Chances are that your workplace has some sort of time off plan. Many companies will tout it as a great incentive to bring on talent, especially with work-life balance becoming more and more important to people. At the same time, take a look at some of the numbers. As of 2014, U.S. workers only used 77% of their paid time off, and the use of vacation has hit a nadir not seen in decades. If you were to ask your average employee why they don’t use their time off, there may be a number of reasons. Perhaps they fear the pile of work that would await them on their way back. Perhaps it’s trouble finding that ideal time that the office can run without them. Perhaps they’re too afraid to ask.
For one, if your workplace has a policy regarding time off, understand that there is no reason to feel guilty about using it. It is part of your benefits for being an employee. However, juggling your needs and that of work can be a struggle. The best thing to do is be mindful of your responsibilities and opportunities—here’s how.
No One Policy Is Alike
If you’ve been in the professional world for some time, you’ve likely seen many different types of approaches to paid time off or vacation. Part of the reason for this is that technically, legally they don’t have to offer vacation or sick leave. Of course, you’ll see it (imagine attracting top talent without it), but some industries are an exception, the restaurant industry being one. There are many things to consider when figuring out what to do about your paid time off. For example, is it flatly earned or accrued throughout the year? If it’s accrued, you may not be able to “go into debt” with your days. For example, you may get two weeks for a year, but don’t have access to half of that time until halfway through the year. Another thing to consider is whether or not things roll over between periods. Don’t find yourself losing out on time off that is yours because you waited too long.
With so many moving parts to consider, how do you figure out what you have earned and what the rules are to use them? The answer begins with your HR department or its equivalent. When you first sign on at a job, they will likely explain the time off policy, but feel to reach out to them at any time to figure out what time you have available and any potential restrictions.
Don’t Feel Like You Need A Grand Plan
Sometimes the reasons for people not fully taking advantage of their time off are a bit more innocuous. Perhaps you have accrued some vacation time, but don’t have the money or an idea of a vacation to take. In this case, you may want to consider using said days for mental health days. There’s a lot of different ideas that people have regarding mental health days, but you don’t need to have a condition to take one. Sometimes stress from an external source is wearing you down, and you don’t want to bring that into the workplace.
If you do want to take a true mental health day, focus on trying to improve what is going on with it rather than just relaxing. A lot of this is using critical thinking to target the potential source of your issues, like getting a proper amount of sleep if you have been running short. If you have a medical issue that is aggravating your situation, this makes for a good time to set up an appointment with a doctor. Everyone’s priorities are different. Part of making the most of your time off is using it to address the most pressing of your needs.
Vagueness Is The Best Policy
At the same time, depending on your company culture, requesting time off for a mental health day may not make for the best optics. As a result, you’ll have to rely on the tried and true excuses in order to get the time off you are looking for approved. In general, when it comes to excuses, being vague is the way to go. Simply explain that you need the day off for personal business or that you have an appointment to make. The less complicated your fib is, the harder it is to get caught.
Sometimes, you may need to do something that comes off as a little underhanded on paper, but no so much in practice, if it’s time off you’ve earned. Getting a doctors note may allow for some wiggle room for times when your workplace may not want to approve time off. With this said, this is for emergencies only. Go to the well too many times and you may not only not get your time off, but get a reprimand in its place.
While it feels like our work culture may be a bit hostile at times towards the concept of time off, there’s a reason why many companies have it in place when they technically don’t need to. By knowing how to request it as well as utilize it in a way that fits you, you can become a more relaxed person and more more effective worker in the end. With that type of arrangement, everyone benefits.