Paid Time Off: How to Get Vacation Time Approved
Last updated on 06/16/2021
Vacation Time & the American Workforce
Several studies released by employers and groups like the U.S. Travel Association all highlight an unfortunate trend in American culture: We leave paid time off on the table year after year. Why do we do this? We earned the time, our employers provide the time, yet a surprising amount of vacation time is wasted. Various studies have suggested that we don’t trust that quality work will be done in our absence and that we will only come back to a larger mountain of tasks. Other reports indicate we feel guilty for leaving coworkers to carry our load while we relax by the pool. Many even admit to checking in repeatedly during planned absences.
If you feel guilty when asking for time off, even though you've earned the vacation time you're not alone. Many in the American workforce feel this way, but that's no reason to forgo your time away. Most employers will not allow you to roll over much if any of the vacation time left over, so you might as well use it. Some companies have even explored unlimited paid time off (PTO) but still found that many workers took a similar amount or less time than those with set policies. So let's change that.
How to Get Paid Time Off & Vacation Time Approved
If the past couple years have taught us anything, it's that taking a vacation or just some time off of work is crucial to maintaining our mental health and "recharging our batteries." More people are venturing out again, and many of us have some vacation time to use, so we've put together a practical guide explaining how to get vacation time approved so you don't miss out on your hard-earned days off and that much need rest and relaxation.
Understand Your Employer's Vacation Time Policy
Before planning your time off, review your employer's vacation policy. Be sure to read any fine print, so you know about any requirements or any limitations. In some situations, documentation may be required. This usually applies to bereavement or medical absences, but you'll want to double-check to make sure your vacation request and time off are "by the book." This will increase the chances of your paid time off request getting approved. You'll also want to make sure you're following the proper protocol for requesting time off whether that's in a direct email to your boss, a submission through an HR portal, or another procedure. Check your vacation time accrual as well to make sure you have enough time for the request.
Choose the Best Time to Request Paid Time Off
No matter what your employer's policy is, you'll want to time your vacation request so it's most likely to get approved. Typically slower workdays toward the end of the week tend to yield better results. Avoid making time-off requests on days that are exceptionally busy or when bad news has made its way around the workplace. You should also be conscious of the approvers time. If your boss or HR office is especially slammed with other work and requests, it may be better to wait for a more opportune time.
Choose the Best Time to Take Your Vacation
In addition to choosing the best time to make the request, employees should also consider planning their vacations for the optimal time of the year. Some companies have busy seasons around the holidays that require all hands on deck. Other employers operate on a fiscal year where budgets are due before the middle of the year. If your company has a known busy season, try to plan around it so you can better allocate resources.
Oftentimes many employees at a company choose the same time of the year to take vacation days, so additional coordination is needed to ensure there is enough coverage for the tasks at hand. If you work on a small team, consider splitting up these popular vacation times or alternate every other year. By planning vacations for off-peak times you will not only be more likely to get the time approved but you may also be able to take advantage of discounted rates on accommodations and travel fares.
Sometimes taking time off during peak times is unavoidable. In these cases you may need to provide some context around your request. Maybe you're traveling for a wedding or another family event that happens only once. Make sure to explain your situation clearly for the best chance at getting paid time off approved.
Give as Much Advance Notice as Possible
Planning ahead is best practice when it comes to getting vacation time off approved. Requests that are submitted earlier in the year are more likely to get approved than those submitted in the weeks leading up to the absence.
Outlining a yearly plan will also help you utilize your paid time off while staying conscious of any projects or tasks with important deadlines. If you know what the major projects are in advance, take advantage by finishing tasks early or effectively planning around them. Additionally if you need to request time off on short notice, you'll be able to tell your boss that you are caught up thus increasing the chances of your vacation getting approved.
Coordinate with Colleagues Before Your Vacation
Planning ahead is a great way to get approval for time off, but you'll also want to make sure to tie up any loose ends with your teammates before you go. In the weeks leading up to the vacation, make sure to cross-train coworkers to ensure there is coverage for all projects and that no important deadlines are missed. This could include sharing any documents, tools, or other resources that may be required for tasks in your absence.
You might also consider writing up a plan to distribute to fellow team members, so they can follow the proper procedure for any tasks or issues that arise while you're away. If there is work that needs to be divided and conquered, make sure to do so in a diplomatic way. After all, you wouldn't want other employees to drop their work on you when their next vacation comes up. While this tip isn't necessarily directly tied to getting time off approved, it will certainly put you in good standing with your colleagues.
Another commonly overlooked tip for taking time off of work is to inform any employees or supervisors outside your direct team that may need to know about your absence. This is especially important if you're a subject matter expert or if no other employee has your particular skill set since issues may arise outside your department that still need your attention.
Enjoy Your Time Off (Don't Check In)
As discussed earlier, many employees admit to checking emails or logging on even while on vacation. If you can't work remotely, good for you! But the reality is that more and more employees are able to work from anywhere, so the temptation to check in on work is always there. You must resist the urge to check in and instead enjoy your vacation time. After all, you've earned it.
In certain situations, it may be required that you check in while on vacation. This is especially true for C-suite executives, managers, and others toward the top of an organization. If this is the case for you, consider discussing the requirements and set limitations with your supervisor. Perhaps you'll only need to check in for a single important meeting rather than monitor your email or phone the whole time. You won't know unless you ask, and we recommend setting boundaries to make the most of your vacation time.