Recession Travel Tips: Asking for Time Off

Get vacation advice from employment experts on how to ask your boss for time off during a downturn without endangering your job or disrespecting your coworkers.


Maybe it’s the dream sojourn through Asia you’ve been planning since college, or maybe it’s just the week you spend at the beach every summer. Whatever the destination, many workers are feeling hesitant about asking for vacation time this year.

When news of layoffs dominates nightly broadcasts and talk around the watercooler, it can be daunting to let your boss and coworkers know you’re planning to skip town. No one wants to be the fool who returns from paradise to find a pink slip waiting.

Should You Ask for Time Off?

But workers who need a break shouldn’t be discouraged, say management experts, and they should be putting in for that time. Those who forego a vacation this year may lose days to their company’s rollover limits, or worse, risk burning out.

“Smart managers know that getting time off now and then helps employees come back refreshed and productive,” says Alison Green, a Washington, D.C.–based chief of staff at a mid-sized company and the voice of reason behind the blog Ask a Manager.

If you’re worried about taking a vacation, schedule a talk with your boss. Consult with him or her about the dates you’ll be gone, and ask what you can do to make your time away less disruptive to your coworkers.

Soliciting management’s input shows you’re a team player, says North Hampton, N.H.–based J.T. O’Donnell, a workplace strategist and founder of job-advice site Careerealism. If your department is under particular pressure, she says, try feeling out your boss’ mindset by asking what his or her plans are this year before bringing up your own.

But chances are, your boss will be happy to help you find the time to go—at companies that are canceling bonuses and raises, management may feel vacation days are the one incentive they have left to offer.

Vacation Tips: Planning Ahead to Get Away

For some workers, looking ahead to a trip helps them keep a positive perspective when the immediate news all sounds bad.

“Enough doom and gloom,” says Lydia Ruth, a marketing manager for Westchester County in New York. “Yes, I’m planning trips,” she asserts, including a five-day getaway with her husband and friends to Gila, N.M., in May, and another to California in October. Her vacation advice to those who are feeling less sure: “Celebrate. Have fun. Life is short.”

Here are a few more tips to ensure your time off will be trouble free:

  • Make your plans early. With many businesses already short staffed, workers should confirm that their vacation time will not overlap with a coworker’s absence. Don’t assume that because you take the same week off every year that time is reserved for you—get it on the calendar now.
  • Don’t hide your whereabouts. While your first instinct may be to keep travel plans quiet, this strategy can backfire. “As soon as you know you are going away, get the word out,” says O’Donnell, who has a client that recently didn’t admit she was leaving on vacation until the day before she left. The result? She returned to bitterness among coworkers who had to scramble through her sudden departure.
  • Offer to stay in touch. If you’ll be leaving your team short a person, offer to check in once or twice a week while you’re away—either by phone or e-mail. You don’t need to stay chained to the BlackBerry at all times, just enough to stay on top of events back at the office.
  • Be sensitive about your message. Although you should be open about your vacation plans, now is not the time to brag about the exclusive extras you’ll be enjoying while you’re gone. Instead, focus on how the time away will make you a better worker, or on the great deal you got on airfare—these are things everyone can get behind.
  • Skip the short-notice breaks. If you normally take a few days every year for good-weather outings to the beach or elsewhere, this might be the year to cut back on those last-minute absences. Again, concentrate on planning your vacation time—the extra consideration will be extra appreciated at work. 

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