How to Set up a PTO Tracker in Google Sheets

Andrew Buck March 17, 2022

Tracking vacation time, and other types of leave, is an important part of keeping your team running smoothly.

You need to have an easy way to follow who is going to be present – or not – on any given day, to manage your team’s schedule and avoid any delays or issues with short-staffing. It’s also essential to track how many days each employee takes off, to identify worrying trends with absenteeism, as well as identifying staff who don’t take enough leave.

A lot of small businesses or teams with just a few employees might look to track PTO and vacation days with a Google Sheets PTO tracker. This lets the founder or team leader manage their vacation calendar manually, without requiring any complex or expensive tools.

We’ll discuss whether or not this is the best idea a little later. First, let’s run through how to set up your own team’s Google Sheets PTO tracker.

Step by Step Instructions to Set Up an Employee Vacation Tracker in Google Sheets

Here’s how you can put together a PTO tracker spreadsheet. You could do this with Google Sheets, which is a free and extremely versatile tool (one you’re probably already familiar with), or alternatively you can use excel, or another spreadsheet tool of your choice.

1. Set up your month

First, you’ll want to set up a calendar view to easily track the dates of approved leaves.

The optimal way to do this is one month at a time, generally with each month in its own sheet. Make a column for each day of the month, and color in the weekends and any team-wide public holidays.

Click here to see a full list of public holidays all over the world.

2. Add each employee’s name

In the left-most column, fill out each team member’s name, giving each team member their own separate row.

3. Set up a color code for different leave types

Now create a key to show how each leave type is indicated. You could use letters, symbols, colors or a combination of each.

Here’s an example, using colors:

With approved leaves filled in on your PTO tracker, it will look something like this:

4. Optional – add total leave allowances and set up leave tracking calculation

If you want to keep it as simple as possible, you can stick with what we have above. Otherwise, if you want to increase the complexity, you can keep track of how many leave days each team member has taken each month.

You can also add a separate tab to track each employee’s yearly allocation for each leave type.

If your business runs an unlimited PTO policy, you don’t need to calculate the total number of days/days remaining for each team member. But it’s still a good idea to track how many days each employee takes off, to identify trends of absenteeism, or team members who don’t take enough leave.

5. Manually enter data as you approve leaves

As leave requests come in and get approved, fill the necessary data on your spreadsheet.

Duplicate the tab we made for the first month, and adjust the days/weekends to fit the next month. Don’t forget to also add in public holidays.

Want to use this Google Sheets PTO tracker in your business?

Click here to access the template. Just customize it with your employees’ names and your supported leave types, and save a copy in your own Google Drive to use it in your business for free.

Pros and Cons of Google Sheets for Time Off Tracking

Most small businesses use a spreadsheet to track their employees’ PTO, just because it’s a tool that’s already there. But is it the best option?

Here are some pros and cons of using an excel or Google Sheets PTO tracker.

Pro: no subscriptions needed

The best part of using Google Sheets is that it’s free, and it’s already there. You don’t need to sign up for an expensive subscription or get to know a new tool. This is often a big plus for new startups or growing businesses trying to keep expenses to a minimum.

Pro: cross-platform

Google Sheets is cloud-based, and viewable across all kinds of platforms. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on Mac or Windows, desktop, mobile or tablet, whether you’re in the office, out at lunch, or on your backup computer. You can still access your company’s PTO spreadsheet to check or update it when you need to.

You can view your sheet across any device, including tablet and mobile

Pro: customizable

Since you’ve set up your PTO tracker manually, it’s pretty easy to customize and make changes when needed.

Changing your team to a 4-day work week? Easy.

New staff, or existing staff leaving? No problem.

Changes made to your leave policy? Done.

You don’t need to worry about inflexible software that won’t let you make changes.

It’s also easy with permissions to share the spreadsheet with the right people, and restrict it so only certain people can make changes to the sheet.

Con: tedious data entry

On the downside, a spreadsheet PTO tracker means a lot of data entry. For every approved leave request, you might need to fill out several fields to keep your spreadsheet up to date. It might not seem like much when the company is just a few people, but as you grow, this will become a big drain on your productive hours.

Con: prone to errors

Humans make errors. As much as we try not to, human error is pretty much unavoidable. It’s a matter of time until you forget to enter one leave into the spreadsheet. Then the day of the leave arrives, you’re looking for the person, and they’re not there.

Queue confusion, emotional outbursts from both sides, mistrust, and potential disruptions to workflow and deadlines.

Con: long time to set up

A spreadsheet PTO tracker like this can work quite effectively, but it does take a lot of work to set up. Even just a simple version, with individual tabs for each month, takes some time to manually fill out with all your employees’ names, as well as dates and days of the week.

Setting up a way to keep track of total/remaining leave days for each leave type is another task on top of that. As a result, most founders or managers simply never get around to dedicating the time needed to build the perfect PTO tracker spreadsheet.

Con: automations & reports are clunky

You can set up scripts in Google Sheets to automate certain parts of your time off tracking workflow, such as automatically updating an employee’s records each time they take a day off. But it takes a little know-how to set up these scripts, and even then they are a bit clunky.

It can also be awkward to pull reports on an employee, to see their absence patterns or leave records, unless your spreadsheet is very meticulously set up to manage this.

A Leave Management Software Alternative

While a lot of small, newer businesses may be hesitant to start subscribing to a thousand tools for every single business task, in many cases a software tool can make your life significantly easier.

Leave management is one of these cases. And a leave management software like Flamingo will almost always save you money in the long-run.

Flamingo’s vacation tracker automates most of the dull, time-consuming work involved in keeping your Google Sheets PTO tracker up to date.

It automatically generates a clean and clear PTO calendar for your team, with no data entry required.

Flamingo’s automatically generated PTO calendar

Flamingo also handles the leave request and approval process, creating a seamless process for asking for time off – and for managers or team leaders to review and approve or deny requests.

It keeps a record of each leave request, and allows you to pull a report on any employee’s leave records at any time.

Best of all, it’s not another huge cost to add to your business, or a huge pain to learn and get set up. Flamingo is free to try, and only rises in price as your business grows with it. That means as long as your team is small, the cost stay small as well.

It takes just a few minutes – even less if your team is still small and starting out – to set up. You can set it up while you make your morning coffee.

Flamingo integrates with Slack, so you don’t have to make wholesale changes to your existing workflow.

Try Flamingo today and see how it makes your life easier.

Try Flamingo for free and
get set up in five minutes.

Add to Slack

Free trial. No credit card required.

Benefits of Using a Software Tool

Here are a few big benefits of using a software tool like Flamingo, instead of using a spreadsheet to track your team’s vacation days and PTO.

Automating the busywork

Data entry, like filling in your spreadsheet every time someone applies for time off, doesn’t seem like a big job. But it adds up, and all that time is time that could be better spent on tasks that actually grow your bottom line. A software tool automates all this work, saving you time, as well as cutting out the little errors that grow into large disruptions.

The system is already set up for you

When you click the button to add a leave management software to your organization, you’re getting a system that’s already set up and ready to go. No need to put aside a day to set up your spreadsheet, complete with each month and public holidays filled out for the whole year. It’s plug-and-play, which means you can get your leave management system up and working for you much faster.

Smoother leave request & approval process

A tool like Flamingo also has a system to manage leave requests and approvals. If you use a spreadsheet, you’re still reliant on email threads, private messages, face-to-face chats or even paper forms for leave requests.

This provides a huge amount of friction, high potential for error, and difficulty keeping or accessing records.

The right leave management software encompasses this step as well, making it simple to request time off to to review a time off request, and automatically transfers this data into your leave calendar.

Calendar integration

With a software tool you can often export your leave calendar – either your personal calendar, or the whole team’s calendar if you’re a manager or business owner – to an external calendar app like Google Calendar.

For a lot of people, this is a huge plus, as some of us literally run our lives on our calendar. Having this info sent to Google Calendar (or any other calendar app) helps keep your workflow all in one place.

Notifications

A PTO tracker software can send notifications to a person or a team when there are leaves coming up, allowing everyone to stay up-to-date with the team schedule. This is another hugely complex thing to try and set up if you’re running on Google Sheets alone – and just about impossible to do reliably.

One-click reporting

Your PTO software will also let you pull any information you need relating to your leave management system, at any given time, with just a single click, instead of trawling through your spreadsheet to piece together the data you need. This lets you identify trends and check up on the wellness of your team, quick and easily.

Summing Up

When you’re first starting your business and need a team-wide PTO tracker, Google Sheets is a decent option. It allows you to create a custom spreadsheet to fit your needs, and doesn’t require an expensive subscription or learning any complex features.

But as you grow, you’ll need a faster, more reliable solution, like a software tool. And you should probably begin to migrate your PTO tracker to a software tool before you get big enough to really need it, as this will avoid any growing pains when it comes time to move your team to a new system.

A software tool like Flamingo is perfect, whether you’re a large organization or a small team just starting out. It offers pricing that only grows as your team does, meaning it stays affordable, simple and easy to manage when your business is still in its early stages.

Count up the time and errors saved by using Flamingo’s leave tracker, and it’s a no-brainer to go with this option over Google Sheets.

Try Flamingo for free and
get set up in five minutes.

Add to Slack

Free trial. No credit card required.

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