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Workflow Approval: What It Is and Why You Need It

A workflow approvals can be easily forgotten in the process of setting up business operations. But they really shouldn’t b e.

Workflow approvals are used every day and they can make a big difference in the overall efficiency of business processes. They are necessary for everything from PTO requests to selecting a new hire. 

You simply cannot run a business without approvals and building them into workflows is the most efficient way to streamline operations.

So let’s discuss what workflow approvals are, the benefits and bottlenecks, and some use cases to inspire you to get started with your own.

What are workflow approvals?

Workflow approvals are as they sound: approvals inside of a workflow. They exist as a form of quality control and security compliance.

They are used when a contract, order, invoice, or document requires approval before the workflow can continue moving forward.

But what is a workflow

A workflow is a series of tasks done in a specific sequence to achieve a specific goal. Normally that goal is completing a recurring process. Good workflows and efficient approvals are key to a streamlined process.

Approvals increase in quantity as companies increase in size, so setting up a good system to manage them early on can save you from a lot of headaches.  

Benefits of workflow approvals

There are significant benefits to including approvals in your workflows. Here are just a few:

Saves time

If you are still sending physical documents to people to read and sign, you’re adding a lot of unnecessary time to your workflow.

Passing around sheets of paper is a productivity killer. By using approvals in workflows, you cut out that wasted time.

Workflows allow you to digitize your processes, but they also allow you to automate them. Automated workflows are by far the best way to optimize the approval process. Well, processes in general, too, but I don’t want to get too off-topic.

What does automating the approval process look like?

Well, for example, it can look like automated notifications sent to managers when they are needed. The person running the workflow doesn’t have to do it every time they submit a time off request or an expense report. And the managers won’t lose all of the approvals sent their way in a pile of papers.

Approval workflows create incredible organization for businesses. 

Eliminates errors

Approval workflows prevent things such as lost requests in piles of paper as we already mentioned. That’s great, but they do so much more.

They ensure that approvals are always submitted. No one can forget to submit a document or request for approval if it’s built into the workflow. And especially not if it’s set as a stop task.

And when it comes to important documentation such as contracts, approvals ensure that they cannot be pushed forward unless they have been reviewed and approved by a manager. 

Additionally, workflow software allows you to set due dates on just about anything, including approvals, so they will never be late. When due dates are approaching, the approver will receive notifications reminding them that it needs to be done. 

There are a lot of human errors that can occur during the approval process and workflows help to eliminate them.

Maximizes compliance

Compliance is something that should never be messed with. Becoming too lax with it can spell the end for a company and approvals are one of the best ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.

In conjunction with workflows, it’s actually a very powerful tool for maintaining compliance. 

Workflows give you the ability to control who can see what by setting user permissions. That means no one can run the workflow unless they are given access to it and no one can see or approve any documents unless they are assigned to that specific task.

This ensures that no outsiders or bad actors can have access to any sensitive information. It’s far more compliant than having a pile of requests on a manager’s desk. 

This is actually a key part of keeping an organization running. Think about everything HR departments do. They are in charge of a lot of sensitive information regarding employees and administrative tasks. 

Workflow approvals are extra important for making sure they can do their jobs as efficiently as possible without cutting any corners where compliance is concerned. Approvals make sure that certain documents are for their eyes only. 

Improves communication

How annoying is it to constantly have to remind people that you need something from them? 

Super annoying. Workflow approvals stop you from having to do that, which is amazing if you ask me.

But beyond that, they also help to eliminate miscommunication. By standardizing the approval process within your company, everyone assigned to a workflow will understand their role, what needs to be done, and when it needs to be completed.

There is no confusion about the process and that means people can save their questions for things that are important, such as the details of a sensitive document. 

This improved communication saves employees and managers alike from a lot of headaches because standardized approvals make life so much easier. And who wouldn’t want a happier, more communicative team?

Reduces costs

Everything that we talked about above – the saved time, reduced errors, compliance, and communication – all work together to reduce an organization’s costs

Time is money, so saved time = saved money. Simple math that even a writer can do.

Reduced errors and improved communication fall into the same equation. Errors result in a lot of wasted time, so by reducing them you automatically save money. Improved communication also results in less time wasted on questions that would be unnecessary if you had a standard approval workflow.

A breach in compliance can be extremely costly for a company and workflow approvals help to ensure that it never happens. Think of it as a sort of preventative measure that keeps you from having to spend a lot of money to fix that kind of problem.

Workflow approval bottlenecks (and what to do about them)

Like with anything, workflow approvals are not a magic solution and there are a number of bottlenecks to be aware of. But the good news is that all of them have solutions, so let’s discuss them.


What happens when you need approval from a manager that’s gone on vacation?

That can obviously slow things way down if an approval is needed by someone who isn’t there. 

The best way to avoid this bottleneck is to plan for it. Vacations generally don’t come from nowhere, so as long as a solution is established before the manager leaves, problems can be avoided.

There are two primary things you can do here.

  1. The manager should do all approvals that will be needed during their time off before they leave.
  2. The manager gives permission to someone else to do approvals during their absence. 

By planning ahead of time, vacations shouldn’t be a bottleneck at all. It’s just about being proactive.

Poor time management

So what happens if someone doesn’t do approvals by the assigned deadline?

This can really set a process behind and cause a lot of problems for employees, customers, and stakeholders alike. 

Missing deadlines can either be an individual problem or a systemic one. If a manager is consistently giving late approvals, it’s important to talk to them about why it keeps happening and ask questions such as:

  • Is there too much on your plate?
  • Would you benefit from more reminders?
  • Would a different type of reminder be helpful? (ex. Slack notification vs an email)

Get to the root of the problem so you can fix it. The solution may be to change the type of notification they receive, or to get a different person to give the approvals. 

Poor time management can be a slow death for approval workflows, so make sure that any bottlenecks of this kind are addressed early. 

Workflow approval use cases

PTO requests

Paid time off (PTO) requests are generally required to be submitted by team members so a manager can sign off on them. 

Though generally simple, it can get complicated, especially in the summertime when more people are looking to have time off. To help avoid confusion and keep the requests organized, you can set up a PTO request workflow that employees can fill out every time they wish to take a vacation.

Managers will more easily be able to see who is requesting time off, for which dates, and can approve or reject requests with one button. 

Approving new hires

Hiring new team members is a big operation. The interview process alone can have several steps with different levels of approval to go through before an offer letter can be sent.

By using workflow approvals, you can assign different team members or managers to different stages of the process, all of which need to be signed off on before moving to the next step.

By doing this, it keeps the hiring process organized and keeps the teams in charge of hiring on the same page about which stage of the process they are in. 

We do this here at Process Street and it really takes a lot of the headache out of our hiring processes. 

Expense reports

This is a fun one!

So let’s say any expenses in your organization under $100 don’t require managerial approval. By using workflow software, you can automate the approvals for these lower expenses so that way they can get approvals without taking up a manager’s time.

Managers will only be asked to approve expenses that run over that $100 limit, making better use of their time. 

It also ensures that all the expenses are still being tracked through the workflows. If employees don’t have to wait for approvals on small expenses, they are incentivized to continue filling out workflows for them.

Sales discounts

Similarly, when you decide you want to create a discount for your products or services, you can set up a workflow so that only discounts above a certain percentage require approval by a manager. 

Again, it creates a digital trail of the discount for company records but doesn’t waste anyone’s time if it’s small, like 5%.

Before you go

If you want to see all the benefits of workflow approvals in action, you can book a demo with us and we will show you how to set them up and what they can do!

Workflow approvals are an amazing feature of process software, so don’t miss out on giving it a try!

Take control of your workflows today