How to Request (and Get) Time Off From Work
Are you reluctant to ask for time off from work? If so, you’re in good company. A Priceline survey found that 1 in 3 workers leave at least half their PTO unused each year.
Guilt is a major factor. Another survey found that over half of U.S. workers reported feeling guilty about taking their vacation time—and over 70% said they checked in with work regularly while they were away.
The Best Way to Ask for Time Off
It can be hard to ask for time off from your job, even when you’re entitled to vacation leave. These strategies can help allay your guilt—and make it more likely that your manager will approve your request.
Check Your Company’s Vacation Policy
Many organizations have a lean staffing plan, and that means that every worker is missed when they take time away from the job. That may make it tougher to get time off, especially if you ask at the last moment.
Federal law does not require employers to provide paid time off for vacation, sick leave, or holidays. However, private-sector employers typically do provide full-time employees with at least some PTO, including two to four weeks of paid vacation. It can be more—some employers even offer unlimited vacation as a company benefit—or less, or employers can offer no paid time off at all.
Some employers have a system where vacation is accrued based on time worked. Others provide a certain number of weeks, which can vary based on years of service. If you’re eligible for paid vacation, you may have to wait until after you’ve been on the job for a certain length of time to be eligible to use it. For example, some companies provide paid vacation after a year, while others offer time off you can take immediately.
Paid vs. Unpaid Time Off
Organizations are not legally required to provide vacation, paid or unpaid, for employees. However, companies that are covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are legally obligated to provide time off from work for family leave. FMLA applies to public agencies, elementary and secondary schools, and employers with 50 or more employees.
If you’re not sure what vacation time you're entitled to, check with your employee manual, manager, or Human Resources department.
If your company doesn’t offer vacation pay as a benefit, or if you have used all your paid vacation, you can still ask for time off. You most likely won't be paid for the days you take off if you don't have vacation leave to cover them, but your manager may be agreeable to letting you miss work.
12 Tips for Asking for Time Off
Before you talk to your boss, look to these tips for inspiration:
1. Plan the best time to ask your boss. Timing is everything. Don't ask for time off during a crisis at work or during a high-volume business cycle. Plan your requests for time off when your boss will be most receptive. Avoid stressful times of the day, week, or month.
If you know you're going to need time off, giving as much notice as possible will make it easier for your manager to approve it:
- If you work in a casual setting, you can just ask your boss or email your request.
- You may want to schedule a brief meeting to discuss your request, if you work in a more formal workplace.
There may also be company policy guidelines for requesting time off. Be sure to follow the rules, if there is a system in place.
2. Don’t ask at a peak time. Consider the ebbs and flows of activity in your department as you plan the timing of vacation requests. Steer away from peak times when your supervisor needs all-hands-on-deck to meet demand or adhere to a deadline. If your annual report is due on June 1, then it certainly wouldn't be advisable to request time off in the weeks immediately prior to that deadline.
3. Provide context for your request. If you must ask for vacation days during a time that conflicts with your work schedule, be sure to explain why you’re making this request.
For example, you could say:
I know June is year-end, but my sister is getting married on June 15 and I'd really appreciate being able to take some vacation days around the wedding.
Especially in this case, it’s important to make sure your work is under control and well managed at the time of your request. If possible, ask for time off after the successful completion of a project or event.
4. Schedule your time in advance whenever possible. Having a yearly plan can help ensure that you utilize your allotted time and integrate vacation into your project planning. If you want time off at short notice, be sure to let your boss know that you’re caught up. It will be easier to make a case if you're ahead at work, and if you don't have any pressing projects in your calendar. That's especially important if you're requesting time off around the holidays, which is a peak time for vacation.
5. Use it or lose it. Letting your employer know that you need to use a certain amount of vacation time or stand to lose it per company policy can help smooth the way to approval. Employers in most states can set a date by which employees must use vacation or lose it. However, they may be required to make a good faith effort to accommodate employee requests for time off.
6. Request time off in writing. Make sure you put your request in writing, so there is documentation when the time comes around to take the time off. An email to your manager should suffice, with a copy to anyone else at the organization who should be aware of the request.
Subject: Katherine Ryan—Vacation Request
I'd appreciate being able to take a week's vacation during my children's spring break. The dates are April 15 - 19.
If it's approved, I'll be able to be caught up with the projects I'm currently working on, and I can get a head start on any time sensitive work due after my return. Thanks very much for your consideration.
7. Don’t make plans before you receive permission. Requests for time off should be just that—a request, and not a demand. Avoid stating your vacation plans as a done deal prior to getting approval from your supervisors.
- Do say, "I would like to spend the last two weeks of August in Cape Cod. Do you think that would be workable?"
- Don't say, "I’ve booked a trip to Cancun for the last week in June and need to take vacation days."
8. Help plan the workflow. Present a plan for how your responsibilities might be handled in your absence. For example, you could say:
Steve and Sadie will be here the week I’d like to be away and have offered to handle anything that might come up with my customers.
9. Get caught up before you go. If you need to, put in some extra hours leading up to your time off to make sure your area of responsibility is under control. It's never a good idea to leave your colleagues with a ton of work because you weren't up to date with it when you left.
10. Share your work. Meet with coworkers with whom you collaborate and discuss how joint or overlapping responsibilities might be handled. You don't want to go on vacation, if you can help it, and come back to a mess at work. Talk to your manager about how your work will be covered in your absence once your request is approved.
11. Inform everyone who needs to know. Make sure your bosses don't get any complaints while you are gone. Inform key constituents such as customers and clients that you will be away, and let them know who will accommodate their needs in your absence. Planning well for your absence and making sure everything is covered will make it easier to get time off next time around.
12. Play fair with coworkers. Discuss ways to divvy up the most popular periods of time for vacations, so relationships with co-workers remain positive, and your boss is spared any complaints. Everyone has different personal and family obligations, so it may be easy to work out a schedule where everyone gets the time off they'd like.
When You Need Time Off From a New Job
But what if you’re a new hire? It’s tougher to get paid vacation right away, but even if you’ve just started a new job you may be able to get a few days off. Take another look at the previous tips, and review this guide to how to ask for time off at a new job before you talk to your boss.
If you are considering a job offer and have a vacation planned or know you might need other leave from work, you may be able to negotiate it as part of the compensation package.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Regardless of the circumstances, don't be afraid to ask for time off. Studies show that time off from work boosts productivity and creativity, as well as improving mental and physical health.
In short, taking vacation may be the best thing you ever do for your career … or for your employer’s bottom line.
CNBC. “US Workers Could Forfeit a Record Number of Vacation Days This Year.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
Turnkey Blog. “Leaving Work Behind.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. “Vacation Leave.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
Indeed. “Average Vacation Time: Definition and U.S. Averages.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. “Family and Medical Leave (FMLA).” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
Thomson Reuters. “Vacation Pay State Laws Chart: Overview.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.
CNBC. “Vacation Can Make You More Productive—Just Ask the Europeans.” Accessed Nov. 25, 2020.