When someone close to you has a health problem and needs your help, when you want to return to school or need to take time off from work abroad for other personal reasons, you will have to ask for time off.
The prospect is scary. How will the boss react? What is the company’s policy on this? Is it possible to ask for just a month – or is it possible to take a break for a year? How will this affect your career in the organization?
However, it is quite possible to arrange a long vacation – and in a way that suits you, your company, and even your boss and colleagues.
The first and most important step in negotiating a vacation is preparation. Analyze your goals and collect information.
What are your goals? For example, do you need to recover from stress, spend more time with your family, study, or a particularly interesting project? What agreements will help you with this? Discuss with friends, family, and trusted colleagues under what conditions you can achieve your goals. Is a month enough or do you need a year? Is there a compromise option? Think about where you need to be firm and flexible during negotiations.
What precedents exist? Has the company provided similar vacations before? Reach out to co-workers to find people on extended leave and talk to them. Ask them for details about how they came to an agreement and what they did to get there. How well did everything work out? A boss who doesn’t want to be the first to grant extended leave can be comforted by hearing about previous successful cases. If there were no precedents, look under which rules of the organization you can bring your request. A classic example is the case of an engineer who wanted to dedicate a year to underwater photography of coral reefs and was granted an “educational leave” by his boss.
How to reduce the burden on colleagues and boss? Think about who will take care of your duties in your absence. What tasks can you complete? What can be postponed until later? What else can be done to make up for your absence? Talk to close colleagues and think together about a solution to the problem. It is important to choose the right moment for the request. Vacation will be easier to get soon after the completion of a major project or achievement of an important result.
At such a moment, your merit is more visible, and the boss may feel indebted to you. Try not to ask for a vacation during the high season when your boss and the entire department are busy with work.
If you have a good relationship with your boss and a high level of trust, the negotiation process is easier and more like a problem-solving conversation. If the relationship with the boss is not very good, you can look for opportunities to talk to a manager who will be more supportive.
Take a problem-solving approach. In a conversation with your boss, emphasize that you want to stay in the organization, even though you have family or personal issues to resolve. Provide enough information about the problem you’re experiencing to make your needs clear, but don’t say more than you’re comfortable with. Describe your long-term commitment to the organization and explain how the vacation will make it possible for you to work for the company in the future.
Look for win-win or win-win solutions. If possible, let us know in advance if you need to take a vacation. By creating a conducive environment for planning and adaptation, you make it easier to resolve problems, gain an opportunity to assess the impact of your absence on the team, reduce the burden on others, and demonstrate dedication and commitment to the organization. In order to reach a win-win solution, you need to discuss with colleagues the timing of the vacation and the conditions that will help the organization cope without you. Your goal is to find a solution where your employer agrees to the leave request and gives you the flexibility you need.
Make sure you understand each other correctly. Clarify the boundaries and time frame of the agreement discussed with the boss. Confirm the deadlines, agree whether you will be in touch with the organization during the holidays and whether you can help colleagues if necessary.
Think about what you will say to the team. Think about what you and your boss will tell others about your vacation, who and what you need to tell. If the timing of the vacation is clear, say so. If you have agreed that you will help colleagues, explain how the communication will take place (eg, preferred channel of communication, time of day when you are likely to be freer, etc.).
Confirm agreements in writing. Memory can fail, so take the initiative to record what you agreed on in a letter to your boss. To avoid misunderstandings, ask him to indicate if he wants to correct or clarify something.
How you maintain relationships during your vacation will determine whether you achieve your goals.
Manage relationships with colleagues. While on vacation, keep in touch with colleagues as regularly as possible. Staying in touch, you provide support and assistance to colleagues in your absence. Contacts also strengthen personal relationships with colleagues and help you assess the situation in the organization where you will eventually return.
Manage your relationship with your boss. If you stay in touch with your boss while on vacation, it signals your commitment to the organization and your intention to continue working together. By staying in touch, you reduce the chance of being left out of future training or assignment decisions and ensure a smooth return to work.
Prepare to return. During your absence, colleagues may change positions, and it is likely that your work will also change. Your old job may be kept for you, or you may move to a new position. The immediate supervisor may also change.
Therefore, when you return, behave as if you were a beginner: talk more with colleagues and gain momentum. Be proactive and find out how your boss and colleagues understand your (new) position and what they might need from you.
In the event of an unforeseen need for an extended leave, the authorization process will be shorter: you will have to apply using only the information you already have. But, even without advance warning and preparation, you can state the request in such a way that it is clear why you need a vacation and why the organization should support you.
When making a request, talk about your needs and desire to return to the organization. Let your boss or company contact know what happened to you and give the likely length of vacation: a week or two (for example, until the kindergarten reopens) or a month or more (for example, when talking about the indefinite illness of a relative). Explain why the vacation is urgently needed (only the details you feel comfortable talking about). Assure your commitment to the organization and colleagues, but don’t over-promise.
Designate how you can adjust the duration of the vacation. Given the urgency of the leave, you may have limited options to mitigate the damage from leaving suddenly. By naming a specific date when you will contact your boss and clarify the situation, say, in two weeks or a month, you will reassure those who are worried about the uncertainty of the period of your absence. And if the duration of the vacation is completely incomprehensible, for example in the case of a serious illness, it is better to say so.
Get in touch – but consider your limitations. Your ability to deal with unexpected family circumstances is likely to be more limited than if you had time to prepare. It’s OK. You may need to completely take a break from work. But if you can communicate at least briefly with your boss and colleagues, it will make it easier to return to work.
What alternatives do you have if the leave is not given? Remember the purpose of the vacation and think about how you still achieve it. Quit? Reduce obligations to family? Postpone a new project until better times? Or burn out overworking in every area of your life to meet personal and professional commitments?
If you’ve been denied vacation and part-time work doesn’t solve the problem, change tactics and try to achieve the necessary conditions: sometimes “no” means “maybe”. You can also seek support elsewhere, such as Human Resources or higher management. The second option carries some political risk, so think carefully about who to talk to and how to make your request a win-win for everyone.
And finally, you can offer to resign. This card can only be played once, but if getting a vacation is really important, you can get an advantage – or proof that this job is not the right place for you. Think about the best way to say about the dismissal. The wording “I’m sorry, but I think I’ll have to quit” is markedly different from “If you don’t give me a vacation, I’ll quit!” If this is your last resort, try to present this most extreme option in a way that will save your reputation and relationships with your boss, colleagues, and the organization.