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The Truth About Using Personal Days and Taking Time Off

The whole truth and nothing but the truth… about taking time off by using personal days.

Every new job comes with its own benefits. Vacation time, sick time, personal time – that’s enough to make anyone’s head spin! Each company has its own rules about taking time off, paid time off policy, manuals and ways in which they apply and enforce them. Would you like to get that sorted once and for all? Read on for the primer you need.

The three types of paid time off.

Think of paid time off as a set of three buckets:

  • Vacation time

  • Sick time

  • Personal time

Vacation time and sick time are easiest to understand, but what is “personal time?” In most companies, personal days are yours to use for time off from work however you like. You could use them for moving, longer medical appointments or a family emergency. Some companies will allow you to add personal days onto your vacation days, or official holidays, to get a longer stretch of time out of the office.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind.

  • Some companies split your paid time off from work into buckets. Others simply give you a pool of paid time off to use however you like. It is helpful to understand the company’s paid time off policy on this as you are going through the hiring process, especially if you have a preference.

  • Vacation time is typically accrued at a certain rate during the year so that you earn a fraction of a vacation day for every week you work. Sick time allotment is usually made available at the start of the year. Your company’s rules may vary, so read the employee manual to understand the details. It’s disappointing to find out that your 10 day vacation to the Caribbean a month after you start your new job will have to be mostly unpaid because you have not earned enough vacation time yet.

  • Understand the company’s policy on rolling unused vacation and personal days into the following year. Some companies allow you to bank unused vacation and personal time for one year and use it later, others require that you use it in the assigned year or risk losing it.

  • If the company’s standard split between vacation, sick time and personal time is not optimal for your needs, consider re-negotiating it. For example, if you typically don’t need personal days and would prefer to have more vacation days, make the request.

  • Employee manual is one thing, but your manager’s expectations and preferences around paid time off from work are equally important. How far in advance do you have to request time off? What criteria does the manager use to grant or deny it? This is a delicate subject to bring up during interviews, but if you know that you need paid time off for a specific non-negotiable purpose (honeymoon or a big surgery coming up) you may want to get some clarity before you sign the offer.

  • Unpaid time off is a viable option that often gets overlooked. Understand the company’s policy for granting unpaid time off and what the maximum number of days is.  

A blueprint for making the most out of your personal days.

Now that you understand the three big categories of paid time off from work, how do you make the most out of them – specifically the mysterious personal days?

Make sure you're actually taking time off.

This should be obvious, and yet so many professionals feel guilty about taking time off. Sure, your team is busy all the time. However, paid time off is your earned benefit. It is a part of your compensation package. You wouldn’t feel guilty about cashing a payroll check, so why do the same about vacation or personal days?

Communicate up front.

I recommend giving as much advance notice as you can when you plan on taking time off. Your manager is in charge of making sure that the work gets done and will appreciate the lead time to plan and align resources accordingly. Vacation time typically calls for more advance notice than personal days. How much notice you give and how you explain the request is up to you – a lot depends on your relationship with your manager and the cultural norms of your company.

Be gracious and reasonable.

Yes, vacation and personal time represent your earned benefits. However, your manager is not required or guaranteed to grant every request. Look at it from your manager’s perspective and work to find a solution that will satisfy you both. If there is a deadline that could be compromised by your absence, some flexibility on your part can earn extra credit.

Think twice before lying about being sick.

Did you wake up late? Is it a gorgeous day that you would rather spend at the lake than in the office? Are you just not feeling it today?

Sorry to disappoint, but none of those are valid reasons for faking illness to get a day off. Sure, you could call your manager and claim stomach flu in a shaky voice. However, think about what this move will cost you in terms of integrity and professional relationships.

If you know there are no urgent deadlines and you would not be letting anyone down, you might consider asking for a personal day. However, I would caution you against doing this frequently and on short notice. If you establish a pattern of being flaky or unreliable, it will affect your career prospects. From special high-value projects to promotions, managers choose professionals they can count on.

Don’t use paid time off to avoid difficult tasks.

We all run into challenges at work. Whether you are dealing with a difficult client or a co-worker who won’t collaborate, sometimes it might feel like avoiding the next interaction is the best strategy. Try to be present to your thinking! I don’t recommend asking for personal time off to avoid attending a tough meeting. After all, work responsibilities will catch up with you sooner or later.

If you're taking time off, use it wisely.

Spend at least a portion of the day unwinding in constructive and effective ways. Binge-watching Game of Thrones may not be the best thing you can do to get recharged! Consider going for a walk, catching up on errands that will make your life easier, resting up and eating well. Enjoy the company of family and friends, or spend the day solo. The important part is knowing yourself and doing the things that will recharge your batteries.

In summary, understand the rules and your manager’s preferences to make the most out of your paid time off. Think twice before lying, and don’t use personal days as a means of avoiding a difficult task. Spend your time off in ways that boost your energy, nurture your spirit, and give you the space to recover and get back to work. Use these tips, and you will arrive at the office bright-eyed and brimming with fresh motivation to get things done!

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