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How to keep it together when your employees all want different work arrangements

From PTO to WFH, here’s how managers can handle a flood of requests while staying healthy themselves.

How to keep it together when your employees all want different work arrangements
[Source photo: sunstock/iStock]
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With many employees now working from home at least part of the time, the question of paid time off (PTO) has become more complicated than ever. Managers are now having to navigate hybrid schedules along with PTO, and the stakes for getting it right are high: The summer has heralded what’s been termed the Great Resignation, with droves of workers quitting jobs that they no longer feel are fitting their needs.

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Different companies are handling the new era of work in different ways. Microsoft is allowing its workforce to work from home (WFH) half the time, while Twitter has made any return to office life completely optional. And until recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook planned to require workers to return to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays with the option of WFH Wednesdays and Fridays with manager approval. Leadership also added a two-week-per-year “work from anywhere” benefit. Now, the company is not bringing employees back until January 2022, at the earliest.

On top of that, PTO requests are surging as workers, exhausted and burned out, are scrambling to take the vacations they’ve had to table for more than a year. One survey from management consulting firm Korn Ferry found that 79% of professionals vowed to use more vacation days in 2021, and 46% said they’d take longer vacations than in years past.

Juggling these requests can be overwhelming for managers, who of course are also still adapting to their own new ways of working. Here are some tips for how to balance all of these moving parts in a way that is healthy for leaders, but also gives employees what they want.

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Streamline the process

Requests for time off and remote work can come in many forms: Email, Slack, text message, in-person chat, and the list goes on. There’s also the problem of timing, like when employees ask last minute or on overlapping days. Having all of these requests flying in from different directions can be the straw that breaks an already overwhelmed manager’s back.

Instead, set some guidelines. Implement a single system for time-off requests; my company offers PTO request forms that simplifies the process. But whatever method you choose, make sure it’s equally effective for those in the office and those working from elsewhere (so, no more ad hoc approvals conducted verbally in the break room).

As a manager, mandate that requests are made a certain amount of time in advance, giving the team enough warning to work out how absences will be covered. Automation tools can ease workflow disruptions while staffers are out, eliminating guesswork and helping efficiency for both the team covering and those getting back up to speed upon returning from leave.

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End “use it or lose it” policies

Many companies require employees to use their time off in a certain period of time, so workers save it all up to use at once. However, suspending this rule will give staffers more opportunities to use their PTO, meaning they’ll be less likely to rush, Ben Lamarche, general manager at executive recruiting firm Lock Search Group, told the Society for Human Resource Management.

One organization, Gavi, chose to lift “use it or lose it” for all of 2021, meaning overages beyond the normal 10-day carryover would not result in losing days. Staff can then use their accrued leave from 2020–21 through beginning of 2022, at which point the 10-day carryover would once again resume. Making temporary adjustments like this can be a good way to give staff the time off they need before reevaluating the situation down the line.

Encourage teamwork

Certain seasons, such as around major holidays and the summer months, regularly create PTO chaos. Rather than struggling to make everyone happy on your own, use open communication to workshop scheduling conflicts as a team.

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If staffers are aware of their colleagues’ plans to take time off or work remotely, they can come together to figure out a coverage schedule that accommodates everyone.

Mindi Cox, senior vice president of people and great work at O.C. Tanner, told HR Dive that while some people will have inflexible needs, usually the team can reach a resolution that works for everyone. “I truly believe teams can solve their own problems when it is an expectation,” she said, adding that her first step is to get team members together and ask them to collectively help solve the issue.

Take a break yourself

Studies have found that burnout in the wake of the pandemic is through the roof. Working from home has led many employees to spend longer hours in front of their computers, often while juggling home and childcare responsibilities. As a manager, you’ve probably dedicated plenty of time conveying the importance of taking time to recharge. But more powerful than saying it, your direct reports need to see you do it yourself.

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“It’s very important for managers to set the standard,” Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, told Harvard Business Review. “I’ve heard so many managers say, ‘I support a healthy lifestyle for my staff, it’s just that I, personally, am a workaholic.'” But failing to take time off sends the message to your staff that they’re expected to work constantly, too. The reality is that everyone needs a break, including you.

Learning to deal with hybrid schedules is a challenge that will take some getting used to. Automate where you can, be transparent, and give your team—and yourself—every opportunity to adapt and succeed.


Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.