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Why spreadsheets are slowing your annual leave processes down

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Managing annual leave can be a tedious task for employers, and HR and payroll professionals.

Even a small workforce can be challenging to manage, especially during the holiday season when planned breaks often conflict.

Today’s workforce values work-life balance more now than perhaps ever.

A You Gov survey shows that 75% of UK staff take all or almost all of their leave each year. Another survey by Arkenford shows more Britons are taking holidays than in previous years.

This means as an HR professional, you must take every precaution to ensure requesting and tracking annual leave is seamless for your workforce and yourself.

If you’re still using spreadsheets to manage annual leave, you’re missing out on the tools and features that HR software offers to eliminate the challenges associated with that task.

What is annual leave?

Annual leave is a worker’s paid holiday, also known as statutory leave entitlement or holiday entitlement. Almost all staff are entitled to 28 days of annual leave.

Bank holidays don’t have to be given as paid leave, and you can choose to include them as part of your annual leave.

Agency workers, workers with irregular hours, and those on zero-hour contracts are entitled to annual leave. Part-time workers are also entitled to annual leave.

Calculating annual leave

Most people who work a five-day week are entitled to 5.6 weeks (28 days) of annual leave. Part-time workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave, but since their working week is shorter, their annual leave will be less than 28 days.

For instance, if a person works three days a week, they are entitled to 16.8 days because their working week is three days.

People who work irregular hours are entitled to paid time off for every hour they work. The government website has a holiday entitlement calculator to figure out annual leave based on the type of employment contract.

Why spreadsheets don’t work for annual leave

There are a lot of moving parts to manage annual leave even for a small workforce. Trying to maintain everything on spreadsheets is problematic in many ways, but ultimately because it doesn’t set a solid foundation for business growth.

This is the situation Rob Crowley found himself in when he was appointed HR director at RateSetter, a fast-growing loan investment company.

He knew the manually driven tasks and reliance on monster-sized spreadsheets left his team largely reactive to anything people related.

He says: “The HR approach needed to evolve from simply getting ‘bums on seats’, to getting a decent HR infrastructure in place that could provide efficiencies, instilling a winning and rewarding culture, and providing meaningful and accurate HR data to help drive the business forward.”

Five time traps associated with spreadsheets

1. They are time-consuming

One of the biggest drawbacks with using spreadsheets for Crowley was how much admin time they took. Simple tasks were burning unnecessary hours each week because of the manual nature of the admin involved.

HR and payroll staff often have to input the same information into multiple spreadsheets and scroll through an entire spreadsheet to extract data.

You have to go through the spreadsheets every time someone requests time off to see if anyone else is off at that time.

2. They aren’t secure

Data sensitivity is more critical now than ever, and spreadsheets don’t offer the up-to-date security measures that companies need to protect employee information.

People tend to share spreadsheets back and forth via email and often don’t password protect them. Email servers are a constant target for cybercriminals, which leaves confidential information on spreadsheets at risk.

3. They’re hard to keep up to date

The data you work with changes almost constantly: new joiners, leavers, sick days, holidays.

As the organisation grows, it becomes impossible to key all of this data in real time. Handling annual leave this way compromises the accuracy and timeliness of your payroll.

4. There’s no way for workers to track their leave balances

You’re responsible for managing everyone’s annual leave and for answering their queries about them.

Every request for a balance update or other enquiry means sifting through your spreadsheets and hoping the latest data is available.

If it’s not, or if it takes unusually long to reply to the request, it could put doubt in the requestor’s mind.

5. They don’t support collaboration

Data protection laws such as the GDPR place limits on who can access certain employee information. If a manager or senior-level employee asks how many annual leave days their team has for the rest of the year, you’ll need to slice up your spreadsheet so they can access only the appropriate information.

Straightforward requests such as these shouldn’t take so much time and effort.

Using software for simpler annual leave processes

Crowley, like many HR and people directors, found the solution he needed in upgrading to HR software.

He says: “Addressing the basics, I needed to look to see how we could become an employer of choice.

“I knew what we needed to do, what I had to work out is the how. We started looking for an online cloud solution to help us.”

HR software eliminates the challenges of managing annual leave because it:

Allows for employee self-service

Instead of using all your bandwidth responding to requests about annual leave, HR software empowers your staff to request time off themselves and check their own leave balances.

You’ll get that time back in your day and your employees will appreciate the convenience.

Automates processes and calculations

Instead of fumbling through spreadsheets to update leave data, HR software automatically processes updates and makes calculations for you based on staff status.

So if a staff member goes from part time to full time, your software automatically calculates their new annual leave accrual and adjusts from the effective date.

Enables you to respond faster

HR software organises your annual leave data for you in a way that is intuitive and customisable.

So when you receive an enquiry about how staff are using their annual leave, you can quickly pull up only the appropriate data so you don’t compromise any data protection laws.

Sophie MacDonald, HR adviser at RateSetter, says this was a major improvement for her day-to-day bandwidth once the company adopted HR software.

She adds: “I can safely say the people operations team are saving about eight hours a week just by removing that basic overhead. That means I can now focus on providing a proactive HR service to the business.

Integrates with payroll software to manage the entire employee experience

Digitalising your HR function enables you to connect with payroll software for one source of employee data. That way, you can manage their tenure with the business from new hire onward all with one system.

How to say goodbye to spreadsheets

Using software for your annual leave process is a necessity for future business. Here are four steps to help your team move from spreadsheets to software.

1. Set a timeline

This change will take time for your staff to adjust to as well, so you should factor that into how quickly you decide to make the switch.

Crowley didn’t want to overwhelm staff with change, so he took a phased approach to implementation.

He says: “We didn’t want the launch to be a disruptive distraction, considering the business was undergoing lots of change.

“So we chose a soft launch within the business, putting out simple messages that a new system ‘was arriving’, issuing trial logins for anyone who wanted to try it out for themselves.”

2. Communicate the change with staff

Let staff members know these changes will help to improve the HR service they receive. Highlight what’s in it for them: it’ll be easier to request leave, check their holiday balances, and plan for time off.

Let them know when you will stop using your spreadsheet system and when they will start using the new software.

3. Provide training

An obvious tip, but ‘user-friendly’ is relative when you factor in the differences in a multi-generational workforce. Plan to provide training so everyone is comfortable with using the new software on their own.

4. Encourage feedback

This is important because feedback will tell you how your staff are getting on with your new system and how well they received the training.

Crowley used the opportunities for feedback to gauge the overall success of his migration.

He says: “We received good feedback from the trial; how professional the system looked; how easy it was to use; how the experience was positive for the employee.

“We knew the decision to move to HR software was the right one as after launch, our Employee Net Promoter Score improved, with employees commenting positively and enjoying the advances in HR such as being able to manage and book their own time off.”

In summary

Don’t let tedious tasks involved with annual leave slow you down from providing excellent service.

Using software instead of spreadsheets future-proofs your organisation to embrace newer technology as it’s available, and prepares your team for future company growth.

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