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The Quest for Fairness: Exploring Transparent Allocation Models for Optimal Employee Satisfaction


In aviation allocating vacation time can be a challenging and controversial activity.  This blog explores some of the considerations and approaches.

The allocation of holiday (time-off) requests among employees often sparks heavy debates and concerns regarding fairness. Achieving a distribution that is both fair and perceived as fair (those two do not always align) by employees can be very challenging. This blog post examines different factors and allocation models that can be considered.

One of the primary challenges in holiday request allocation is the simultaneous desire of all employees to take time off during popular periods. Additionally, what is considered fair for one employee may differ from another. To address these challenges, transparency about the allocation model and rules is vital, and automation should be maximized to avoid favoritism or its perception.

Defining the decision model is however more easily said than done, because multiple factors can (but not necessarily) be taken into account:

  • Previous allocations: Considering an employee’s history of accepted and rejected requests can provide insight into their priority for future requests. Employees who have frequently had their requests rejected should receive higher priority.
  • Employee priority: Employees can indicate their top preferred holiday periods, either by selecting their top choices or by allocating credits from a budget. This allows employees to have some control over their preferred time off.
  • Timing of requests: Giving higher priority to the first employee who requests a specific period can be an option.
  • Seniority: Recognizing seniority as a factor for allocation can demonstrate appreciation for an employee’s loyalty and dedication.
  • Family situation: Granting priority to employees with young children during school holiday periods is a common practice in many organizations.
  • Number of requests: Considering the frequency of requests can be important. Employees who rarely ask for time off should receive higher priority when they do make an occasional request.
  • Role and skill set: The allocation should ensure that business operations are not disrupted during critical periods. For this the employee’s role and skill set needs to be considered in the allocation process.
  • Cost for the company: Some allocations may have higher costs for the company than others, and this can be a factor to consider.

Obviously, every organization can decide themselves which priorities they want to give. Ultimately this leads to three possible allocation models, which the organization should align with the organization’s core values and apply in such a way to ensure maximum employee satisfaction.

Three Allocation Models

  • Model 1 - First Come / First Served (FC/FS) Model

    This model is the easiest model and allocates requests immediately based solely on the timing of the request. The employer specifies the initial number of available slots per date, and employees request those slots (with automatic real-time update of the available slots). While simple and transparent and only model giving an immediate decision, this model may not always be fair, may not align with the company’s best interests, and can create rush periods (everyone trying to be the first) and potential system performance issues.

    Note that this model should be combined with a budget to ensure that every employee can only make a limited number of requests.

  • Model 2 - Auction model

    In this model, each employee receives a budget (this budget can be fixed per employee per year, but can also depend on seniority, role, performance…​) to bid for specific days. Employees enter bids (credits) for desired days, and the highest bidders receive their requested time off (upon closure of the bidding.

    Different variances can exist, e.g. open bid versus closed bid (i.e. seeing highest big or not), maximum bid amount defined or not, transparency on which colleague is also bidding, transparency on available budget of bidding colleagues…​

    This model ensures fairness and transparency but can generate stress and unnecessary rivalry among employees, potentially impacting company dynamics.

  • Model 3 - Cost allocation model

    This model involves employees submitting requests by a set deadline. The system then calculates a cost function for each request, and allocations are made based on the lowest cost. This cost function can take into account all (or some) of the above criteria, with a factor defining the weight of each criterium. Companies can tune those factors to give more or less priority to certain objectives. Obviously, it is important to freeze the model before allocation starts to avoid any favoritism.

    This model is also fair, allows fine-tuning to the company’s HR strategy and reduces competition between employees, but the disadvantage is that it is more complex and less transparent. This could be solved by visualizing the calculated cost of every request, but even then it is difficult to grasp.

Organizations can also adopt a hybrid approach by using different models for different periods. Highly requested periods like summer holidays or Christmas/New Year might benefit from an auction model, while other peak periods could utilize the cost allocation model. For off-peak periods, the FC/FS model could be sufficient.

It is important to acknowledge that no allocation model is flawless. Every model has pros and cons. The key lies in transparently communicating the chosen model, aligning it with the company’s values and HR strategy, and consistently applying it to all employees, including senior management. By doing so, most employees will perceive the process as relatively fair and be satisfied with the outcomes.


Photo by S’well on Unsplash