Depending on the size of your team and what’s going on for the company, you may rightly feel like there’s no good time to take off. But employers know that people will take time off. That’s part of running a business.
Your job is to learn how to ask for time in a way that still shows commitment and responsibility.
It can be nerve-wracking to request time off, even if your company offer unlimited PTO. But you have to learn how to ask for what you need and deserve. Once you can identify when and how to ask for time, it’ll be a skill you’ll come to appreciate.
How to know when you need time off
Learn to recognize your cues that indicate you need some time off. For instance, you may experience sky-high stress levels, struggle to sleep, or feel very irritable.
Taking time off doesn’t need to be a last-minute decision, either. By keeping track of your work-life balance, you can plan your vacation time before things get dire.
Here are four signs that it’s time for you to take time off:
How to ask for time off
Asking for time off from work can be a straightforward process, but it’s important to follow a few basic steps to ensure that you’re requesting time off professionally and courteously. Here are the steps you should follow:
1. Know your company’s policies
Before requesting time off, familiarize yourself with your company’s policies regarding time off. This information may be available in your employee handbook or through your supervisor.
Knowing how many vacation days, personal days or sick leave you have available will help you decide what type of time off you need. So check to see how many vacation days, personal days, or sick leave time you have available.
2. Decide on the type of time off you need
Depending on your organization’s offerings and your personal circumstances, there are different types of leave that you can take and many reasons you may want to take time off, from a well-deserved vacation to attending family events or personal medical issues. So once you understand your company’s policies, consider the specific reason for your time off and determine which type of leave you need.
Here are the most common types of time off that you may need to request:
- Vacation: If you’re planning a trip or need a break from work, you may request vacation time off. Be sure to plan ahead and give your manager ample notice.
- Personal days: Sometimes, you need time off for personal reasons, such as attending a family event, moving, or running errands. Use your personal days for these types of occasions.
- Sick leave: If you’re feeling unwell, you may need to take sick leave. Follow your company’s policies for notifying your manager and taking time off due to illness.
- Bereavement leave: If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, you may need to take bereavement leave. Check with your company’s policies to see if this type of leave is available.
- Jury duty leave: If you’re called to serve on a jury, you may need to take time off work. Every state’s law is slightly different. So check your local government website and with your company’s policies to see if you’re eligible for jury duty leave.
- Family or medical leave: If you need time off to care for a family member or due to a personal medical issue, you may be eligible for family or medical leave. Check with your company’s policies to see if this type of leave is available.
Consider the reason for your time off and which type of leave is most appropriate before you request the time off.
3. Request time off in writing
It’s best to make your request for time off in writing either through email, a formal letter, or your company’s human capital management (HCM) software such as Workday. Ensure you include the dates you will be absent, the reason for your time off (if necessary), and any relevant details. It’s best to give your manager ample notice, ideally several weeks or months in advance, if possible.
4. Discuss the request with your supervisor
After submitting your request, you may need to meet with your supervisor to discuss your absence, ensure that they approve it, and make any necessary arrangements for your workload while you’re away. Be open to discussing any concerns your supervisor may have and work together to find a solution.
5. Make arrangements for coverage
Once approved, you can start preparing for your absence. If your absence will impact your colleagues or clients, make arrangements for coverage. This can be challenging if you have to take leave with short notice. But to the best of your ability, update the team members that need to be aware of your absence and communicate any timelines that might need to be adjusted ahead of their due dates. Ideally, you’ll ensure that your work is covered and that there are no gaps in your team’s work while you’re away.
6. Communicate your absence
You’ve likely already met with your manager and direct teams or reports. Once you’ve organized your workload and documentation, ensure it’s communicated and shared in a central location for others to access. Update your Slack or messenger status to indicate the dates you’ll be away. Also, use this time to set up away emails for your time off, including an alternate point of contact.
7. Provide a status update upon your return
When you return to work, provide a status update to your supervisor and colleagues. Let them know you’re back and address any questions or concerns that may have arisen while you were away.
Paid time versus unpaid time off
Before you ask for time off, check if it’ll be paid time or unpaid time. Not all companies give out paid vacation time to each employee.
If you’re starting a new job, familiarize yourself with the company’s vacation policy and how they handle personal time off (PTO). You might be eligible for unpaid leave if you exceed your sick or paid vacation days.
Remember that paid time off policies can be different for part-time or new employees. Reading your employee handbook will help you to know how many sick days and vacation days you receive, and more.
It’s important to know the law, too.
If you work at a company with more than 50 employees, public agencies, and schools, you’re covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This means your employee is required to give you time off work when you need to care for a family member or any other family emergency. However, you must have worked at your employer for a certain amount of time to be covered. And, this time off is unpaid, not paid.
7 ways to ask for time off just the right way
Requesting time off can feel awkward and uncomfortable. You may worry your request will be denied or that your supervisor will be irritated. But with a little planning and appropriate phrasing, your request will likely be granted.
Follow these eight tips to confidently request time off, give your brain a vacation, and avoid the potential of a harsh rejection:
- Choose your time wisely
- Be specific about your needs
- Get caught up with all of your work
- Be mindful of your team’s schedules when possible
- Make sure you ask, not tell
- Offer to help plan for when you’re away
- Request your time in writing
1. Choose your time wisely
Depending on when you ask for time off, you may be putting your company in a challenging situation. Some industries are busier in certain months. If you have flexibility, don’t take time off during the heart of the busy season.
Whether it is the busy season or not, give advance notice of your time off so everyone can prepare accordingly. If you can’t find anyone to cover for you, you don’t want to leave your work disadvantaged at a busy time. Imagine if you were on the other end and a coworker took vacation time with short notice and left you to finish their work.
2. Be specific about your needs
To take the guesswork out of the process, your company might have a time-off request form where you can fill in any necessary information.
Either way, try to be as specific about your request as possible. Know exactly which days you want to take off and speak confidently and clearly when you communicate.
It’s also courteous to think through which details you need to share. Provide relevant details at the outset that will help your manager decide.
While you are not obligated to disclose the details around your time off request, letting your manager know if you’ve committed to something that cannot be rescheduled (e.g., a wedding, medical procedure, etc.) is helpful information for them to know.
3. Get caught up with all of your work
You’ll look more put together and organized if you’re all caught up on your work when you put in a vacation request. If you take a few days off, your boss will see that you aren’t behind and won’t fall further behind. A strong work ethic demonstrates that you’re on top of your deadlines.
4. Be mindful of your team’s schedules when possible
Your entire team can’t take vacation time at once. Being a team player includes being mindful of others. Communicate reasonably and professionally to ensure that your teams’ schedules line up.
Like any requests and messages, you should try and pick the time you make the request appropriately. If your boss is on vacation, it’s not a good idea to interrupt their own time off to ask about yours. If your boss is swamped with meetings and feeling very stressed, they might not want to add that to their list of things to think about.
5. Make sure you ask, not tell
Even if your travel plans seem simple and wouldn’t disrupt your work too much, you need to get permission. Be confident but not over-confident when asking for time off. Understand the line between being assertive and aggressive.
Remember, this isn’t just a one-time transaction. Yes, it’s up to your boss to grant you vacation time, and that’s what’s top of mind for you. But you will also likely need to ask for other things in the future.
6. Offer to help plan for when you’re away
Before you leave, present a plan for how your work can be covered. This should take the form of an easy-to-understand message or document with bullet points written down with dates and names, and links to documents (if applicable).
Depending on the work, give team members ideas about how they can handle the new responsibilities they will cover for you. If you have any advice or tips on how you usually do your job, share it with them to help their confidence and abilities. Knowing your work will be done correctly will help alleviate stress for you and your team.
7. Request your time in writing
We’re not saying it has to be done by pen and paper, but you’ll have something to reference in the future if you request by email. Email requests create a paper trail and prevent forgetfulness. So if you ask over lunch, follow up with an email.
It also helps your boss because they can go back and refer to it while they make their decision. If you’re requesting medical leave or leave of absence, it’s vital to have copies of your request. Again, medical leave and leaves of absence will almost always require completing forms through your internal HR system.
Examples of time off request emails
Here are a couple of templates and examples that you can follow when you craft your email to your boss:
Hello [Supervisor’s name],
I want to request time off for [dates] because of [reason].
My team doesn’t have any pressing deadlines or work during [dates you’re requesting off]. Would it be acceptable if I use my vacation time then? I’m happy to discuss further details with you if you’d like. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Thank you for your time,
I am writing a formal request to have [dates] off. I haven’t taken any days off since the beginning of the year, and I’d appreciate it if we could work this out.
I’ve already asked Sam if they can take my shifts, and they said they’re available to do so. Sam is trained and suitable for every task I do. I have confidence in Sam’s ability to handle this.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns with my request. I’m more than happy to come to your office to discuss them.
Thank you and talk soon,
The bottom line on requesting time off
After reading over some strategies and ideas on how to structure your request, here are some final tips to keep in mind:
- Be respectful and reasonable when you communicate with your boss
- Ask experienced workers for career advice and how they’ve navigated time off requests
- Don’t let others intimidate you from taking time off because you deserve it
- When you get a new job offer, make sure you ask about the company’s time-off policy
- Don’t make plans before you ask for time off
If you find making direct requests challenging or if navigating the situation feels overwhelming, this is an area to work on. A BetterUp coach can help you put in place tools to increase your confidence and assertiveness. Find out more about how coaching can transform your life.