BAI Banking Strategies Features Branch PTO Article Contributed by Point Enterprises, Inc.
The Game Has Changed
Managing and scheduling Personal Time Off (PTO) days has long been a challenge for financial institutions (FIs). The problem is more difficult in the post-recession era because many FIs have reduced branch staffing levels to a minimum. That means fewer branch employees available to cover for each other or nearby branches, increased pressure on remaining float staff and more supervisory work for fewer supervisory personnel.
Many, if not most, FIs delegate the task of PTO scheduling to a region/area level. Often the job is assigned to an administrative support person for the region/area manager. This is not surprising as many FIs manage float staff at the same level. Some FIs control PTO from central branch administration.
The first challenge is to receive PTO requests as far in advance as possible. Many FIs require by policy that all requests be received in the first quarter, at least for extended PTO of 5 days or more. Clearly, the farther in advance a request can be received, the easier it is to coordinate resources.
For PTO to fulfill the objective of improving employee morale, the process of granting requests must be fair, and be perceived as being fair. Seniority is one of many factors used to determine whether to grant a PTO request. One strategy is to give senior employees first opportunity at requesting the full week PTO, but grant all employees equal access to individual days after the full weeks have been scheduled. Some of the other factors are:
- Are there other employees who have already been granted time in the same date range?
- Is float coverage available or can the branch cover internally?
- What is the relative need at the branch versus other branches in the area? This may include how busy the branches are, staff headcount in each branch, types of employees available, etc.
- If the requesting employee is designated as float staff, are there requests from other float staff in the pool for the same date range?
- Are there special events or high-traffic periods during the request range?
- How hard or flexible are the dates requested?
Another challenge for PTO scheduling is that after the initial bulk of requests are received, it occurs gradually and affect periods that may be many months in the future. As a date gets closer it is important to know that the different competing requests and factors are still lined up. If PTO requests are removed or modified, any associated employee or float coverage needs to change or be deleted also. Those assigned to schedule PTO need the ability to see all of the different pieces and how they relate to each other.
Software Can Help
Software can be used to gain visibility of schedules and requests, or to automate some or all of the effort. Many payroll or timekeeping software systems have features to facilitate PTO planning and reporting. The difficulty with these systems is that frequently only a few personnel in Human Resources have access to anything but the input functions. Branch staffing and scheduling systems typically have features to automate or report PTO and are available to branch personnel, but are still being used by a relatively small percentage of FIs. Often employees use spreadsheets or other office software tools to perform the task locally, meaning management has no effective way of seeing the complete picture.
Utilizing software to manage or partially automate PTO planning has a side benefit that is not obvious. In addition to relieving some of the supervisory workload, software can reduce stress and facilitate relationships by "taking the blame". There is no point in an employee getting mad at a supervisor or administrative assistant, if they are essentially a "victim" too.
Managing PTO is a necessary, but thankless, task for those assigned to perform the duty. Granting a request is treated as "business as usual" by employees, while denying a request may trigger resentment if not an outright complaint. The employee's duties then need to be covered, presenting more challenges plus more opportunities to disrupt morale. As with most operational requirements, a key part of the solution is to have clear policies that are communicated to the people that have to implement them. It is also important that the policies in effect reflect the current objectives, expectations and technical capabilities of both the organization and its employees. Every FI gets through the PTO process every year, one way or another. When was the last time the way you manage PTO was given a serious review?