With paid time off, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Some companies split vacation, sick and personal time, while others have one set of days they give you to rest, recharge and get stuff done in your personal life. Still others have unlimited vacation, and have sparked much debate about whether unlimited vacation is a positive or a negative.
But regardless of your employer's policies, chances are you're one of the majority of Americans who doesn't take all of your eligible days off. While some might stay at work for logistical or personal reasons, I've heard friends in other companies remark that they sometimes feel scared or ashamed to take time away from their employer, particularly in a tough job market.
As an employer myself, I always find it hard to believe that any company wouldn't want its employees to take some time to rest, reflect, and enjoy life. But if you're truly nervous about taking time off this summer, here are a few tips to help make your boss and company not only approve your request, but happy to let you play hooky:
1. Always demonstrate value.
When I've asked some friends why they fear taking vacation time, they sometimes indicate that they'd be replaceable if they weren't there everyday to prove their worth. Whether their feeling is true or not, you can take simple steps to make sure you're valued in the eyes of your employer.
For instance, it's always a good idea to keep a running tally of projects you've completed and successes you've earned, which you can discuss at your quarterly or annual reviews. In addition, always ensure that you're abiding by your company's written and even unspoken policies, so that there's never any question about your "commitment" to the company.
2. Provide your replacement.
If you had important things going on in your life and you had someone to help, and then one day that person up and left with barely any notice, how would you feel?
On the other hand, if that person said, "I'm leaving for a few days next month -- but, I've found you someone to replace me so you don't lose any momentum," that would be a very different scenario.
To that end, have a plan for your work to get accomplished when you're gone -- or at least make sure that your absence won't hamper any forward progress.
3. Think systematically about your role.
At my company, we're working on a binder that spells out all of the processes we use to make things happen company-wide. That way, if someone leaves and another person has to fill in in an emergency, we know exactly where everything is and how to do what we need done in a step-by-step process.
The vast majority of companies don't think this way. However, you can still be systematic by documenting your systems and processes at your own role. That way, when you go to leave, you can assure your boss that anything that comes up can be handled by using your documented processes.
By using these three strategies, you'll not only get your paid time off, but your company should thank you for the extra effort you put in. Even with these three strategies, however, there may always be times when your request is denied -- particularly when multiple people request the same days and the collective absence would kill the company's ability to continue functioning at an appropriate level.
If that's the case, try to be flexible and understanding with your boss. I'm sure she or he would appreciate it.
Finally, never be afraid to take some time away. Your company should value you so much that they want to see you rest up, reflect and enjoy some personal time. In fact, even I'm taking some much-needed time off on Martha's Vineyard this weekend. I'll see you on the beach!