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Extended Vacation

Dear Career Tips (Requesting Extended Vacation)

From Career Tips, 2011 Volume 1, January 2010


I would like to take a 4-5 week vacation this summer, and am thinking about the work/life implications.


This is important to me, and I feel that this is an opportunity that may never come again after I start a family, etc. But from a Work perspective, I'm afraid this may be a setback to my career.


How would you recommend asking/going about this? I've only worked at this position for about a year, so I don't have the vacation days. I would be happy to take the time unpaid, but I'm afraid that even asking for this time may be several strikes against me - making my managers think that I'm not serious or committed. And what's to say they won't refuse to let me go at all?


Dear Extended:
That's a tough one. I'd love to hear other readers' take on this question, and here is mine:


Unless you have a really good 'excuse' - once in a lifetime opportunity, extended family reunion, serious illness of a close family member, a mission to help a third world country, ..., it's going to be a hard sell.


For example, I had an employee who grew up in Taiwan, so that every few years she needed extra vacation time, since the length of the trip was so long that it made it hard to go for less than 3 weeks. I was happy to work with her on making that happen.


First you need to take a serious look at your job performance to date. Are you recognized as a top performer who they would naturally want to reward? If not, then you may need to come up with a plan to change that over the next couple of months before you even broach the subject.


How much vacation time will you have accrued vs. the time you need? And what's the magic about 4-5 weeks at one shot? If you do that, you would need to be prepared to pretty much not take ANY time at ALL for the rest of 2011 or even well into 2012 - both before and after your trip.


Now consider the impact on the operation. Who will need to pick up the slack in your absence? What can you do to ameliorate that?


This isn't just an issue of what your boss, and his boss and peers, would think about it, but also your co-workers. They are likely to wonder why you got special treatment to go away for so long. They may resent having to work harder to pick up the slack during your absence.


Before you actually bring this up for discussion, think through some options you could offer to deal with the above issues. For example, what if you offered to work 50 hour weeks, or every other Saturday, or some other arrangement to 'earn' the additional time off in advance or 'pay' for some of it after your return? Or are you willing to trade off salary increase or bonus for the extra time? Would it be feasible to participate in critical meetings remotely, or even do some remote work during your time away?


Then I'd think through the best argument you can for how this will help you clear your head and be more productive when you return. If it's simply about taking vacation, then your boss is not likely to be very sympathetic. If you can be convincing about expectations of higher productivity, people will be much more receptive. (Just be sure to then carry through on that promise!)


Other concerns you would need to be prepared to address:


  • Does this set a precedent for others in the operation to ask for similar special treatment? (Finding ways to earn it or pay for it would help with this.)
  • Why shouldn't they be concerned that this will be only the first 'special treatment' you ask for?
  • What happens next year when you decide you still aren't happy with the amount of time you've earned?
  • And when you have a family, and time off is even MORE important, why shouldn't they be worried you will now be regularly seeking extra time off? 

Good luck...

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