Beat the backlog: How to avoid the annual leave booking frenzy

Preventing leave buildup and holiday bottlenecks at the end of the year and during busy periods

Many people walking across a busy station concourse, some figures blurred due to movement
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How do you stop your staff from leaving their holiday until the end of the year? Answer: change the dates of your annual leave year.

Managing annual leave

Managing annual leave can be a real balancing act. While it’s vital that your staff take time off to be rested, productive and healthy, you also need them to be available when you need them.

But employees can have drastically different approaches when it comes to using their holiday allowance. Some are really good at taking it, booking off regular breaks throughout the year. But many never achieve this work/leave balance, either forgetting to take it or letting it build up to take it all in one go at the end of the year.

This is a problem.

As well as not being any good for staff wellbeing, it can also be bad for business — especially if the end of the year is one of your busiest periods.

The good news is that there’s a simple change you can make to stop this from happening: alter your annual leave year.

A lot of businesses choose the calendar year (January to December) for their annual leave period, almost on autopilot. In fact, almost half (43%) of all businesses* run their holiday allocations like this.

Another popular option is following the financial or fiscal year, from April to April. But it doesn’t have to be this way, because there are no hard and fast rules as to when your annual leave year must be. You can choose the dates to suit your business needs, and ensure that your annual leave period fits around your sector’s seasonality.

Depending on your industry, certain times of year are busier than others. For hospitality and retail, it’s Christmas; for care, things get noticeably busier in winter; gyms have a spike in January when people pledge healthier resolutions, and leisure businesses get busier as the weather improves in spring. So one annual leave period definitely does not fit all.

Structuring the leave year around business needs

If you’re in hospitality, you could consider changing your leave period from 1st January-31st December, to 1st October-30th September.

This means that instead of having the end of your leave year in December when you’re extremely busy, it would be in September and October. This is an arguably quieter period, where it may not matter quite so much if you have a number of staff taking unused holiday at the same time.

This move would also mean that the start of your leave year is outside of a busy time, and your team doesn't suddenly have brand new holiday allowance right when you need them to be at work.  

Another way to structure it is to start each employee’s leave year on the date they began working with you, or on their birthday. This will help to stagger staff holidays and avoid the end-of-year booking frenzy. Basing it on their start date also means you don’t need to worry about complicated calculations if a new employee joins halfway through the holiday year.

But how should you implement an annual leave year change? RotaCloud’s Head of People, Pam Hinds, has some expert guidance to share:

“As employers, we should be encouraging annual leave use to its fullest, and actively ensuring that people feel able to, and comfortable, taking time off. So it makes sense from both an employee experience and a business growth perspective that your annual leave year fits your company’s specific requirements.
“Typically, annual leave years are contractual, so your employees must be consulted about any proposed changes and give their consent. To cater to the widest possible audience alongside your business needs, it may be worth preparing more than one option to broach with your staff.
“If you do get the green light to proceed, the changeover leave year will either be shorter or longer than normal — you’ll need to calculate an employee’s entitlement on a pro-rata basis and start from the new chosen date. Naturally, the year after will be much simpler!”

Anything you can do to streamline your internal processes will make a move like this smoother for all involved. With a people management platform like RotaCloud, for example, you can see how much leave your staff have taken alongside their remaining allowance, and produce reports to analyse holiday patterns before proposing a change.

So, if you find that you’re repeatedly struggling with staff saving their holiday until the end of the year, consider altering your annual leave dates. This simple change is unlikely to cause a stir amongst employees, but it could make a very big difference to you, and to your business.


*This statistic is from a 2022 OnePoll survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people, as part of our Take it or (annual) leave it campaign.

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