American Airlines, one of the largest airlines, once scrambled to find staff to cover 15,000 flights after a bug in the pilot scheduling system allowed too many pilots to request time off around the holidays. 

Managing PTO requests during the holiday season can be a slippery slope because no one wants to tell an employee that they can’t have the time off to spend time with family. However, the holiday season serves as a very busy time for many businesses and requires appropriate staffing levels to take care of their clients.

Here are 4 approaches that you can take to fairly approve PTO requests while ensuring that your organization does not goes understaffed during the holiday season:

1. Establish A Policy for Overlapping Requests

It’s inevitable that you will have overlapping time off requests. Be proactive and set guidelines and policies on how a manager selects who is approved for time off. Some popular policies to consider are:

First Come, First Served

A basic rule of thumb is to approve the first PTO requests received. This is a good foundation to start with, but there are often other criteria that managers need to consider before approving.


A traditional approach is to reward those that have served your organization the longest with desired time off. This is a good approach, but requires managers to pay close attention, for a more seasoned employee may be required during certain shifts.

Organizational Needs

Depending on your industry, the demand for your goods or services may be high during this time of the year. Take this into consideration when approving time off and make sure that all of your bases covered so that your organization can deliver on its promise.

Publish Holiday Work Schedules

Often driven by the type of business, your people may be required to work on certain holidays. Keep track of which employees work each holiday and try to rotate the schedule of holidays worked so that each one of your people has the opportunity for time off. If you have certain times during the year that PTO will not be approved, its important to publish this in your handbook to avoid any compliance issues.

2. Leverage HCM & Workforce Management Technology 

Automate the capture and record keeping of all PTO records by leveraging technology available with most HCM or Time and Labor Solutions.  Visibility for both employees and managers helps you avoid conflict and the challenges associated with poor record keeping. Furthermore, the process for requesting time off needs to be consistent. Each one of your people should be given the same form to submit via web, mobile, or manually depending on your organization. Automating this process drives overall efficiency and consistency.

3. Empower Your People to Find their Own Replacements

Provide your people with the tools and information that they need to find a team member to swap shifts. Social collaboration software offers your people the ability to post to an entire team, department, or organization for a replacement. This eliminates managers having to call down long phone lists in hopes of finding a substitute.

4. Plan for Emergencies

Always have a backup plan. No shows and last-minute call offs are going to happen, especially during this time of the year. Create a group of reliable part-time workers that you can call on when PTO requests are high or you’re in a pinch.

Efficiently managing your people and PTO requests is crucial for both your people’s happiness and organization’s success. Take the necessary steps and activate a plan so that your organization doesn’t go understaffed this holiday season.

This blog was written by Ally Edwards, Marketing Guru at PeopleGuru. This post may not be copied or published without PeopleGuru’s express written permission.