Need to Get Away? Tips for Requesting Paid Time Off

“I just started a new job, and I am nervous about asking for time off, but I would hate to miss my family’s annual beach trip. Do you have any advice to help the conversation with my manager go more smoothly?” Megan from Cary, NC

When you are new to a job, you are still learning the culture and rules—both written and unwritten—of your company. Requesting time off can be daunting the first time, but there are ways to not only get the answer you want, but to prove to your manager that you are a dedicated, responsible employee, whether you are on or off the clock.

The Written Rules

Your first step should be to flip through your company handbook and find out how you accrue paid time off and when you can use it. Some companies may let you take it after the first month while others may make you wait 90 days or more. Some may let you borrow against time that you have yet to earn while others only let you take the time you have already accrued. Every company is different, so be sure you know your company’s rules.

The Unwritten Rules

Does your company or department have a busy period? Some have annual, quarterly or even monthly busy times. If you want your boss to view you as a dedicated employee who is knowledgeable about department workflow, consider avoiding these times. When possible, plan for your vacation to follow a busy period or big project so you can prove yourself in the trenches and then take some much deserved R&R.

Next, look at your colleagues’ vacation habits—what length of vacation seems to be acceptable? Do people commonly take one long vacation each year, or do they take long weekends here and there? When you are new, it’s best to try and follow the path that others have paved. The time for you to chart a new course will come.

The Ask

When you approach your manager, be mindful of not only what you say, but when you say it. Regular one-on-one meetings are the perfect opportunity to bring up time-off requests. If you don’t have these, make sure to ask at a time when your manager has a minute to chat and seems to be in a good mood. You can always e-mail your request, too.

As for what to say, be sure that you phrase it as a request and not a demand. If you have done your research and proven yourself as an employee, your manager should have little reason to deny your request. Even the best-laid plans can encounter road blocks—perhaps there’s a project on the horizon that you aren’t aware of or one of your colleagues requested the same days off.

You don’t need to provide a lot of detail, but you do want to be specific. If you want to join your family at the beach, make sure to give exact dates and explain why the timing is important. If you are just looking to get away, you can still request certain dates, but perhaps offer to be flexible if needed.

Lastly, offer suggestions as to how work will continue in your absence. Will you wrap up specific projects before taking off? Will you need to put in extra hours to do so? Do you have a colleague who can cover for you while you’re gone, or will you be reachable via phone or e-mail for urgent matters? Try to untether from your smartphone so you can get some much deserved relaxation, but know that emergencies happen and something may require your attention, even while you’re at the beach.

As with many career challenges, the best approach to requesting time off is to be prepared and be respectful. This will position you as a team player and valued employee.