As a manager, you have to deal with multiple aspects of your business. One of the most challenging ones is to manage time-off requests. Handling these requests can be difficult as you both want to build a positive and motivating environment for your employees while maintaining the smooth operation of your business.

Everyone needs a break sometimes, and there are certain times when time-off requests flock to your desk/inbox like crazy. You can’t just turn down all of them. Here are 10 steps you can take to easily and effectively deal with time-off requests.

1. Establish time-off request policies and inform employees from the beginning

If your business runs without clear and explicit time-off request policies, some employees will know no boundaries and ask for lots of time off, while others will be too hesitant to ask fearing that their requests won’t be accepted. Both situations cause frustration and problems for you and your staff.

You might not have an employee handbook covering every aspect of your business if your company is small. However, you should develop the necessary policies regarding time-off requests because they streamline the whole submission and approval process.

As your business grows, you can create an employee handbook including everything employees need to know when asking for time off. They also have some guidance to refer to when needed.

Once you have developed clear policies, you need to inform your employees about these policies as soon as they are hired. You can even communicate these rules when doing job interviews. Some candidates might run off if they find the rules strict and rigid, but there’ll be people who love that you’re being clear about your company requirements.

So how can you establish effective time-off request policies? Let’s take a look at some main points you need to include in your employee handbook:

How far in advance employees can submit time-off requests

Depending on the needs of your business and your employee scheduling process, you can state how far in advance you’ll be accepting time-off requests. For instance, your employees need to submit their requests 1 week in advance if they take 1 day off. If they take a 2-week vacation, they need to submit their requests 2 months in advance.

You can set a certain date of the month when you won’t accept more requests. For example, if you send out the shift schedule at the first day of every month, you can tell your employees to submit their requests before this day.

How many times employees can submit time-off requests per a period of time

Some staff may ask for time-off multiple times per month, and this can cause you much more hassle than you need. Make it clear that an employee can only ask for time-off 2-3 times per month or 20 days per year. You can adjust these numbers depending on your business.

Time frames when employees can and can’t submit time-off requests

It’s no surprise that a large number of employees ask for time off on holidays, vacations, special occasions, and busy seasons. They want to take breaks, travel and relax. But this won’t be relaxing for employers at all because customers will flood in on these days.

You can set time frames when your staff can and can’t send in time-off requests. This way your employees can balance their work and life and can plan ahead for their time off.

Some employees may ask for time off very early, which means they always have time off while others don’t. Setting time frames for accepting time-off requests and letting all employees know about these time frames help prevent this problem and show that you’re being fair.

There’ll be limited exceptions because emergencies arise all the time, but don’t bend the rules too often; otherwise, no one is going to respect the rules anymore. You should also be clear about the reasons why you make exceptions because employees do spot favoritism.

How employees can submit their time-off requests

You should create a clear procedure for sending time-off requests so your staff knows what to do and have a process to comply with.

Are there certain forms that employees need to fill out? Where can they find those forms? Do they submit forms via email or software? When can they receive answers from you?

Make sure that the process is pleasant, easy, and convenient for both you and your employees. You’re the one who has to handle those requests, but don’t make the process too difficult for your staff.

Your own business’ needs

Every business has its specific needs. For example, your business may have certain hours that require employees to always be there. Always be explicit about your business’ needs so your staff know about the expectations and requirements.

Whether you own a large or small business, establishing policies and creating an employee handbook, plus communicating the policies clearly right from the beginning are essential acts.

Some workers may feel restricted at first, but they will get used to the rules once they understand their presence is vital to the company’s growth.

managing time-off requests for your business

2. Create a standard procedure for submitting time-off requests

The first thing you need to do is to only accept written requests. Never accept verbal requests because you either forget them, or your employees will feel informal and start asking for time off more often.

There are 3 channels where your employees can submit their time-off requests:


Email is an easy way for both employers and employees to discuss time off requests. You can create a folder in your email inbox to manage your time-off request emails. Name it something like “Employee Time-Off Requests” so you can easily find it when needed.

Form (paper or digital)

Form is also an easy way for employees to ask for time off, but managing a bunch of forms (especially paper ones) can be a hassle. But it’s simple. You can create a template including these pieces of information:

  • Employee name:
  • Employee role:
  • Employee time off request shifts/time/date:
  • Reason:
  • Has employee found a replacement? Who? Yes__ No__. Name:
  • For manager: Approved request? Yes__ No__. Reason:
  • Employee signature and date:
  • Manager signature and date:

You can download an interactive template from Camelo here.

For paper forms, you can put a physical inbox in your office so that employees can put in their forms. Or you can tell them to hand the forms to you in person.

For digital forms, using cloud-based storage where employees can upload their forms is convenient. Plus, everyone can access it anywhere and anytime.


This is by far the most time-efficient and cost-effective method for submitting time-off requests. Employees can use an workforce management app like Camelo to submit their requests quickly, and managers can manage all requests on their phones.

Most of these apps include a team messaging feature, so you can communicate further with your staff to discuss problems related to their requests.

3. Create a system for organizing time-off requests

Keeping track of prior time-off requests helps you manage the total time off of each employee, detect problematic behavior, and notice hard-working employees who rarely ask for time off.

Put them in a folder

To keep the requests organized, you can use a physical folder or binder to put the papers in, or create a digital folder for storing documents. You can create a folder on your desktop, on a cloud-based service such as Google Drive, or in your email inbox. Creating different sub-folders for pending, approved, and denied requests is also a good idea.

Name the folder properly

Remember to name the folder properly so that you know where to look for it when needed. For instance, Time-Off Requests_Month_Year.

Use a spreadsheet

Besides storing the relevant documents in a folder, you can track the employees’ requests by creating a spreadsheet on Google Sheets or Excel. Create columns for employee’s name, number of requests that month, substitute’s name, etc.

Use phone reminders

In case you’re a forgetful person, you may forget to find substitutes for the absent employees. Setting reminders on your phone would be helpful.

4. Allow employees to find their own replacements and swap shifts

In case employees have used all of their time-off requests that month, or it’s not their turn to ask for time off, you can allow them to find their own replacements or swap shifts with coworkers.

This saves you some extra time and you don’t have to worry about favoring some employees over the others. Your staff could have some control over their time off, too.

However, this method can only applies to roles that don’t require a certain expertise or qualifications. It’s more suitable for roles that anyone can step in and do the job. So if you plan to let your staff find their own replacements, you should:

Most employee scheduling software allow employees to swap shifts right on their phones, which is convenient for both the employers and employees.

5. Creating a rotating time-off schedule for employees

A time-off rotating schedule means that you assign time-off periods for employees so that everyone has the same opportunities for taking time off. This method gives you more control over your staff’s time off while making time off equal for everyone.

Some employees can be workaholics and they never take breaks, which may result in burnout and health problems. Some ask for time off all the time, causing other staff to feel unfair. That’s why managers can easily fall into the favoritism trap.

By using this method, your staff can’t ask for time off if they don’t have good reasons, or they have to find their own replacements. Besides rotating time off, you can rotate shifts if your business has unusual shifts in the early morning or late night.

6. Create a list of standby employees for last-minute absences and emergencies

Emergencies such as employees getting sick, family deaths, no-shows, or accidents may arise anytime, and management has to quickly find replacements for those shifts. You can make a list of on-call employees who are available during those hours and who are willing to clock in for more work opportunities.

7. Establish policies for managing overlapping requests

Employees often ask for time off on holidays, vacations, and special seasons. Receiving multiple overlapping requests for the same time off is no longer a surprise for leaders.

To show your fairness and not trigger conflicts between employees, there are certain criteria you can consider when handling these kinds of requests.

First-come, first-served

This is simple and can be applied to most situations. Whoever submits the requests first gets the chance for approval. This is beneficial for both sides because you have more time to process the requests and find replacements.

However, some employees are always quick in these situations and can always come first, resulting in the frustration and resentment of other employees. So this policy is simple, but you can’t apply it all the time.

Reason for time off

You can decide whether to grant time-off permission based on the reason of the employee. If the reason is reasonable and urgent, you can approve their requests. But this method can be subjective and can lead to employees making up some untrue reasons.

Number of previous requests

If you keep track of previous time-off requests, you may notice that there are employees with lots of requests, while some rarely ask for a day off. You can based on this number to prioritize those with fewer requests and decide who’s going to get the approval.


Some companies prioritize senior employees over fresher ones when it comes to dealing with overlapping requests. This might be reasonable because senior staff have dedicated a lot to the company. But you should be careful and use this policy sparingly as less senior staff may feel unfair and discriminated against.

Discuss directly with employees

If you can’t find a proper replacement for certain employees, you can talk to them in person. Evaluate how urgent their situations are and if they’re willing to take time off at another time. You need to explain how difficult it is for you to find a replacement, or incentivize them by offering them some other time off.

Managerial discretion

As a manager, you can evaluate your employees’ needs and assess whether to grant time off or not. If you can’t, make sure that you explain your reasons for denying the requests to avoid conflicts and frustration.

There might be various policies that you can rely on to make the final decision for overlapping requests. Be flexible and take into consideration all of the above policies to grant fair and reasonable permission.

8. Reward employees with no time-off requests per period of time and employees willing to work during peak periods

Employees with no time-off requests per month, quarter, or even per year deserve some recognition from management. And those willing to work during peak periods, too.

You could give a huge shoutout for their dedication, give them bonuses, reward paid vacation time, or prioritize their time-off requests.

reward your employees is one of the ways to handle time-off requests

9. Review the performance of employees

As a manager, you can’t spend a considerable amount of time handling time-off requests. Sometimes you have to deny or delay those requests depending on your business’ needs. That’s OK as long as you clearly explain the reasons to your employees.

For employees asking for too much time off, you may reevaluate whether they can dedicate enough time and effort for the position. You should support your staff, but if you find they’re not a good fit for the job, you may consider finding someone else.

10. Seek help from employee scheduling software

If handling time-off requests is too much hassle for you, you can consider trying out employee scheduling software such as Camelo for your business. Camelo allows employees to submit time-off requests, find replacements, and swap shifts right on their phones. All requests are put into one place so that leaders can easily manage, approve, or deny the requests.

Managing time-off requests can be time-consuming and troublesome for managers. That’s why we create this guide to make the process less of a hassle for you. Try out the steps above, we’re sure you’ll be taking a load of your back.

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