Hi Folks. After lay offs my team is thin enough that only 1 person can go on vacation at a time.  If we have 2 we will start to fail in our company deliverables.  This includes me, of course.  

In a year, we get 1968 hours of vacation.  No sick leave here. We are also use it or lose it vacation.  And no one wants to lose it. : )

I'm approving on a first come first served basis, I'm communicating early and often, and I'm putting myself last in line for PTO.  I'm not certain if anyone has run into a similar problem and might have suggestions for me on how I could better manage this situation with my team.

Carl Witte 

Chris Zeller's picture

Hi Carl,

BLUF: You're doing the right thing and people are may not act in their own best interests. The US holidays in November and December wer always a challenge for my teams. A few thoughts:

1. Keep communicating - make PTO a line item in every staff meeting and remnd the team that it gets more difficult to arrange things with every passing week.

2. Be transparent in that you will decline requests or allow them to forfeit their hours if the team runs out of time to coordinate.

3. Address it in O3s, especially for those who stand to lose their time.

4. Consider a visual management tool - physical or digital - that acts as a shared resource so that people can see how little is left.

5. Encourage them to "swap" and do favors for each other when there's a confilct. Favors build appreciation and strengthen the team.

6. You could try to force participation and limit your ongoing responsibility. For example, "In next month's meeting, we're going to go around the table and select PTO in 5 day increments round-robin style. This is your final chance to request PTO. If you choose not to participate, realize that you will almost certainly forfeit time. I don't want that to happen and I strongly encourage you to be present and to participate." Make clear that you will enforce whatever organizational consequences there are for unscheduled PTO.

7. Keep notes on who participates and who doesn't. Also keep notes and a written record of requests that you deny. You can refer to them if/when there's unscheduled PTO at the last minute. I used to have a direct report who would not-so-coincidentally call in "sick" on days that had been declined for PTO. Two or three of those and it's a behavioral pattern.


cwitte's picture

Hi Chris.  Thank you for the ideas.  I especially like the idea of a visual tool in front of us durring our team meetings.  I'll be implementing that next week.  Further, I'll make a reminder to come back and update this post in 6 months with how its going for others.  

cwitte's picture

Hello.  I can report this was more or less successful.  I created an excel spreadsheet that had all of our PTO on it placed in our offices as well as our meeting.  So far no one has lost time, though it was close. 

I did have to institute a new rule in addition to the first come first served PTO.  The new rule was no canceling within a month of the date.  One person took advantage of the openness and canceled their scheduled PTO with a day's notice.  Effectively blocking the dates. 

To no ones surprise their colleagues noticed and two of my team came to me independently with a no cancelation addendum to our standard rules.  I brought the idea up in staff, requested feedback during O3s, received nothing but positive feedback from the team (including the individual who canceled), and implemented.  

And cause I'm a nerd I also created a macro for excel which takes their PTO and fills out a 365 day calendar, which I'm printing and posting too.  Its a little easier for the team to read and see.  If anyone would like to see the excel workbook just holler.  


Thanks again for your help.  

Chris Zeller's picture


Thank you for the follow-up. I'm glad that you found some value in my original suggestions, that you had buy-in and support form the team, and that no one had to forfeit PTO.

The iteration around canceling already-approved time off is a perfect example of making real-life adjustments when you moved things from theory to practice.

If you're willing to share the Excel workbook that you made, I'd definitely like to the see the artifact that came out of this process.


cwitte's picture

Hello.  Here is a link to a zipped copy.  Since it has the macro built into it the file is an .xlsm which you may or may not be able to open directly.

I hope this is helpful to some other people as well.  


Chris Zeller's picture

Thank you, sir.