Time Off

By Chandra Orr

September 3, 2010 5 min read

Whether you're entertaining the in-laws for a week or you just want to slip away to see your daughter's school play, there's a good chance you're going to need extra time off during the holidays. Yet despite our gripes at being overworked, Americans are rather reluctant to ask for breaks.

In fact, only half of employees are willing to speak up and ask their managers for vacations, according to workplace communication expert Joseph Grenny, co-author of the best-seller "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High."

In a corporate culture that values long hours and team players, it might seem selfish and indulgent to ask for a little R & R, but consider this: Spending time with friends and family, especially during the holidays, can leave you refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to tackle those tough projects.

It's all about recognizing and protecting your priorities.

"If you understate the importance of your vacation, you can't blame your boss for giving a lukewarm approval," Grenny says. "It's your responsibility to express what you want; it's not others' job to coax it out of you."

*Have a Plan

Snagging a few extra vacation days during December might be as simple as switching shifts with a co-worker or staying late for a few days so you can skip out early on Friday, but for most employees, a game plan is in order.

Before you approach your boss with the request, anticipate potential objections and be prepared with solutions. Employers want to know that things will run smoothly in your absence.

"Often what people are worried about is not so much your physical presence but the availability to meet demands if there is no one to cover for you," says corporate speaker and attorney Stefania Lucchetti, author of "The Principle of Relevance." "If you have a clear, effective plan for how you or others are going to cover your responsibilities, you are likely to have your request approved."

Your plan should include a list of projects and ongoing tasks that need to be addressed during your vacation -- and a proposal for handling that work so your absence isn't an issue. Can you complete projects before you leave? Can a co-worker fill in on your behalf?

The plans also should include a strategy for phone messages and e-mail. Will you be reading and responding to e-mails? If so, how often? If not, who will be covering your inbox?

Your boss is likelier to approve the time off if you can show that all the bases will be covered.

"The more detailed and well-done your plan is the fewer reasons your boss will have for saying no," Lucchetti says.

Be sure to run the plan by your co-workers and get their stamp of approval.

"Assistance from other colleagues in your team is key," Lucchetti says. "Your boss could allocate the work to them, of course, but it is a lot easier to obtain holiday approval if you already have a coverage plan with full support from your colleagues."

*Be Firm but Flexible

When presenting your request, make your needs known, but be accommodating. Stand up for what you want, but keep in mind the company's needs, as well.

"Be clear about what is negotiable and what is not," Grenny says. "If the timing of your vacation is flexible, say so, but if the amount of uninterrupted time you want off is not, make that clear, as well."

If you need time off for a bona fide religious observance, make that known. Federal law requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices, accomodations that can include flexible scheduling and shift substitutions.

"Be willing to do all you can for the boss and the company short of compromising vacation goals," Grenny says. "Make clear that the organization's needs are as important to you as yours are. Don't roll over, but don't be obstinate."

Keep in mind that the holidays are a busy time for everyone, and often vacations are first come, first served, so ask for the time off as soon as possible.

"Asking early allows managers the opportunity to plan for the absence, which increases the likelihood that employees receive the time they request," Grenny says.

Once the vacation is set, follow through on your end of the deal. Get those projects out of the way, and check in if you say you will.

By sticking to your word, you come across as a reliable employee, one deserving of a break now and then.

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