Leaves from work are an important way to prevent burnout, gain a fresh perspective, and return to the office refreshed and energized for the tasks at hand. Still, if you are an employee, you want to plan your leaves for the year effectively so that you can recharge your batteries without coming back to a gigantic pile of work or upset colleagues that have been pulling double duty in your absence. If you are a manager, you want to allow your team members time off for important events, and necessary R and R, without significantly reducing productivity or morale.
Whether a team member or a team leader, how can you effectively plan for leaves? Here are tips that will help both employees and managers.

For Employees:

#1: Know Your Dates Ahead of Time

If you know the dates of important events weeks, months, maybe even years in advance, then it is imperative to submit your time-off request as early as possible. Even if you don’t have any specific upcoming events on your calendar, some advance planning can do wonders for the success of your petition. Many companies, to some degree, operate on a “first come, first served” basis when it comes to requests for vacation time. The earlier that you can pin down your dates, the more likely that you’ll get exactly what you want.

#2: Know Your Company’s Policy

Each company has a different policy when it comes to how vacation time is accrued, which employees receive preference, and how requests must be submitted. If you become familiar with your organization’s policy, you can avoid any surprises down the road. For example, your company may count accrued time off in hours, instead of days. So, you may need to accrue 8 or 10 hours of vacation time in order to take off a whole day from work. Knowing that ahead of time will help you better understand your options for work leave.

#3: Increase Your Productivity

The first day back at work after a vacation can be a huge source of stress. Why? Work will often pile up over the few days you are absent, and now you have a backlog of urgent tasks to complete! How can you avoid this scenario? The best option is to increase your productivity in the days and weeks before your vacation. If your workflow allows you to complete tasks ahead of schedule, you’ll have less to worry about when you return.

#4: Dialogue with Co-workers

If you are having issues getting the time off that you need, see if you can switch shifts with your colleagues, or cover some of their work in return for their assistance during your leave. Oftentimes you and your co-workers will have leave preferences that are complementary, instead of conflicting.

#5: Stay in a Routine

To the extent possible, once you are on vacation it may be beneficial to stay in a similar routine to your normal workweek. While that may not sound like a very desirable thing to many workers, sticking to a similar routine during days off could ease the transition back into your work-life after the vacation is over.

For Managers:

#1: Set a Deadline for Requests

As a manager, you have the weighty responsibility of ensuring fair treatment for each of your team members. A last-minute time off request from one employee can create an unnecessary burden on his co-workers. To prevent such a situation, set a deadline for work leave requests that will give you plenty of time to plan and make needed adjustments. Make sure your team knows about the deadline well in advance.

#2: Know Your Team

It is good to have some knowledge of your team members on a personal level, and this principle applies to planning for leaves from work as well. For instance, maybe for the past 10 years, one of your employees has consistently used his accumulated time off to take a vacation in the Rockies on the third week in June. This knowledge of your employee’s past pattern of behavior can give you a scheduling advantage. If you have some idea of when your employees will want time off, then even if they have not yet submitted a request, you’ll be able to anticipate their preferences and start making tentative plans to accommodate.

#3: Encourage Cross-training

When a valued team member takes a leave from work, the necessary work that he does doesn’t take a break with him. In order to keep your office consistently productive, it may be a good idea to encourage, or even mandate, cross-training between positions or departments. That will allow one or more co-workers to pick up the slack for an absent team member and keep your team’s workflow smooth and unbroken.

#4: Offer Incentives

There are some seasons in the year when multiple employees will want to have time off. When those seasons arrive, offering incentives, such as bonuses or extra days off in the future, may encourage some employees to postpone their vacation days and stay at work.

#5: “Outsource” Time-off Requests

Many companies use a “self-service” system for time off requests. Employees are able to go into the corporate software and manually request specific days or times off. Sometimes they also have the ability to write notes that provide further details about their request. Then the request can be approved or declined by management.

Another option that many managers use is team discussion about time off requests. Managers may allow team members to trade shifts, or cover for each other in some other way, as long as the manager is kept informed and the necessary work is completed. In effect, these strategies “outsource” many aspects of the time-off request process to the employees and allow managers to focus time and energy on other matters, while maintaining a fair and orderly system.

While time away from the office is necessary for continued employee satisfaction and productivity, good planning and communication can keep the workplace running smoothly, and contribute to everyone’s happiness.