The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.
What could be wrong with time off from work? Plenty, if you are a manager trying to get things done, or an employee who cannot get time off for family issues.
Time-off problems generate phone calls to our HR advisers every day. Most of the problems come in three categories, each with an employee and employer viewpoint.
Do I have to?
Government regulations mandate time off in several dozen ways. No single requirement is back breaking, but their total weight causes employers to dread these regulated requests. The question often becomes, “Do I have to grant the time?” It depends.
Earned vacation is owed to the employee, and the only question is timing. An employer can deny its use at inconvenient times unless the vacation is to be used during a “family and medical leave” event. These FMLA requests give employees and their doctors so much power over timing that employee abuse is common, paid or unpaid. Even if laws like FMLA do not apply, sick day and personal day policies are common. Plus, everyone has a personal need now and then.
Help employees understand the business issues so that time off can be made to fit business and personal needs. Employees, if you will start out showing concern for business needs and some flexibility on timing, you will find the process is much smoother and more pleasant for all. It is rare that something has to happen on Monday morning, or on the busiest day of the month.
Everybody wants to be met halfway. (Emergencies are different.)
Do I want to?
If time off is discretionary, do you want to say “yes” to the employee for an inconvenient day off?
Managers might say “Yes to my best employees and no to my worst.” You can use some discretion, maybe rearranging work so a star can get a day off, but be sure you can defend that choice when the poor performer seeks the same. “Sally works exceptionally hard each day, and you do not” is what you may feel like saying, but refrain. Describe ways the employee can earn future approvals.
Employees who want time off or certain vacation days in this “discretionary zone” should bring a good plan for getting work done, a record of always doing so, or both. I have never met a manager who liked to say “no” to a personal request if it is reasonable and the employee always meets them halfway.
Maybe no law requires it, and maybe the employee does not deserve it based on past behavior, but sometimes it is good business to grant that inconvenient time-off request.
You gain nothing by punishing an employee’s family, for example. Maybe you should have dealt with this poor performer more directly last month rather than indirectly punishing him or her through a time-off denial today.
Time-off conversations require adult behavior and open discussion. Approach your next one with that in mind.