How can I fairly schedule staff’s summer vacations in advance?

Question: “We’re going to be incredibly busy this summer, and I’m already worried about employees’ vacations interfering with our delivery schedules. I want a system for employees to submit their summer vacation requests now. I hope that will let us make realistic staffing plans. But I know some staff are going to complain, and I’m worried that I’ll eventually have to disapprove some leave requests. What’s a fair way to handle this?” — Steve, IL


For 1 to 2 days vacation time we require 3 days advanced notice. For more than 3 days vacation we require 3 weeks advanced notice, no exceptions. Also in the case of 2 or more employees requesting the time off, management determines who gets it based off seniority and length of advance notice. This is posted in the employee manual to avoid any complaints.

You could set up a schedule now of days that are unavailable for people to take off (black-out days), or you could inform all staff that only 2 (or whatever you designate) are able to take off at any given time, provide it on a first come-first serve basis. You may hear some grumbling, but everyone will try to be the first to put in for that popular week. I have done this in the past and what we found was some employees would talk to those that already had that time slot off to see if they could negotiate days to trade, etc. It really made people think about who was going to do their work while they were gone.

Communicate your concerns to employees and ask that they get all leave approved prior to setting any summer travel plans or vacation time. Share any information regarding deadlines with them in advance so they can understand what needs to be completed before they can reasonably expect to take vacation. Explain that you want to honor and accommodate as many requests as possible and would like as much notice as possible, then grant time on a first come first serve basis.



Your employees are your number one asset so remember that allowing them to take as much of their earned vacation as possible (when they want it) will go a long way when they are at work.

You might try discussing the situation with your staff first. Even if there are numberous employees, a personal request from you for cooperation on vacation schedules will be met with a more positive attitude than simply publishing a new vacation policy.

If there are key people, sit down with them and ask them to stager their vacations as well.

If you need to make rules, try letting your employees know how many people you feel like you can afford to have off at certain times.

Letting employees cooperate with one another on this issue will allow the cream to rise to the top.

Make sure you thank those employees who do cooperate and make the effort to keep the business in mind while also getting the time that they need away from the worksite.

Create a deadline at the beginning of the year (January 31st) for submitting vacation requests of durations of X amount of days or more. Warn employees that vacations are scheduled on a first come, first served basis and only one person from a department can be off at a time. Let them know that if they try to schedule their vacation after the deadline, they could run the risk of not having it approved. You could also say, for example, between X date and X date, no vacation or personal leave time will be allowed to be taken due to work schedules.

Keep in mind that telling your employees that taking vacation time during the summer is discouraged could cause morale issues. This could cause you a whole other set of issues. Set guidelines for how and who they need to communicate information to before they go on vacation during the summer so important aspects of work are not missed.

Hi Steve: It looks like you have some pretty good suggestions above. The only thing I might add is that, rather than using a first-come, first-served basis, you could try a seniority ruling. If you are in a unionized environment, that will be easy to keep track of. Otherwise, you might have to do a little bit of work ahead of time and check HR files; make a list of hire dates and go from there. That seems to be the only fair way to me.
I work in a unionized environment, so we have a policy in place that says employees must have any extended vacation (two weeks, or more) in by the end of February. Following that, it is based on a first-come, first-served basis.
Good luck and as stated above, have the employees involved and keep it fair.

Funny, this very issue just came up with my staff. Our policy has always been first come, first served and that has worked well. This year we had a bit of a scuffle over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday because the same employee asks for both off each year. I basically emailed all the employees and asked them to think about it and then we had a meeting the following week. I pretty much told them they had to find a solution that everyone could agree to. It took about an hour but they finally came up with a planned that they all could accept which was basically, it’s still first come first served but Thanksgiving and Christmas are rotated through the employees. If someone doesn’t want it, they don’t have to take it but the next year, it moves to the next person in line. I feel this was a great approach because they came up with it, it wasn’t me telling them what they could or couldn’t do. I did set the parameters for how many I needed in the office or how many could be on leave at a time and the rest of it, they figured out.


At my last employer we had similar issues. Our supervisors put calendars outside their offices with some dates blacked out. The staff had to note their requested time off on the calendar…in pencil. Staff were told how many could be off at one time, and they should never, NEVER make reservations until their leave request was approved. Sure, people grumbled, but they learned to think ahead, consider their coworkers, and consider the needs of the business.