PTO and vacation tracking can be a real admin burden, a pain in the backside if you don’t have a simple and foolproof system.

It’s all too common to cobble together a system using PTO request forms, spreadsheets and a shared employee vacation calendar. On the face of it your ad-hoc system work, but then the gaps start appearing, keeping the spreadsheet and calendar updated becomes tedious and prone to error, employees constantly interrupt you to make changes to their time off schedules, and there’s a general lack of visibility of who’s off on vacation and when.

It's these problems why it's a waste of time to attempt this without some decent PTO tracking software. You need everything working together well, request forms, calendars, records of absences. You probably want a cloud based system with a mobile app that your employees can use too.

But don't worry, PTO tracking software is pretty cheap. What we also need is a solid system based around your software to keep track of PTO and vacations.

Here’s how to do it in four simple steps:

  1. Put a PTO policy in place.
  2. Decide what different types of absences you want to track.
  3. Give everyone a PTO balance.
  4. Start doing your time off requests, and tracking them.

1. Get yourself a PTO Policy

Your PTO policy shouldn’t be a complex legal document. What we are talking about is a short policy to make it clear how much paid time off your team is entitled to and how they go about arranging PTO. It gives employees something to refer to and can help avoid misunderstandings or conflict.

You can use the following free PTO policy template to get yourself started. It’s short, written in plain English and pretty much self explanatory, just fill in the blanks.

Download the policy here

The important things to cover in a PTO policy are:

  • How much PTO can they take each year
  • What that year is, it’s start and end
  • How they request PTO
  • How you deal with time off requests
  • Can any balance be carried forward to the following year
  • What happens if they work a part year - new starters and leavers

Like I said, this is all covered in this template policy, which you’re welcome to use.

It’s a Google doc, no signup, email address or other such shenanigans required. It's yours to download and use as you see fit.

Download the policy here

2. Decide what different types of absences you want to track

When we talk about keeping tracking and PTO management, half the reason is so we can plan around people being off work, so we can schedule and manage workloads according to who’s working and who’s off.

And obviously PTO is not the only reason people take time off work. We also need to think about why else they want or need time off, and keeping track of all those different reasons too.

You’ve got sickness, doctors and dentist appointments, compassionate leave, family emergencies, bereavements, duvet days, sabbaticals. Quite a long list and it’ll vary company to company.

The old-time way to keep track of PTO was using a spreadsheet, maybe a template like Microsoft provide.

An old Excel leave tracker

Unfortunately these templates, and spreadsheets generally, are too narrow in scope to properly keep track of all the different reasons people take time off. They rely one person, typically you, to keep them updated, they certainly don't encourage employee self service.

To keep track properly you need to record each type of absence as it’s booked, using some PTO tracking software. Using Timetastic you create all the different types of leave from the outset.

Leave Types in Timetastic

We can also decide if we want the time off to deduct from an annual PTO allowance, if it needs approving by a manager, or if it counts toward a maximum absent limitation - a limit on how many people can be off at the same time. (You don’t get any of these controls when you use a spreadsheet.)

So now you’ve setup a set of different absence reasons, when an employee is requesting time off they can select which of the reasons applies. This is the form employees use in Timetastic to request some time off work, you can see they can choose which type of absence they want.

Selecting a Leave Type when booking time off in Timetastic

And as the year progresses we can see a summary of the different types of reasons people took time off work. This is what that looks like using the Timetastic mobile app.

Timetastic mobile app

And on an employees calendar. So we can get a really good picture of when people take time off and what for.

Timetastic user Calendar with summary on the right

3 .Give everyone a PTO balance

Now you’ve got a policy in place and all the different reasons for taking time off, we need to set some PTO tracking in place. The important value here is how much PTO each person is allowed each year.

In most situations how much PTO an individual get's will be covered in their employment contract, but it also might be a company wide value.

By giving people an allowance of the year you can keep track of it, deducting the value of each vacation and ultimately blocking any PTO requests that exceed the full allowance.

4. Start booking, and tracking.

The booking part is where it all comes together.

If you’ve tried to keep track of PTO using spreadsheets or a shared vacation calendar you’ll know the hard part is constantly updating it with every PTO request, every change, and every cancellation.

What a PTO tracker gives you is employee self service.

So when you employees need some vacation time they can login and with a few click put that PTO request directly in.

This is what it looks like using Desktop version of Timetastic

Desktop version of a PTO request

And this is what it looks like using the mobile app.

Mobile app book PTO form

And as soon as the request is in you summaries are updated.

And if you've connected Timetastic to your Outlook or Google calendar then that'll be updated too.

And their PTO balance is updated.

Literally, everything updated and instantly reconciled.

Finally, to wrap up..

If you want to keep track of PTO properly, with minimal effort, then steer clear of cobbling together PTO tracking system using spreadsheets and shared calendars. It can feel like an easy approach to time off management. But the gaps in the system shine through very early on.

Customers come to Timetastic telling us what's going wrong with their current system, comments like:

I Input all the formulas only to find I have made a data entry mistake and have to go through all the paper bookings to double check myself.
Everyone forgets when people are off.
It's too messy to keep on top of, we can't see who's off and who isn't.

I just don't think it's worth starting down that route, time off tracking software will ultimately give you a proper system and help your business focus on growth.

If you'd like to try Timetastic you can start today. It's completely free for the first 30 days, a full month to have a go and see if it'll work for you.

You've got nothing to lose!