A lot of businesses use Excel spreadsheets as a way to handle their staff leave. On the surface, this makes sense. Excel sheets are a natural and well-understood way to organise information, and they’re a step up from using scraps of paper, a wall calendar, and post-it notes for all your leave management tasks.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to find free downloadable staff leave planners for Excel. These free templates give you a foundation so you don’t have to build a spreadsheet from scratch — which is time-consuming and involves far too much formula writing for my taste.
But I wanted to see exactly how convenient these templates are.
So, for this review, I’ve downloaded 2 of the most popular Excel staff leave planners: Microsoft Office’s Employee Absence Schedule and TrumpExcel.
At the end of the review, I also talk about Timetastic — which is an alternative to messing around with spreadsheets — where your staff leave is handled automatically by software.
My review of 2 Popular staff leave planners for Excel
Below, I review two popular staff leave planners for Excel.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick breakdown:
- Microsoft Office’s Employee Absence Schedule: This one is bare-bones. It’s very clean to look at, but that’s about all it’s got going for it. It’s not much of a step up from using pencil and paper, because you still need to manually separate your staff’s holidays from the other leave types, like sick leave and maternity leave. For my taste, it’s also awkward to use.
- TrumpExcel: TrumpExcel is user-friendly and more advanced than Microsoft Office’s templates. It breaks down different leave types, so you know how much time someone has taken for sick leave, holiday leave, etc. But it’s still limited. For example, it can only pull in U.S. public holidays, and there isn’t a way to include leave balances or handle time off requests. But between the two, TrumpExcel is the winner.
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these templates.
Microsoft Office's Excel “Employee Absence Schedule” template is a fairly standard-looking spreadsheet. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect.
You get one tab for each month, your days of the month across the top, and employee names on the left-hand side.
There’s no written guidance on how to use this spreadsheet, so you’re going to have to mess around with it a bit to see how it works. But that’s exactly what I did for you, so you can keep reading to learn how to set it up and start recording leave, if this is the path you choose.
The initial setup
First, I tried putting in the employee names, and that’s when I ran into a problem.
An alert popped up telling me “This value doesn’t match the data validation restrictions defined for this cell.”
After searching around the template, I eventually realised there’s a separate tab called “Employee Names”.
So, I put in some employee names but realised that the names weren’t being pulled through to the rest of the spreadsheet.
Turns out, you have to click on each employee and then a dropdown menu pops up.
Personally, I think this is awkward. If I have 10 people in my team, then in one year I’ll have to use the drop down feature 120 times.
Is it going to cost me dozens of hours? Probably not.
But is it something that can be improved upon? Absolutely.
I’m also finding this setup quite buggy. For example, sometimes I click the dropdown arrow and it doesn’t work. I can’t tell if that’s my setup or if it’s this template misbehaving.
Fortunately, the rest of the setup is relatively straightforward.
You simply input the year you want to track absence for (it works with calendar years). It has three different types of staff leave already plugged in (Holiday, Personal, Sick) — and you can create another two custom reasons for absence. This could be for sabbaticals, training, or whatever you want.
Recording employee absence
For day-to-day use, this spreadsheet template is pretty basic. You just type in the square what type of absence the person had. So, below you can see I’ve marked Sarah Jackson on holiday for 5 days, then off sick the following week for 5 days.
On the right, I can see Sarah has had a total of 10 days off. But the problem is those 10 days are very different from each other. 5 days should be deducted from her annual holiday allowance, while for the other 5 days she’s off on sick leave.
So as the year progresses, it’s going to get messy.
I won’t have a record of how many days of holiday Sarah has taken off, and I won’t have a record of how much allowance she has left. This is because the template doesn’t know how much holiday allowance anyone has. It doesn’t track this anywhere.
To me, this makes this template staff leave planner almost useless:
- It doesn't track the different types of absence separately.
- It’s not giving me any form of consolidated absence information. No trends.
I can’t really see this template’s advantages over marking staff absence on a calendar or writing it on a piece of paper.
And by using a template like this, you’re overlooking one of the key parts of handling staff leave: receiving and responding to time off requests.
If I used this template, my staff would still have to approach me directly by sending me an email, sticking a post-it note on my computer, or completing a paper staff holiday request form. Then, I’d need to take their request, find this spreadsheet, and work out if it’s ok to approve the request. That means figuring out other absences for that time, adding up the amount of holiday leave they’ve already taken, and marking the correct days off.
Final thoughts about Microsoft’s excel template
I’m not feeling the benefits here. A spreadsheet template should simplify your staff leave process, not transfer what’s frustrating about paper and pencil into the digital world.
On the face of it, the spreadsheet itself looks like it’ll help. But for the task — the entire process of managing staff leave and keeping track of staff absences — it covers just one tiny piece of the jigsaw. A jigsaw that still feels like a massive admin burden that I don’t want.
- It has a clean look.
- The dates automatically adjust for the year.
- It's cumbersome to setup for such a simple excel spreadsheet.
- There's no request/approval process.
- It doesn’t track holiday allowance.
- It doesn’t integrate with external calendars.
- There's no absence data summary or management information.
Right off the bat, I find TrumpExcel to be a much better thought-out and intuitive Excel template than what Microsoft Office is offering.
The initial setup
First, you download the template. TrumpExcel also offers an eBook for Excel tips, but I passed on that as I didn’t want to give my email address to them. Plus, I really don’t think I should have to download an eBook to make sense of a template, so I wanted to see what it was like to use their staff leave planner without that guidance.
Unlike Microsoft’s Absence template, TrumpExcel one has all months available in one tab. You can’t view them all at once, but you can use the arrows at the top to filter through the months.
When you put in the year and the current month (I put in 11 for November, as I’m writing this in November) all the dates are automatically populated.
So far, so good.
And unlike Microsoft’s Absence template, you put the names in the first tab and you only need to do it once. That’s a big win, but it does present two different complications.
First — and maybe this is just a minor annoyance — there isn’t a lot of width in the name cell. Not a huge issue, you can just make it wider, but if you go too wide then you risk messing up the formatting.
Second, what do you do when someone leaves your team? You’re going to have to modify the template. This could mean hiding the row or copy and pasting it down further below.
But, those two issues aside, it’s a much easier system than using the drop down filter of Microsoft Office’s template.
When you go to the right of the calendar, you’ll see a breakdown of leave types.
- How much leave someone has taken this month.
- How much leave someone has taken this year.
- The type of leave they have taken.
- What the different letters stand for.
Because you get a “Leave Breakup” telling you how much of someone’s leave was a sick day or a holiday, TrumpExcel is already quite a bit ahead of Microsoft Excel in my book.
So, let’s say someone on your team requests a week off. You can take a look at how much holiday they’ve already used in the year.
If your company offers 30 days off per year, and they’ve already used 27 of them, then you know that you can approve 3 of those 5 days as a paid holiday.
Quick note: There isn’t a spot in this spreadsheet for annual leave balances, which means you just need to know everyone’s leave balance. This can get confusing as you grow, especially because plenty of businesses have different leave entitlements based on how long you’ve been with the company.
But back to the spreadsheet.
With TrumpExcel, you can also pick working days, which is a nice benefit if you’re running a retail business that is open 7 days a week or doesn’t keep normal 9-5 working hours.
Here’s what it looks like when you fill out your monthly calendar.
You can see that when you put in a leave type, the cell is filled with a dark red. I would have preferred if different colours were picked for each leave type (something Microsoft Office’s template does). In the image above, there’s sick leave, holiday, and work from home. But at a quick glance, they all look like the same leave type.
But check out that column that’s filled in with a burnt orange color. I was curious what that meant, and after some fiddling, I figured it out. It’s a holiday — Veteran’s Day, which is a holiday in the US. Not really relevant for me (as I’m based in the UK, as is my team).
So I scrolled down and found the holidays tab on this template, which took me here:
I messed around with this for a bit, but I couldn’t find a way to change what holidays were pulled in.
It looks like TrumpExcel only pulls in holidays for the U.S., which doesn’t really do me any good. It’s also limiting because plenty of businesses have team members that work in different regions or countries.
So sure, automatically pulling in holidays is nice — and it’s something Microsoft’s template doesn’t do — but if you’re not based in the U.S., it’s kind of a pointless feature.
There’s one more tab for this spreadsheet — FAQs.
It’s moderately helpful, especially when it tells you how you can edit the formula to create your own leave codes.
Final impressions of TrumpExcel
I had a lot of high hopes for TrumpExcel. The creators of this template definitely put a lot of thought into it. I think it’s leaps and bounds better than Microsoft’s Absence template, particularly in how it lets you track different leave types.
But, there are still significant disadvantages, specifically:
- How do you edit/remove former employee names without deleting their leave information?
- How do you pull in holidays if your company — and entire team — isn’t operating out of the U.S.?
- How do you handle time off requests?
- How do you integrate your team’s holiday calendar with their work calendars?
Still, if those issues above aren’t deal-breakers for you, and you’re really just looking for an Excel template, I recommend TrumpExcel over Microsoft Office.
Keep reading if you want to see how staff leave software can easily and affordably solve these problems, while helping you automate your entire leave process.
Timetastic: How to solve the problems of spreadsheet leave planners
Out of the two staff leave planners for Excel I’ve reviewed, I think TrumpExcel is the winner. It has more features, it isn’t as buggy, and it lets you properly track different leave types.
But there’s still a lot you can’t do with TrumpExcel. Or any spreadsheet template for that matter. And that’s why we made Timetastic.
For just £1 (or $1.30) per user per month, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheet templates, formulas, or manually figuring out anyone’s leave balance.
If you want to see how Timetastic works for your business, start your free trial today. Or keep reading to see how it solves the more annoying problems with spreadsheets.
Solving problem #1: Constantly updating your spreadsheets
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage when you’re using a spreadsheet is that it’s up to you to hold the pieces together.
Let’s look at a common example. Bear with us, this gets complicated:
Someone on your team books a holiday for the first week in May. They’re taking a whole week off, but only 3 paid days and the remaining two days are their normal days off. You need to go in and mark them as “on leave” for that time (making sure you only deduct 3 days, not 5, from their balance).
You also need to note the leave they’re taking, whether it’s holiday leave, sick leave, etc. This is important for record-keeping. Then, let’s say their plans change, and now they want the second week in June off instead. And they’re going to add two more days to their request, but they want it to be their two days off, placed at the start of the next week. Chaos ensues.
To recap, now they’re still only taking 3 paid time off days, but they’re going to be gone for 7 days. They will have their 3 paid days off at the start of week one, then their normal 2 days off at the end of week one, then their normal 2 days off to start week two.
In this case, you’d need to go back, take out their initial leave, and put in their new booking.
This is just inconvenient, and it only gets worse the bigger your team gets. It’s also error-prone. You can easily get dates wrong or select incorrect leave types, which causes inaccurate record keeping, which creates a lot more problems to fix down the line.
With Timetastic, everything is automatically tracked. It does all the calculations for you.
When someone books a holiday, it’s automatically deducted from their annual leave balance. In their request, they list why they’re taking time off, so their leave type is automatically recorded. Plus, the dates they took off are automatically marked on the company-wide time off Wallchart. Easy peasy.
Solving problem #2: Handling everybody’s time off requests separately
Even the best Excel templates don’t help you when it comes to handling people’s time off requests. Even when you have an awesome spreadsheet set up, your team will still need to Slack you, text you, email you, or write a note and leave it on your desk.
This gets messy, fast.
It’s easy to accidentally overlook a request, so your team will have to keep following up about their holiday. Even worse, you might overlook one person’s request and approve a request that came in later. This isn’t fair to your team, and it puts extra stress on you.
When you use Timetastic, you have a convenient way for your team to book a time off request. They simply send it through Timetastic, either on the mobile app or their web browser. Their request goes to your inbox, where you can approve or decline it.
But there’s an even faster way to handle your team’s time off requests. If you want, you can let Timetastic really take the load off.
Here’s how that works:
- You tell Timetastic what the maximum absence rules are. This means you let Timetastic know the number of employees that can be off on any given day. You can set this up as a company-wide rule, or customise it per department.
- You tell Timetastic which dates you want locked. A locked date is a date your team can’t request off. This should be reserved for key days in the calendar, like big sales periods during the holidays or when important reports are due.
- Set which types of leave require approval. For example, at Timetastic HQ, we let Timetastic handle all time off requests automatically, except for longer sabbaticals.
When you set up your parameters like this, Timetastic knows which leave requests it can automatically approve or decline, and which ones need to be routed to a specific approver for their final say.
Put simply: You can automate as much as you want with Timetastic, and it’s going to save you a heap of time.
Next step: Start your free Timetastic trial
In this review, we’ve looked at two free employee leave tracker templates. But no matter which template you’re looking at, the spreadsheet format comes with one big issue:
You have to always be managing it. It’s relentlessly hands-on.
Instead, you can simplify your staff leave process with Timetastic:
- Your time off calendar is always accurate and up-to-date.
- Everything is colour-coded for easy interpretation and convenience.
- Individual leave balances are automatically updated.
- Your team can submit time off requests within Timetastic.
- You can easily approve or decline their requests within Timetastic (or through Slack, Microsoft Teams, or from your inbox).
- You can track leave, even when you’re not logged in, by integrating your account with Slack, Microsoft Teams, shared calendars, and/or your personal inbox.