Vacation Booking Post Covid

Shawnee Love   •   May 22, 2020

I love it when people reach out and ask me to blog about a particular topic. This topic came up so many times this week, I knew it was a priority. The issue:


Interestingly, I have employers struggling on both sides of the vacation equation.

Vacations Already Booked

The problems with vacations already booked come in two genres:

  1. Employees asking to cancel and take their vacations at another time. Perhaps their family reunion or international travel plans were cancelled but in some cases it is also because a spouse was laid off or they simply don’t want to be off work when the things they planned to do won’t be available to them.

I generally like to encourage people to take vacations at times which will work for them, so if you can flex on the dates, by all means do so. However, people still need vacation time off to rest and recuperate (and this pandemic has taken an incredible toll on mental and physical health which staff may not yet have fully realized).  Further, we are mandated by employment laws to ensure our people take their vacations each year. For these reasons, if I am going to allow an employee to cancel vacation already scheduled, I would:

– Want to be sure the operation can handle the person taking vacation at a different time, and

– Obtain commitment from the employee on the alternate dates for vacation that s/he was booking.

  1. Employees wanting to take their vacations which are already booked, but employers fearful that they will need all hands or at least more hands on deck than they currently have scheduled. This may be because:
  • Certain colleagues have to remain off work for caregiving or health concerns, or
  • The organization is expecting a lot more business than normal during the upcoming periods (think social services sector, counselling, health/ personal services, etc.).

Unless you have something in writing saying otherwise, employers can rescind vacation approvals if necessary.  I would only do this if I had to because as noted above, people need their vacations!  If you have to, please work with your employees on what makes sense individually (i.e., such that they don’t feel mistreated and are able to reschedule) and organizationally (i.e., to have enough staff to do the work). Further, plan to reimburse folks if they lose money on deposits, e.g., for accommodation or transportation.

Vacations Not Yet Booked

In the case of vacations not yet booked, you may be dealing with:

  • Employees reticent to take vacation because they don’t want to be off work when events, parks, and activities aren’t available, or
  • Too many people needing or wanting to take vacation at a future date when it will be difficult accommodate all their wishes.

In this case, I recommend ensuring everyone understands they need to take vacation (it is actually the law in Canada), and then having a process to accommodate requests while fulfilling your operational needs and vacation obligations.

This process may include having requests come in identified as first choice, second choice, third and so on, or it may involve asking everyone to submit their first request, and then scheduling, and then doing a second round as two typical methods of proceeding.

The trick is “encouraging” people to take the time away without them feeling forced.  To this end, perhaps you can work with your local tourism agency to promote staycations, give people options to take long weekends (Mondays and/or Fridays off) or even consider offering bonus days off to those people who take vacations during times they are less excited about.

Time away from work is imperative to supporting mentally healthy and resilient team members.  So if all else fails, know that you are able to require someone to take vacation.  Sometimes, reminding your staff that if they don’t pick the time, you will have to choose it for them can be the incentive the need to proceed.

Any more questions about vacation or any subject relating to HR, Talent or Culture, we’d love to hear from you!