PTO Scheduling and Coverage

Nov 26, 2013

One of the trickiest tasks in managing a multi-branch operation is scheduling, coordinating and providing coverage for employee vacations and PTO (Personal Time Off). The problem is more difficult in the post-recession era because many financial institutions (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.

FIs tackle the problem many different ways, but ultimately everyone has to solve the same underlying challenges.

  • Receiving PTO requests as far in advance as possible.
  • Determining whether to grant, deny or move the requests based on other factors. Some FIs consider many factors, some a few, and for some it is first-come-first-granted.
  • Schedule personnel to cover the absence. This could be any combination of other employees in the branch, employees from nearby branches, trainees, or formally designated float staff.
  • Balance competing needs and desires between branches and employees, while continuing to meet internal control standards for minimum consecutive days absent.

Managing PTO is necessary, but not much fun for those assigned to perform the task. Granting a request is treated as “business as usual” by employees, while denying a request is going to 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. Basically, it is a thankless task.

Clearly, the farther in advance a request can be received, the easier it is to coordinate resources. Many FIs require by policy minimum advanced notice of three to six months, or up to a year, for extended PTO requests (5 or more consecutive days). Others simply encourage it. Employees have a built in incentive to plan ahead because a request for time well into the future is much more likely to be granted, so either technique can be successful.

A common practice is to manage PTO at a region/area level after initial approval from branch management. That dovetails with a complementary practice concerning management of float staff. (see Branch Float Staff Managed Many Ways) Requests are sent in to someone assigned to review PTO requests and, where possible, assign coverage from a float pool. Some FIs manage PTO requests centrally.

Fairness is key to the process of granting requests. Most FIs still require employees to take 5 consecutive days at some point each year, but allow individual days after that. Some still require a full two consecutive weeks, while others have eliminated the one week rule. Unlike the Transportation sector where seniority is king, most FIs treat seniority as one of many factors in determining whether to grant a PTO request. A common practice is to give senior employees first opportunity at the full week schedule, but give 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 complexity for PTO scheduling is that it may occur gradually. While the bulk of requests may be received in the first quarter, requests trickle in a few at a time and affect periods that may be many months in the future (a good thing). 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 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 be used to gain visibility of schedules and requests, or to automate some or all of the effort. While different systems have different feature sets with varying levels of automation, utilizing software 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 getting mad at a supervisor if they are essentially a victim too.

A second benefit to using software is that a more complete picture of PTO up and down the organization may be available. When requests are being managed at a de-centralized area level, not all areas may use the same techniques or processes, and it is difficult to roll up the requests to obtain a complete picture. Often employees use spreadsheets or other individual tools to perform the task, meaning management has no effective way of seeing the complete picture.