being performed.

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Improving Retention with Paid Sabbaticals

Companies have come up with a whole host of different perks and benefits to entice employees into staying put for as long as possible. Some of those benefits take the form of various kinds of paid and unpaid time off, many of which were mentioned in my recent article, Employee Time Off Tracking. One of the 20 different time off perks listed was the sabbatical. Most people who went to college or university are familiar with the idea of a sabbatical because higher education is one place where it’s common – a tenured professor gets to take a semester or even a year off from their teaching duties in order to pursue their own research interests. But the idea of a sabbatical as a great way to improve retention is gaining a foothold beyond higher education. Is it an option that should be added to your company’s benefits?

Sabbaticals for Retaining Your Most Experienced Staff

Paid sabbaticals aren’t typically offered to just any employee. In the realm of higher education, they tend to be reserved for tenured professors, allowing them to take their research and thinking to new levels without the encumbrances inherent in a heavy teaching load. Why would a university go through the expense involved in granting a professor a paid sabbatical? Smart institutions of higher education understand the value of their star professors. If they want to retain them, they need to give them freedom and flexibility to pursue their research interests. But besides the mere retention factor, there is perhaps even greater benefit to the institution’s reputation, which is very important in higher education. If granting a professor a paid sabbatical results in them producing their next big break-through in their field, it’s not just the professor who gets a better reputation and lots of attention, but the university as well. This two-fold benefit of retaining the best employees with a perk and enhancing the institutional reputation by what is accomplished during the sabbatical explains why they work so well in higher education. But what about elsewhere?

Public Schools May Begin to Adopt Sabbaticals

One natural migration that is on the horizon is the availability of paid sabbaticals for teachers in public schools. This is not a topic of discussion yet in the US, but teachers in England may soon find that it is an option for them. As in higher education, though, it’s not a perk for every teacher. Since part of the point is to improve retention of experienced staff, the sabbaticals would only be made available after 10 years of service,and participating teachers would need to clearly show how the time away from the classroom will benefit their teaching. Spearheading this effort in England is education secretary Damian Hinds as reported in The Guardian (source).

Paid Sabbaticals in Corporate America

It’s not surprising that the examples of paid sabbaticals mentioned so far are both from the field of education. However, you may be surprised to find out that paid sabbaticals are available in a variety of businesses, including the following:

  • Patagonia: This outdoor clothing company will allow eligible employees to take up to two months away from work in order to volunteer at an approved environmental organization while still receiving their regular full pay and benefits.
  • REI: Employees who put in 15 years with this outdoor retailer are eligible for 4-week paid sabbaticals, and again every five years after that.
  • Timberland: The footwear company allows employees to take paid “service sabbaticals” ranging from 12-24 weeks in order to participate in meaningful community service work.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Paid sabbaticals incorporate America are obviously for the crunchy-granola companies with progressive policies around service and environmental causes, right? Wrong! You’ll be even more surprised to find out about other companies who offer paid sabbaticals;

  • McDonald’s: Corporate employees (not franchise location employees) get eight-week paid sabbaticals after each consecutive ten years of service, and they get to do whatever they want with their paid time off.
  • Cheesecake Factory: Corporate employees get three-week paid sabbaticals after five years of service.
  • QuikTrip: This convenience store chain offers employees of all types four-week paid sabbaticals after 25 years of service, and again every five years thereafter.

These companies are making the smart move by recognizing that the long-term benefits of retaining their most loyal and experienced employees far outweigh the short-term costs of providing paid sabbaticals. Is it time for your company to add in paid sabbaticals to the benefits offered to your best employees? While you’re thinking about the answer to that question, sign up for a free 60-day trial of CaptureLeave to find out just how easy it can be to track and monitor all the types of leave offered at your company. Our simple but powerful web-based leave tracking system is the perfect solution for better management and monitoring of employee leave time.

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