Climb the Ladder

Tips for Asking for (and Getting) Time Off From Work

At the end of May, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it would officially recognize “burnout” as a medical diagnosis. WHO defines burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” which can manifest as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

Taking time off from work is one of the best ways to prevent burnout or recharge after a particularly strenuous stretch of time. Research indicates that taking a vacation yields numerous benefits such as reduced stress, a lower risk of heart disease, and increased productivity.

But before you can envision yourself sipping margaritas on a beach (or just staying in to binge watch Game of Thrones all over again), you will need to have your time off approved by your employer first. Asking for time off from work can be scary, especially as a new hire, but there are ways to make the process as easy as possible. Here are a few basic do’s and don’ts to remember when asking for time off.

Do understand your company’s vacation policy.

Some companies separate vacation time from sick days, while other companies lump them together as “paid time off” (PTO). Some organizations may not allow employees to use PTO during their training or introductory period (which could last six months or more), and vacation days are usually “accrued” over time (such as one per pay period). Most companies give each employee a certain number of days off, but others offer unlimited vacation benefits.

Before requesting time off, familiarize yourself with your company’s vacation policy. If you’re ever unsure, request a copy from HR. Keep in mind that your company will likely have separate policies for longer periods of absence, such as disability, maternity/paternity leave, or leaves of absence for health-related conditions.

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Don’t wait until the last minute to request time off.

Courtesy matters. Don’t tell your supervisor on Friday afternoon that you will be out of the office the following week for a last-minute trip to Disney World. Many companies will request a certain amount of advance notice. In general, the earlier the better, especially during peak times like the winter holidays.

Do submit a formal request, in writing, for time off after speaking with your supervisor.

It’s always a good idea to mention intended vacation time in person, such as in a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor. But you should also send an email to your supervisor so there’s a paper trail of your request. Follow up by submitting any required paperwork through HR, and put your vacation days on your department’s calendar after receiving approval.

Don’t fake illness just to get a few days off.

Honesty is always the way to go, especially when you know which days you want to take off. You may also need those sick days later, so stick with vacation days and floating holidays when you submit your time off request.

Do schedule your time off at an opportune time for the company, when possible.

Some requests for time off require a specific date, like attending a wedding or a funeral. Others, such as a week-long vacation in the Bahamas, have a bit more wiggle room. After you’ve been at a job for a while, you will have an idea of the cadence of the work. When are the busy periods? When does work slow down? Are you in a role in which vacation time is not permitted in the last two weeks before the fiscal year ends? When in doubt, speak with your supervisor or HR and plan any vacations during a slower period. An added benefit to this is that you will not have missed as much in your absence or be as stressed upon your return.

Don’t leave all your work behind for your coworkers to pick up.

Be diligent in completing your work before you leave. If a few ongoing tasks need to be covered by a coworker, inform that coworker in advance and provide written instructions. In turn, be a good sport when your coworkers ask the same favor of you during their time off.

Do inform the hiring manager of previously scheduled vacation days before accepting a new job.

Suppose you are interviewing for a new job, but your sister’s wedding is taking place a month after your intended start date. When you get to the final interview or have received an offer, let the hiring manager know about the days you will need to be out of the office. This will give the new company enough time to plan for your brief absence, before you even start.

Don’t let your vacation days expire — they’re there for a reason.

Americans rarely use all of their vacation days. In 2018, Glassdoor found that Americans typically sacrifice about half of their earned vacation time, even though time off is essential for maintaining positive health and avoiding burnout. Remember that using your vacation days is nothing to feel guilt or shame about. With proper planning and honest conversation with your employer, you can use your time off in ways that are beneficial for you and for them, as well.

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Janine Perri is a freelance writer and marketing professional based in New York. She has experience writing about topics in business, marketing, technology, education, travel, and language services. She has also taught English in South Korea as the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship.

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