Asking, Pleading for Time Off in August

Leaders walk a fine line when trying to give employees an extra few days off in the waning summer weeks.

The leader knew that his top staffers did not have available vacation days to use this summer, and wanted to give them days off to enjoy the nice weather—but at the same time he was under pressure to make numbers in a tough economy. He also worried about appearing unfair to longtime employees who had patiently accrued their extra vacation days.

Over 50 million people switched jobs in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that’s left a larger chunk of workers than normal who don’t have accrued vacation days for this prime month. What’s more, many working parents blew through millions of vacation days during last winter’s triple scourge of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, and it leaves all managers in a bind. “They don’t want to appear to be giving parents or newer employees preferential treatment,” says HR expert Ron Porter, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

To some degree, the issue happens every summer, since only 6% of companies offer unlimited PTO, according to a 2022 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management. Many leaders empathize with employees’ itch to get out and enjoy the last weeks of summer, but are also balancing schedules and earnings targets. “It can really be a challenge when managing operations or frontline workers,” says Juan Pablo González, sector leader for Professional Services at Korn Ferry.

Some new employees did see this coming and negotiated summer vacation days before they were hired, carving out extra days off for pre-planned vacations. Others,  “they’re out of luck,” he says.

HR departments frequently field queries from managers who want to toss their teams time off, says Dennis Deans, vice president for human resources at Korn Ferry. Many firms have adjusted over the years by allowing workers to take vacation days accrued in their first year at any time. Deans says that employees are not prone to taking too many vacation days early on, because they are typically motivated to overperform in their first months on the job. “It’s a calculated risk we’re comfortable with,” he says.

This strategy often works in firms’ favor, because it allows employees to take summer time off rather than waiting for days to accrue later in the year. “The summer is a little quieter, and HR would rather see people use it then than at the end of the year, when companies are in a mad dash to get deals done,” says Dan Kaplan, senior client partner in the CHRO practice at Korn Ferry. 

Another option is to allow all employees to enjoy one advanced week of vacation. “That keeps it fair,” says Porter. “It’s consistent.” The risk, of course, is bigger: a small but substantial number of those employees might ultimately enjoy those advanced vacation days, and then leave the company before they officially accrued them. Most companies have policies to take pay deductions for those days, but many don’t enforce them. “Whether the organization collects on that is another story,” says Porter.


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