Here’s how I manage staff annual leave

Based in Marden, Kent, Water for Work and Home supplies serviced water coolers and dispensers to over 10,000 UK offices and homes. The company philosophy is based on the positive impact of good hydration on performance, productivity and wellbeing. Here, HR manager Andrea Ings explains how the business successfully manages annual leave for its 100-plus employees.

What I did


Have clear policies and procedures

“We put together our annual leave policy with advice from Acas and from an external HR consultant who we brought in to help compile our staff handbook. That was a great starting point, but you have to remember it’s your responsibility to regularly update things so that procedures remain compliant.

“We include the procedure in the staff handbook and in our contract of employment too, we also explain the process at induction and regularly reinforce the process informally through our line managers. We have a single leave form that covers all types of leave, not just annual leave, as we’ve found this is easier to administer. The form is made available for staff both as a hard copy from the HR department or a soft copy online.

“An employee wishing to book annual leave first checks with their line manager, then submits the leave form for their manager to sign before sending on to HR. All annual leave records are kept on our central computer system, which is integrated with our payroll system.”

Balance business and employee needs

“Whilst the needs of the business must be considered when managing annual leave, we also aim to engender a positive attitude towards leave that starts with management and filters down to all staff.

“We actively encourage employees to take their full leave entitlement because it’s better for wellbeing and productivity. For the same reasons, we don’t generally allow unused leave to be carried over into the following year, and we encourage staff to spread their leave evenly throughout the year. However, we try to remain flexible and treat requests on an individual basis.

“About three months before the end of the holiday year, we run a report off the system to check who has outstanding leave and remind them to book it and take it.

“We do have certain restrictions on taking leave, which we list in the staff handbook. For example, we can only allow a certain number of Water Men (delivery drivers) to be on leave at the same time in order to preserve our customer delivery schedules.”

Plan ahead

“Planning ahead wherever possible avoids unnecessary disruption. The staff handbook and contract of employment stipulates at least one month’s notice for periods of leave lasting four days or longer, and at least one week’s notice for leave of three days or less. Again, we try to remain flexible and accommodate last-minute requests if we can.

“We keep a company holiday diary in Outlook that is accessible to all employees. This helps with planning because we can see exactly what’s happening and employees can check for obvious clashes before requesting leave.

“Inevitably, there are always one or two conflicting requests to deal with, mostly concerning too many employees wanting to take the same week off. We make it clear that the general rule is ‘first come, first served’, but that in certain exceptional circumstances we may consider alternative arrangements.”

What I’d do differently


Make part-time entitlements clearer

“Our part-time workers are entitled to pro-rated bank holidays, but in the early days this sometimes caused confusion. We’ve recently introduced a simple form listing the eight bank holidays in a year beside two columns, one for paid bank holidays, one for unpaid. Staff simply choose, within their entitlement, which bank holidays they want to be paid for and tick the appropriate column on the form. This really helps with forward planning.”