How to Avoid Losing Your Vacation Days

Are you one of the many Americans who only use about half of your vacation time??Or part of the 60% of employees who admit to working while on vacation?

Your vacation days, sick time, and personal days are yours, in just the same way as the money in your paycheck. Paid time off is a company benefit and part of your compensation for the responsibilities you fulfill in your position.

You wouldn?t decline a paycheck or two throughout the year because you felt guilty about earning money. You shouldn?t decline paid time off, either.

If you answered ?yes? to either of those questions above — or if you take most of the paid time off you?re eligible for, but feel guilty about doing it — then you need to learn how to avoid losing your vacation days and how to ask for time off the right way.

Understand Your Company?s PTO Policy

Do you fully understand your company?s vacation and paid time off (PTO) policy?

Contact your HR department (or your supervisor, if your company doesn?t house an entire human resources team) and confirm what your employer allows.

Some businesses allow employees to roll over unused vacation or sick days from year to year. In this case, not using up your paid time off isn?t necessarily a bad thing if you?re banking it for a big trip next year. (Just make sure you do take your time!)

Other organizations give employees the option to ?cash out? unused time. This means you can receive financial compensation in exchange for allotted paid time off not taken.

If your company operates on a ?use-it-or-lose-it? type of policy, any unused paid time off does not roll over to the next year. You won?t have the option to cash out those days. In this case, you need to use up the time you?re entitled to take each year.

Even though they are your days and you can use them as you wish, there are still some best practices to keep in mind. Don?t ruffle any feathers at the office because you used your vacation days. Use these tips to use up your paid time without leaving others wondering if you?re a true team player.

Plan Ahead to Use Vacation Days

Remember, you?re still an employee in someone else?s business. Other people rely on you to fulfill the duties entrusted to your position. Yes, you?re entitled to take your vacation days. But you can?t come in and tell your team and boss on Friday that you?re taking the next Monday through Wednesday off. Failing to provide advanced notice to others in your office is unprofessional and inconsiderate.

Plan your days off in advance. You don?t need to know the exact days you?ll take off in the next 365 days, but you should plan at least one to two months ahead. Depending on your position and your responsibilities, you might need to give notice even earlier. Doing so allows coworkers and supervisors time to plan around the days you won?t be in. Don’t leave them scrambling to figure out how they?ll cover for you.

Also, think about how your absence will impact others in your office. Avoid taking long vacations during busy times or seasons. Try to coordinate with coworkers you have similar responsibilities to and avoid taking the same days.

Thinking about other people will go a long way in showing that you care about your work and the company, even when you?re not there. It also makes it easier to take time off for an emergency or something unexpected if you don?t make it a habit of calling out at the last second.

Prepare Before You?Leave

Instead of sitting at your desk with eyes glued to a vacation countdown clock, take action. Show you thought about the impact of your absence even after requesting the time off.

A week or two before you?re set to leave and take your time off, remind your boss that you?re scheduled to leave for your vacation. Provide them with the times you?ll be out of the office and unavailable.

Then, make a list of all your current tasks and assignments. This helps your backup or temporary replacement cover for you while you?re out. It should also help cut down on the need for taking phone calls and responding to emails while you?re on your vacation.

Include any important notes for your coworkers and supervisors. Explain where files are, provide important contact information, and create a schedule for each day. Include a summary of what you?ve completed ahead of time, if applicable.

Keep Organized While Out of the Office

The day before you leave, update your points of contact. Set up an out-of-office notification message for your email. Update your office voicemail to explain that you?re out of the office and when you?ll return.

Don?t forget to lay out some ground rules with your fellow employees and your boss for your vacation time. You should use this time to decompress and relax; to do something you love with family and friends that you enjoy spending time with.

Fielding business calls and being stuck on your phone or laptop responding to emails is not the ideal way to decompress from your job. If possible, talk to your boss and establish that you will not be available unless it?s an emergency.

If you feel uncomfortable doing this (or having a strict no-business-communications rule), try to have work emails sent to your phone. Set aside no more than 30 minutes a day to go through new emails and determine what can wait until you return to the office and what needs a quick response that day.

Even if you can?t completely shut off, you need to establish a boundary of some kind.

Hit the Ground Running Back at the Office

Taking the right action can help you tame the stress of the first day back in the office after a period of absence. Don?t feel overwhelmed by the amount of work waiting for your attention. Instead, take things one step at a time.

Start with creating a plan to get you caught up with your workload. Identify the most important tasks to complete immediately and prioritize what you need to get done. Create a to-do list, with each item on the list ranked by urgency, and pass it along to your boss to approve.

Doing this shows your boss you?re back in work mode and you understand the office?s need for you to get back on a regular schedule. It also allows your boss to help you focus on what?s most important and prioritize what needs to get done first.

Planning ahead and showing that you care about what happens in your office even when you?re not there should allow you to feel confident about taking the vacation days you?re entitled to use. Remember, these days are as much a part of your compensation as your paycheck.

Don?t give up any of your benefits! Avoid losing vacation days and enjoy your time off from the office.