How do you manage employee holiday requests?


I'm currently doing some research into how companies manage employee holiday requests for a startup I'm considering.

So, my question is:

What do you use to manage holiday requests, and what systems do you have in place to help you?

Management Human Resources

asked Oct 27 '10 at 18:26
148 points
  • Can you get away by allowing your kick ass team members to manage their vacation entitlements? I mean, as long as your product ships and all tasks are met, it should fine, right? – Tehnyit 12 years ago
  • hackernews has an interesting thread regarding holidays - poster details a paid/paid holiday implemented at his co. (time off + cash incentive to go on a "real" vacation). Likely a good source of info for your research. Galley 12 years ago

6 Answers


I'm going to take a little different approach to what I'm seeing on here so far. Everyone else seems to almost be saying "Time Off = Bad", and "Danger! Don't trust your team to take time off correctly!"

I just don't see it that way.

So this is as much a response to those other answers as it is to the question.

It kind of depends on who you're talking about. If you're talking about co-founders, let them take the time off when they need it. They're as dedicated to the effort as you are (if you've done your job and chosen good co-founders to work with) so let them do as they see fit. They'll probably be spending piles of their time both on their vacation, and in the weeks before and after, to make up for their time off. If they're not at the founder level, but simply early employees, you've probably already negotiated a number of days off that they can have in their contract (if not, you're doing it wrong) and as long as they haven't gone over the limit, let them take it. I'd push for all people to let others know as soon as possible, but sometimes, things come up at the last minute (yes, even vacations) and so don't be too strict or pushy. You want these critical early employees to love coming to work, not dread it, so play nice. Now, to really get back to the original question...

A lot of people like formal high-tech approaches, like the shared Google calendar and that TribeHR thing, but I really don't know if that's really required. With a small company, you can probably get away with simply having people send an email. When you're small, it's easy enough to keep track of who's going to be gone in your head.

I guess I'm just thinking that in a startup, everyone is really busy with a lot of other things, and having to learn one more web-based tool, and be committed to using that tool all the time is going to take up precious time that they have for other stuff. (Though, admittedly, a Google calendar is pretty easy to use.) I'd just recommend keeping it as simple as it can be. At the last startup I worked for (as an early employee) I simply kept track of my time off on my own, and sent my boss (the VP) an email when I was going to be gone, or called in when I was sick. It was simple and worked very well.

answered Feb 5 '12 at 12:53
3,465 points
  • I have to -1 here. WHile your answer is great, it does not answer the question. The question is how to manage it in the core, and at the end this is a simple administrative point. – Net Tecture 12 years ago
  • It does answer. He is saying the correct thing which is - the way to manage it is to say "Yes, take vacation". That is all the management you need. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • @NetTecture: I appreciate you explaining your -1. A lot of people tend to skip that and you're left wondering why. However, I *do* think I answered the question. The question was "What do you use to manage holiday requests, and what systems do you have in place to help you?" As you can see in the last four paragraphs, my answer to that was basically, "You don't need anything fancy. Just send an email. That's what we did." The rest of my answer was only to explain that I felt like most of the other answers were giving the impression that time off was bad for startups, which I disagree with. – rbwhitaker 12 years ago


Open communications is important, as is a shared calendar. Using something that automates your scheduling as well as your vacation accrual is also important. Something like TribeHR ( could help with that.

Disclaimer: I'm one of the co-founders of TribeHR, so I'm biased. Yes we use it too.

answered Oct 28 '10 at 07:02
Joseph Fung
1,542 points


In an early stage startup where number of employees are founders + 2 or 3 max, it is very difficult to give a long vacation to anyone. Startups demand more than just a job - it requires sacrifices [like vacation even time with girl friend :-)] . So when offering jobs to your company clearly tell your plan. Here is what you may try (IMHO):

  1. Inform the importance of the job roll that you are offering to someone. What it demands for next 6 months - 1 year.
  2. Your plan for a replacement to any position is important. Ask yourself can you manage this job without the person? If yes you can grant him holidays.

You can use a system like: for all employee requests. If not a normal old style wall calendar will do the trick if the number of employees is small.

However if you are looking for a holiday structure then follow the labor law of the country you are in.

That said, granting a leave application always depends on the situation. Also, make sure you do not piss off anyone with your holiday policy. A startup should be a fun and open place to work - if anyone feels shy about asking you something be it holiday, half day or anything for that matter - its a bad sign.


answered Oct 27 '10 at 20:06
71 points
  • Depending where you are expect the employees to tell you to get lost when they hear that, or to take you to court. In my home county you have a RIGHT to 5 weeks holidays and a RIGHT to take the majority of this in one run for a long vacation. That is "right" as in "by law". Even startups do not stand above the law here. Other countries treat employment like half slavery ;) – Net Tecture 13 years ago
  • "Ask yourself can you manage this job without the person? If yes you can grant him holidays." - Then why did you employ them? Just to add everyone is entitled to Holiday, and if you work to the bone expect mistakes and failures. Everyone should try to have time off, staff and founder regardless of the situation as it will lead to a more cohesive and friendly working environment and probably will see an increase in productivity. – Tim Nash 13 years ago
  • @NetTecture: You see I have mentioned:"if you are looking for a holiday structure then follow the labor law of the country you are in." If it is a law we should follow that. One more thing *half-slavery* is a mindset. In startup we should make the work fun filled. @Tim Nash: Sorry for the confusion what I wanted to say is:"If you can manage the work without that person for the time he is on leave". You are absolutely right if you can manage without some one you should not hire. – Samik 13 years ago


Set up a Google Calendar and then share it with everyone in the team. Colour code leave, so people can see that a purple shaded area on a particular day or day is when you are on leave. Then a comment on the day that the employee is to return.

It's what they do here at my work and it works really well as everyone can see who is going to be away and when they are returning.

answered Mar 29 '11 at 14:57
Digital Sea
1,613 points


My short answer is that I don't want to see myself as a policeman so an email to let me know which days they decide to take is more than enough. If I can't trust them to choose smart the days (i.e. making sure that they don't affect the internal deadlines at work) then maybe I shouldn't have them with me (of course this applies in the context of an small startup)

answered Feb 6 '12 at 03:33
Jordi Cabot
243 points


Managing holidays includes two parts. Lets ignore the "time off is bad" and other ridiculous answers here. Lets also ignore the big and well written but slightly off topic answer by rbwhitaker.

People have a right to time off and it has to be managed.

Here are the issues:
* You must keep the company operational or shut it down well controlled. For example, you can not have everyone taking off the same week without announcing it first to customers (and you may not legally be able to do so if you ahve contracts with customers), but you may move to emergency mode for example between christmas and new year, or even shut down totlaly depending on business.
* You need to keep track of every emploeees part here, also so that people can see when their time off is.
* You must establih a policy to get holidays and resolve conflicts. Can be as easy as "first application has piority" but it is also good to give families with children priority during holiday time - people without children are free when they can go to holidays, those without are limited to school hliday time.

For that you need:
* Some forms. Email suffices, but it is always nice to have some form with a signature. You wont fully autoamte at the start, so - don't even try. Word form, signed, finished.
* Some central calendar to show holidays. This is important also during planning. If f 3 developers 1 has to be ther all the time, guess where they can see that ;)

This can e easy. Google calendar can be used, as can be sharepoint - the team I am consulting with at the moment uses a shared sharepoint calendar. But be carefull - those get very confuing the moment you have tons of people there, you may want to not use one but one per team. Also makes sense - I need 1 eveloper and adminsitration stuffed, but separately.

In the past, people were hanging up big calendard on a wall in the HR office or somewhere and color coding holidays. Also works.

In my own company, ther ules are like that:
* You can get holidays whenever you want. Higher ups (your manager) has to approve the timing. For administration that is me (make sure I am aware when the office is not available). This is siple.

  • Signed papaers needed, which also go to the accountant. Accountant tracks compliance with legal requirements (legal issue here).
  • We do not track free day at the moment in a coordination calendar. This is purely a "not needed" issue. if it would be needed, I would put in a sharepoint calendar for the moment, with people also assigned a group so a filter by group would be possible. But due to the isolated nature of the work MY company does, coordination over larger people sections are not needed.
  • We occasionally shut down the complete business officially. People can still come to work, but basically we are "officially not in business". No phone, may not answer etc. Some people even have no permission to do "real work" but can focus on backend work, cleanup, doing testing etc. - this is based on some areas of my business depending on external factors which are not controllable during this time. This is mostly the case for single working days (thursday legal holiday), short weeks (2 days offf = no "real" work all week), holiday times (christmas to new year) and encouraged holiday in summer. Again, this depends on the area of this type of business. Your mileage 99% varies here.

Basically, simple rule: you dont have a problem tracking holidays if you dont need an administrative person / office (3 people in an office = easy to track) and the moment you get a half time secretary to handle the paperwork - she will already have an idea (unless you hire your neighbors daughter without any education in this area - which is not a smart move anyway).

answered Feb 5 '12 at 19:04
Net Tecture
11 points

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