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Vacation Scheduling: Five Keys to Success

In the current environment of organizational efficiency, as staff are asked to do “more with less” and work “smarter not harder”, the pressure on payroll departments is unrelenting. Scheduling time-off for staff is both tricky and essential. So how do you manage the workflow in payroll when staff go on vacation?

The following five strategies should pave the way to stress-free vacation scheduling:


Payroll is highly regular and predictable.  There are work tasks based on the length of the payroll cycle (e.g. weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly), others that occur monthly such as month-end accounting procedures, and those that repeat annually for tax and fiscal year-ends, merit increases, bonus payouts and so on.  These can be mapped out a year in advance.  All of these activities are regular, known, expected, planned.

Schedule, stagger and pace out vacation time accordingly.


Cross training is essential to smooth vacation scheduling.  When vacation time is scheduled in advance, essential tasks can be identified and cross training plans devised. Document step-by-step processes for easy reference.

Cross training is also critical for handling unexpected problems such as staff illness, power or transit failures. It enhances staff confidence and satisfaction, facilitates individual development plans and affords an opportunity to assess staff capabilities.


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It is difficult in payroll departments not to be a bit of a control-freak! After all, you do want everything to go smoothly every time. However, it is important to let go of the reins, little by little, in order to ensure that others in the department are able to take over when required.

Delegation does not mean passing off work you don’t enjoy, but giving staff an opportunity to stretch their skills and experience. Try not to look for perfection, just focus on getting the job done, with a standard of quality that you can live with, in a reasonable time frame.  Making mistakes is part of a natural learning curve so be forgiving to those who make a good-faith effort to get it right. Check on progress regularly, and make sure those to whom you delegate know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.


Apply Eisenhower’s Principle to understand the distinction between tasks that are urgent, and those that are important in order to minimize the stress of too many tight deadlines. This will help identify activities to focus on prior to vacation, and those that can be ignored until after returning.

Put all tasks and activities into one of the following categories:

Important and urgent. These tasks fall into two groups: ones that you can forsee and others that you have left to the last minute. Eliminate the latter by planning ahead. Avoid procrastination.

Important but not urgent. Keep on top of these so they do not become urgent, and schedule time to deal with unforeseen problems.

Not important but urgent. Reschedule or delegate. A common source of these activities is other people. Encourage them to solve problems themselves. Say “no” politely.

Not important and not urgent. These are a distraction to be avoided, ignored, cancelled or postponed till after a well-earned vacation.


Payroll is no place for technology laggards.  Ensure that you leverage technology to the maximum extent to automate processes, deliver pay statements, generate reports and divert employee queries through self-service functionality.

Payroll naturally appeals to an organized mind, and methodical, efficient work habits.  The key to successful vacation planning is to do what you do well through effective planning and prioritizing.

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