Managing Paid Time Off Requests at Your Lab in 2021

There was probably never a trickier year for managing paid time off than 2020. The usual juggling of vacations and sick time became significantly more complex as employees needed time off for unexpected day care responsibilities, to care for loved ones affected by COVID-19, or to battle the virus themselves.

Over the years, you've become accustomed to balancing time off requests both during the holidays and throughout the year while maintaining your lab's productivity, but the chances are good that last year has left you feeling pressured. Nonetheless, even if the pandemic recedes in the months ahead, your employees will need time off to relax with loved ones and get refreshed. There are several steps you can take to help them get the time they need while still ensuring your lab runs smoothly.

Set a Meeting

After you conduct an initial review of everyone's PTO plans for the next months, get together with your staff so you're all on the same page when it comes to understanding your lab's workload throughout the months ahead. Discuss what projects you absolutely need completed on a tight deadline and what can roll over into a few weeks forward. The sooner you can get this meeting on the books, the better your team will be able to align their personal and work responsibilities.

Be Generous With Paid Time Off

Even though you, as the lab manager, may be stressed about completing all of the lab's regular tasks, it's important to prioritize your staff's needs. This means granting as many of their vacation requests as is reasonably possible. Depression and emotional fatigue have been serious risks for everyone over the past year, and adequate vacation time is more important now than at any time in recent memory.

Split Responsibilities as Evenly as Possible

The fact is you may simply not be able to meet all of your staff's requests while maintaining the necessary workflow of your lab. So now is the time to promote teamwork by asking your staff to take on some added responsibilities, if necessary, in the hopes that everyone can use their well-deserved PTO. And be sure that if you're asking your staff to work a bit harder when they're on the clock, you should be prepared to do the same.

Make Contingency Plans

Over the past year, everyone has learned to expect the unexpected — and you've learned to adjust repeatedly when it comes to managing your lab. For the year ahead, then, and particularly around holidays, you should have at least a couple of rough contingency plans in mind to anticipate any possible unforeseen changes. Some of your staff may decide to change whatever travel plans they've had, for example, or unfortunately one or more of them may fall sick or suddenly have to care for someone who has. To the extent possible, then, be prepared to shift your project plans to accommodate these sudden changes in holiday PTO while still keeping your operations moving forward.

Prioritize Wellness

Even in "normal" times, your staff's overall wellness is a critical part of your lab's success, so encouraging them to take care of themselves is essential. This year, don't lose sight of the importance of maintaining safe work habits and allowing your team to refresh their health and energy through PTO.

As a leader, you should set an example for your staff to follow. So, as the year unfolds and holidays approach, model for employees how to unplug from work while also maintaining your responsibilities. If you don't make a point of taking time off, they might think they shouldn't either.

Communicate Transparently

Remember that one of your most important responsibilities is to remain open and transparent in developing plans for your lab while also taking time to check in regularly with your staff to ensure they're getting what they need. The pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another, and vacations and other PTO are perhaps more important this year than they've been in a long time. While maintaining your lab's productivity is obviously important, making sure your staff get the rest they need is your most important task throughout the year and especially during holidays.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.