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Designing Your HR Leave Management Process

By Amanda Neely

December 2021

HR processes have been overhauled in many areas in recent years, but for many companies, the HR leave management process isn’t among them. Employee leave processes have remained virtually the same for decades — if they were ever standardized.

Historically, fear of noncompliance has driven employee leave management processes, but maintaining compliance is only part of the picture.

Updating your HR leave management process offers significant opportunities for improving efficiency and employee experience at your company. Researching, requesting, and preparing for leave can be daunting to employees, and ineffective management of this process can put a drag on HR’s productivity. The stakes are high when it comes to managing leave: Whether they’re caring for a sick loved one or bringing someone new into their lives, employee leave is tied to meaningful life experiences.

Here’s how to update and improve your HR leave management process to maximize compliance and improve employee leave experiences.

What Is Leave Management?

Leave management refers to the policies and processes HR departments use to manage time-off requests. HR’s leave management processes are designed to streamline and standardize leave requests, which makes managing them easier.

But so often leave management processes are so wrapped up in compliance that they leave gaps in service and experience.

The first part of leave management is setting and updating policies regarding the different types of leave available, who qualifies to use them, what events trigger their use and how to accrue and transfer leave balances. These are usually legacy policies, and they’re rarely updated except to remain current with local, state, and federal guidelines.

Ideally, your leave policies would allow employees to evaluate their circumstances and determine whether they qualify for leave, but each leave request is different. Your employee leave policies may prompt more questions than answers from employees.

The legacy processes wrapped around leave policies often require employees to jump through hoops simply to explore their leave options. They might ask their manager for help, only to be referred to an HR professional. And if everything is routed through a third-party administrator, employees may even be required to file an official leave request just to get the information they need.

HR leave management processes are intended to support a fair leave request process. But as workforces become more diverse, so do employee leave requests, and legacy processes simply can’t keep up.

Employee Leave Management vs. Employee Leave Experience

Employee leave management isn’t a new concept. Employers have been trying to wrap policies and processes around leave requests for decades. Managing employee leave is complex, and leave management can help maintain compliance and guarantee that the leave process runs smoothly.

But traditionally, employee leave has been perceived as a necessity, not an opportunity. Framing leave management as a strategic HR initiative offers a new perspective. Ideally, HR leave management processes foster employee leave experience.

Employee leave management does no more than what you’d expect: manages employee leave requests. But without investing in employee leave experience, employees making the requests can start to feel like just another number or circumstance, not a person.

Thinking about employee leave experiences (as opposed to just managing compliance) places the leave management process in the larger context of employee experience. How leave requests and processes are handled can affect how employees perceive your company. If they’re constantly passed from one person to the next while trying to get answers to their questions or are still filing paperwork up to the point when their leave is supposed to begin, employees will feel like they aren’t a priority.

However, if you can give employees accurate information in a timely manner, help them make the right decisions, and map out the entire process, employees will begin their leave feeling confident in your commitment to them.

Download our guide: “Employee Leave Experience: A Strategic Model for the New World of Work.”

Setting Up an Effective Leave Management Process

HR leave management processes are intended to maximize compliance, minimize payroll errors and prevent inequities in the employee leave process. But there are more holistic ways to think about employee leave while leveraging leave as a strategic differentiator for your employer brand.

Most companies’ leave management processes do the bare minimum and are seriously overdue for revision. Here’s how to update HR leave management processes at your company.

Audit Your Current Leave Management Process

Before you can craft a better HR leave management process, you need to evaluate the process you already have. Consider these questions:

  • What is the first step for employees looking for leave information? How accessible and accurate is that information?
  • Do your policies outline the various types of leave you offer? Do they break down specific scenarios (using parental leave for adoption, for example, or using sick leave for treatment of a service-connected disability)? Are they written in a way that’s easy for most people to understand?
  • Is there a formal process for requesting leave? Who sees those leave requests and gives final approval or denial? Can employees talk to someone before filing the formal request?
  • How will employees be notified of approval or denial? Are decisions made based on clear, objective criteria?
  • Do you have processes in place for helping employees manage their workloads to allow for time off? Or for reallocating work without overwhelming their colleagues?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can decide whether your process delivers a good experience or just a compliant one.

Optimize Leave Management for Employee Experience

With a better sense of what your HR leave management process looks like (especially to employees), you can identify the points where your process is weakest.

To create an impact, find places where small changes can create big gains. If your current process doesn’t have clear criteria for evaluating leave requests, for example, work with HR team members to develop criteria that support fair and objective decision-making. Employees will appreciate the transparency and are more likely to perceive the process as fair.

Improving employee leave experiences can also improve compliance and efficiency. Consider where employees are going to get answers to their questions, for example. If you aren’t providing that information, they’ll get it from another source — one that may not be accurate. That can lead employees to fill out their paperwork incorrectly, resulting not only in a terrible experience but also in additional work for HR managers.

Test Your New Process to Evaluate its Success

Once you’ve implemented changes to your program, run a pilot to evaluate whether it’s improved compliance, efficiency, and experience. Using the information from your audit of the previous process, set metrics that indicate whether you’ve successfully improved your current process.

Maybe the previous process required an hour of back and forth between an employee and an HR team member to determine whether an event qualified for leave, for instance. With the new process in place, how long does it take an employee to find that information? Can employees get those answers themselves from in-house resources?

To measure your progress, ask the same questions that you used while auditing your original process.

2 Different Types of Leave Management Software

Finally, once you’ve taken a global look at your HR leave management process and implemented changes to update and improve it, the last step is to integrate tools to support your new process. Traditionally, leave management has been housed in Excel sheets, but that isn’t the most effective leave management tool available.

Here are the two types of leave management software you may come across, as well as how each one supports your new process.


Compliance-oriented leave management software helps you maintain a compliant process. This type of software tracks how many hours employees have used and the type of leaves they’ve used. Compliance software can, with human oversight, automate the approval or rejection of leave requests.

Compliance software can direct you toward compliant decisions regarding employee leave. If an employee is eligible for two types of leave, for example, compliance software can note that

However, while compliance software can reduce risk and streamline your leave management process, it does little or nothing to improve employee leave experiences. Employees may even be skeptical of automated solutions to their very real, personal problems.

Decision Support

The other type of leave management software is decision support technology such as LeaveLogic. This type of software is specifically focused on improving the employee leave experience. With decision support software, employees can map out their options for leave before filing an official request. They have access to information customized to your specific legal guidelines and company policies.

When employees input a request, they can track its progress and understand the results of the final decisions. Because they have access to better information, their requests are more likely to be accurate, compliant, and eligible for approval. After answering a few initial questions, the decision support software generates a customized checklist to help the employee prepare to go on, take, and return from leave.

Leverage Your Improved Leave Management Process

Requesting leave isn’t easy for employees to do, so any steps you take to ease that process for them are likely to improve their perception of you as an employer. When employees can see what types of leaves are available to them and how those approval decisions are made, their trust and loyalty go up. And when managers and HR provide resources and support for employees as they embark on their leave request journey, employees feel more supported and confident as they complete the steps necessary for a successful leave experience.

An up-to-date HR leave management process allows employees to disconnect from work in a simple, healthy way and empowers them to focus on what really matters in their personal lives.

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