For many of you this is a holiday season. Likely, many of your team are looking to take some time off in this period. To spend with family. To get a rest. Or to reset. In your role as leader you are of course happy to see your team take time for a rest. But as employer or coordinator you may also have concerns about the work. So how to manage leave in your nonprofit?

Leave days

First of all, your staff is entitled to leave as per their employment contract. This is on top of the public holidays that are observed in your country. In many countries, the minimum number of leave days equals 4 working weeks. (so, 8 days for someone working two days per week or 20 days for someone working 5 days per week). Staff can always negotiate for more leave than the legal minimum, but never agree to less. The right to leave presumes that people do need a rest and that this right needs to be protected against exploitation.

Unused leave

Most nonprofits are very clear to their team that leave must be used, and that unused leave will not be paid out. To incentivize staff to use their leave they set rules about the number of unused leave days that can be transferred to the next year. This kind of rules must be put in writing, in a personnel guide, HR policy or similar. You must also make sure that staff is aware of this before any issue may arise. (so, from the moment they start working with you)

Planning leave (1)

Most nonprofit staff find it very hard to plan their leave. Because the work is so important. And because there isn’t always someone available to take over tasks. They don’t want to overburden their colleagues, nor do they want the people they serve to miss out on anything. Often, this leads to a so-called sea of unused leave days that can look quite scary by the end of the year. And that can lead to many last-minute overlapping leave requests, so that your organization would be practically closed in this period. Or it will lead to burnouts for staff who continue working throughout the year.

Planning leave (2)

To avoid this, you might want to make a plan for use of leave with all your staff members right at the start of the new year. That way you can make sure that within functional groups leave is coordinated. These groups can organize replacement for tasks that are time sensitive and that cannot wait until the person is back from their holidays. In addition, you can help your staff plan their time off all through the year in a more even manner. You will have clarity on this from the beginning of the year and thus you can monitor accordingly.

Disapproving leave

Planning in a collaborative manner as described above may help you avoid situations where you may feel the need to disapprove a request for leave. For instance, when the duration of leave is too long and, in your view, jeopardizes operations. Or creates an unfair overload on other team members. Or when the period for which leave is requested is one where several other colleagues have already had leave approved. Within reason, and when motivated clearly, an employer certainly can disapprove a request for leave.

Setting up a system

Whether you apply start-of-year collaborative leave-planning or not, you need a back-end system to collect leave requests and approvals and to record leave really taken. This system should also calculate the number of leave days or hours remaining for each individual employee, at any moment in time. Many pay slip software solutions provide such system in-built. If that does not apply to you, you can create something of your own in excel easily enough.

Consistency and updating is key

The key to success in managing leave in your nonprofit is in your consistent approach (spiced up with some persistence where needed). As well as in making sure your documentation is complete, correct and up to date at all times. It is important to make staff responsible for taking leave and for coordinating with their colleagues. Be supportive of staff taking breaks and help make this as easy as possible for them. Make clear that it is not necessarily ‘cool’ to not use leave regularly and structurally. Monitor what happens and address bottlenecks sooner rather than later.

There is a whole world of other types of leave…

This post does not address any kind of extraordinary leave, in case of childbirth, a death in the family, relocation, illness, etc. Nor does it address sabbatical plans that some nonprofits have for their staff. The former type of leave is usually provided for by law. While your organization may add on to any legal minimum as you wish in light of what good employership means to you.

Want to know more and ask questions?

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You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.