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Why Is My Boss Ignoring My Vacation Request?

Employee POV: I'm a new employee. I've been with the company for six months. I put in my request for vacation time with HR three months in advance, per the employee handbook instructions. I did that because I'm going to visit my family and I need to buy the plane ticket at a good price. It's been a month and my boss hasn't approved my vacation request. I asked him two weeks ago if I did everything correctly, given it was my first time submitting a vacation request. He said "yes" and that he'd get to it. But, still nothing. Why is he doing this to me?

Manager POV: I am annoyed by how early a new employee is asking for vacation. She hasn't even been here six months and she is putting in for vacation three months in advance. Now I have to ask all the other employees to put in their time because I need to make sure we'll have coverage over the holiday. As the new gal, I had hoped she'd recognize she's the low person in rank and realize she should be available to work over the holiday, if needed. Maybe she's not as committed to the job as I thought. If she asks about her vacation request again, I'm going to be upset.

Who's at fault?

Like most workplace challenges, this one is the result of A) misinterpretation, and B) a lack of communication. Here are two key observations to consider:

  1. The boss clearly has some perceptions about seniority related to vacation time during the holidays. However, it isn't a formal policy. As a result, the new employee has no idea her early request is creating frustration for the boss. Additionally, the boss clearly equates asking for vacation so early into a new job as a lack of commitment. Again, this is an informal policy in the head of the boss that the new employee knows nothing about. Thus, while the employee did everything right from a written policy standpoint, she unknowingly broke some unwritten rules in the mind of her boss.

    This actually happens quite frequently. Bosses of new employees are always asking themselves, "Did I make the right hire?" And, "Will this employee prove loyal and valuable?" And, for good reason. It costs a company an average of 130-140% of a new hire's annual salary to get them up-to-speed in the first year (i.e. training, benefits, etc.). Thus, when a new employee does something that goes against what the boss views as proper commitment to the job, it creates concern in the mind of the boss that he may have made the wrong hire - even though new employees aren't mind-readers and likely don't realize their actions are giving off the wrong impression.

  2. That being said, I do think the new employee should have gone to her boss before submitting the vacation request and explained why she was asking for the time off so soon instead of just passing it into HR. By sharing the fact that she wanted to visit family and needed to book a ticket at a low cost, she could have explained the early request. This (hopefully) would have made the boss more understanding and given him the opportunity to explain that he likes to wait until he gets all vacation requests in so he can make sure those with more seniority get their vacation time too.

What can both sides learn from this?

Employee Takeaway: Before accepting a new job offer, be sure to inquire about the process for vacation time requests and how they get executed. And, if you have a pre-planned vacation within the next 18 months, let the employer know and confirm you will still be able to take it. It's also good to ask if they have a policy on how many months you need to be on the job before you can ask for a vacation request. Having this dialog with a new boss before you accept the position enables you both to better manage expectations AND lets you find out if the company's vacation policies are more strict than what you are accustomed to.

Manager Takeaway: When a new employee does something that makes you question her commitment, step back and ask yourself what policy is being violated. Is it a written company policy, or an unwritten one that resides in your brain? If it's the latter, then you need to have a private conversation with the employee to educate her on your mindset and what behavior you would prefer. Employees can't read your mind. It's up to you to let them know what you expect.