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Making a Tactical Request for Vacation Time

Robin Reshwan

The arrival of spring is a welcome time -- the sun starts shining, temperatures climb and visions of wearing open-toed shoes reappear in many minds. April and May also bring an onslaught of time off requests at the office for long weekends to attend weddings and make summer trips to the beach. When it comes to overall vacation satisfaction, knowing how to ask for and prepare for time away is as important as selecting a destination. Here are three ways to ensure you start your race to relaxation on the right foot.

1. Start early, but only if you are in good standing. Getting in front of vacation planning allows ample time for the completion of mission-critical projects, the transitioning of duties as well as the avoidance (if possible) of taking on additional assignments that conflict with your travel dates. If you're progressing well in your position and generally performing at the top of your peers, ask for your desired personal time off. While your manager and team will miss you dearly, the office will appreciate your advance planning as much as you will.

If you're not hitting the ball out of the park professionally, focus your energy on improving your performance before you saunter into your boss' office to ask for time off. To further illustrate this point, let's walk through a sample conversation:

Underperformer: "Boss, I would like to take a week off in June for some much-needed PTO. I wanted to give you as much advance notice so that we can arrange coverage while I am out."

Boss: "Hmm, I can imagine how it exhausting it must be to work at 40 percent capacity. Advance notice is much appreciated."

In asking for time off while your performance is less than required, you're giving evidence that you're out of touch with work reality and what is needed in your current role. Second, you're showing that you're more focused on future time out versus the duties at hand that you get paid to do. Third, you're giving our boss extra time to start recruiting for your replacement. If you are struggling at work, think carefully about optional time away. You may not have a job waiting for you when you return.

2. Have a clear plan of what you desire, but be flexible. There are benefits to employee and manager alike when you minimize how much of the decision you give to your manager. Here is an example to explain.

Sorely In Need of PTO Employee: "I would like to take some time to use my 200 hours of carry over PTO -- but I can go whenever I'm not needed." Thinking in her head, "I can't wait to meet my friends in Cabo over the summer to go parasailing."

Supervisor: "Sure. How about you go over the holidays in 2014/2015."

A wishy-washy request gives your supervisor unnecessary decision-making responsibility. It also, opens up a potentially frustrating back-and-forth conversation, where you have to diplomatically decline the time he's offered with a counter-offer of something that might work better for you. Overall, it's time wasted and you stand a chance of not getting what you really want, without ever knowing if your exact timing would have been simply approved.

To ensure ideal timing, try this direct but business-conscious approach:

Employee: "Hi Manager. I wanted to use my accrued PTO hours this summer for a trip to the Cabo to meet up with some friends. The end of June leading into the Fourth of July looks ideal for flights and no one else has requested time off in our department. Plus, I will have Project XYZ completed in early June. Does that work for you? Great. I will send you a formal request."

In minimizing the manager's decisions, addressing internal coverage and expressing ownership of work responsibilities and deadlines, this employee has an excellent chance of getting her request approved.

3. Think through the emergency plan. Stuff comes up in life and at work a lot. There is a high probability that something unexpected will come up right before you leave or while you're away. However, nothing kills the joy of a trip as quickly as: "ACME company only wants to speak with you. Do you mind missing the Atlantis Submarine tour at 1 p.m. to take the call? The middle of your day, rendering the rest of your second vacation day useless, was the very best time for this client."

Have a backup plan. Take a look at your significant responsibilities and identify a colleague who is able either to make decisions regarding these areas or has the ability to perform damage control and maintain order until you return. If you cannot think of someone, ask for your manager's assistance in coverage. If vacation time is part of your benefits package, your employer should be able to adequately cover your desk in an absence. However, it is your responsibility to outline this coverage or seek help for exposed areas before you leave. You also want to make sure your actions leading up to your time away are properly documented using client relationship management software, or whatever protocol your firm uses. Without a well-communicated point of contact plan and thorough documentation, you're guaranteeing a Murphy's Law interruption.

Realistically, many professional positions still require you to check work email occasionally to make sure there are no hidden fires. But by thinking ahead, you can minimize unnecessary issues. It is often liberating (and scary) to see that your company will actually go on when you're not there.

In summary, looking forward to a summer vacation is one of the highlights of spring. However, to make sure that you have an easy approval process and a relaxing trip, take time in advance to set up for success. Timing, planning and backing up are three elements of maximizing your PTO.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.

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