Spreadsheets and sandcastles

I guess you could say Wales has had a disappointing summer weather-wise – but whether its sandcastles or umbrellas, rain or shine, welsh staff will still have taken their holiday entitlement.

Now, I’m hoping that all welsh businesses can proudly hold their leeks up high and tell us that they had ZERO leave clashes, NO skill shortages, no mistakes – and happy staff!

In the real world, however, I am sure there were lots of crisis moments in welsh businesses this summer – in fact, one local council (who we can’t name!) had several leave crisis in one department alone.

It’s a good illustration of how even absence from the most junior member of a team can impact the rest.  The forms did not account for a variety of key skills in a department – the result was highly paid skilled staff having to cover office junior duties, leaving the technical team somewhat compromised.

In the majority of cases, while payroll systems record holidays, all of the planning, booking and managing of holiday and sickness absence is largely manual.  In Wales as in much of England, most people I speak to use spreadsheets and paper forms combined with an old fashioned wall planner that has more tipp-ex on it than the local stationery supplier – and therein lies the problem.

Certainly, in the unnamed council, paper forms were the culprit, combined with two managers of the same team who didn’t have to co-sign leave requests.

I’d love to say problems are uncommon, but in practice, leave clashes and staff shortages in summer are the norm rather than the exception.

Hardly anybody manages their payroll or their accounts via a spreadsheet anymore, yet planning your people and how you deploy their skills is just as vital to your business as paying them properly. After all, if you didn’t NEED the skills they have, you wouldn’t employ them!

In a digital age with online calendars, where even birthdays are managed with Facebook reminders, I find English businesses desperate to find an alternative. Even in Wales, software packages that welsh businesses have traditionally deemed ‘expensive’ are being given a second look – with good reason.

HR people don’t come cheap, costing around £35,000 p.a. on average (though in Wales it may be slightly cheaper) – and it’s often them to whom custody of the ‘sandcastle spreadsheet’ is given – their time is not free.

In fact, here’s how it adds up for just 125 staff members taking on an average 7 occasions of leave per year:

  • 100 staff x 7 holiday occasions per year = 700 holiday occasions
  • 700 x clearing with line manager x 5 mins = 3500 minutes
  • 700 x HR Authorising, recording & liaising with Line Manager x 15 mins = 10500 minutes
  • 14,000 minutes = 233 hours per year

That equates to a whopping 6.5 weeks of a skilled resource on mundane holiday planning.  On top of that, there’s more time taken in running a manual end of year process, manual reporting, annual leave clashes and the cost of emergency agency cover! Even without the operational issues they create, those spreadsheets suddenly don’t look like the cheap option anymore.

In fact, a business with 125 staff could SAVE £35,000 per year by switching to an online electronic staff holiday planner that also manages sickness absence – a saving cash strapped welsh companies could really use.

A user of the new technology (Rachel Sumner, HR Manager, Cartesian) says it better than me:

“Software has eliminated the need for unreliable manual calculations of pro-rated leave and carry-over, reduced the admin burden involved in monthly leave reconciliations and improved accuracy of staff time sheet recording.  Our staff now have better visibility of the amount of leave they can take and the types of leave to which they are entitled.”

It’s a story echoed throughout the UK – once they have tried the new technology, I have not found one Manager who wants their spreadsheets back – and Wales is catching on fast.

I’m really hoping that next summer will be sandcastles and not brollies, but while I can’t improve the weather, I’m certainly hoping that the holiday outlook for welsh businesses is going to be planned a lot better next year!

Adrian Lewis is the commercial director for welsh software developers Codel Software and has been advising businesses on how software can best manage HR challenges for more than 10 years. 

Image credit: James West