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Ask for time off the right way — how to get what you need

February 10, 2022 - 14 min read


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How to know when you need time off

Paid time versus unpaid time off

7 tips for requesting time off

Examples of time off request emails

Bottom line

Everyone deserves time off from work. If you're reluctant to ask, it's worth taking the time to figure out why.

Are you afraid of being told no? Do you think you don't deserve the time off? Is it because you just don’t know how? Maybe work is crazy and you feel guilty about leaving work for others?

Depending on the size of your team and what's going on for the company, you may rightly feel like there's no good time to take off. But employers know that people will take time off. That's part of business.

Your job is to learn how to ask for time in a way that still shows commitment and responsibility.

It can be nerve-wracking to request time off. But you have to learn how to ask for what you need and deserve. Once you can identify when and how to ask for time, it'll be a skill you'll come to appreciate.


How to know when you need time off

Stressed Out Doctor At Work

Learn to recognize your cues that indicate you need some time off. For instance, you may experience sky-high stress levels, struggle to sleep, or feel very irritable.

Taking time off doesn’t need to be a last-minute decision, either. By keeping track of your work-life balance you can plan your vacation time before things get dire.

 Here are four signs that it's time for you to take time off:

  • You're stressed over every aspect of your work and personal life
  • Remote working is giving you cabin fever
  • Normal daily challenges feel personal and insurmountable 
  • You're experiencing burnout from working too much

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Paid time versus unpaid time off

Before you ask for time off, check if it'll be paid time or unpaid time. Not all companies give out paid vacation time to each employee.

If you're starting a new job, familiarize yourself with the company's vacation policy and how they handle personal time off (PTO). You might be eligible for unpaid leave if you exceed your sick days or paid vacation days. 

Keep in mind that paid time off policies can be different for part-time or new employees. Reading your employee handbook will help you to know how many sick days and vacation days you receive, and more. 

It’s important to know the law, too.

If you work at a company with more than 50 employees, public agencies, and schools, you’re covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This means your employee is required to give you time off work when you need to care for a family member or any other family emergency. However, you must have worked at your employer for a certain amount of time to be covered. And, this time off is unpaid, not paid.

7 ways to ask for time off just the right way


Requesting time off can feel awkward and uncomfortable. You may worry your request will be denied, or that your supervisor will be irritated. But with a little advance planning, and appropriate phrasing, your request will be granted. 

 Follow these eight tips to confidently request time off, give your brain a vacation, and avoid the potential of a harsh rejection:

1. Choose your time wisely

Depending on when you ask for time off, you may be putting your company in a challenging situation. Some industries are busier in certain months. If you have flexibility, don't take time off during the heart of busy season.

Whether it is busy season or not, make sure you give advance notice of your time off so everyone can prepare accordingly. If you can't find anyone to cover for you, you don't want to leave your work at a disadvantage at a busy time. Imagine if you were on the other end and a coworker took vacation time with short notice and left you to finish their work. 

2. Be specific and give relevant details

When you ask for your time off, be as specific about your request as possible. Know exactly which days you want to take off. If you're vague and uncertain in your request, your boss is less likely to grant you the time. Be confident and clear when you communicate.

It's also courteous to think through which details you need to share. Provide relevant details at the outset that will help your manager make a decision.  Try not to be confusing or force them to pull the information out with many questions. At the same time, don't overshare details that are unnecessary and make your manager impatient.

Your company might have a time-off request form where you can fill in any information they need. 

3. Get caught up with all of your work

You'll look more put together and organized if you're all caught up on your work when you put in a vacation request. If you take a few days off, your boss will see that you aren't behind and won't fall further behind. A strong work ethic demonstrates that you're on top of your deadlines.

4. Be fair with the rest of your team

Your entire team can't take vacation time at once. Being a team player includes being mindful of others. Communicate reasonably and professionally to ensure that your teams’ schedules line up. 

Like any requests and messages, you should try and pick the time you make the request appropriately. If your boss is on vacation, it's not a good idea to interrupt their own time off to ask about yours. If your boss is swamped with meetings and feeling very stressed, they might not want to add that to their list of things to think about. 

Office Employees At Conference Desk Chatting In Office

5. Make sure you ask, not tell

Even if your travel plans seem simple and wouldn't disrupt your work too much, you need to make sure you get permission. Be confident but not over-confident when asking for time off. Understand the line between being assertive and aggressive.

Remember this isn't just a one-time transaction. Yes, it's up to your boss to grant you vacation time, and that's what's top of mind for you. But you will also likely need to ask for other things in the future.  

6. Offer to help plan for when you're away

Before you leave, present a plan for how your work can be covered. This should take the form of an easy-to-understand message or document, bullet points written down with dates and names and links to documents (if applicable).

Depending on the work, give team members ideas about how they can handle the new responsibilities they're going to cover for you. If you have any advice or tips on how you usually do your job, share it with them to help their confidence and abilities. Knowing your work will be done correctly will help alleviate stress for you and your team. 

7. Request your time in writing

We're not saying it has to be done by pen and paper, but you’ll have something to reference in the future if you request by email. Email requests create a paper trail and prevent forgetfulness. So if you ask over lunch, follow up with an email.

It also helps your boss because they can go back and refer to it while they make their decision. If you're requesting medical leave or leave of absence, it's vital to have copies of your request. Again, medical leave and leaves of absence will almost always require completing forms through your internal HR system.

Looking for more strategies to help you perfect the art of asking for what you need at work? At BetterUp, we'd love to help you become a pro at voicing your needs, including requesting vacation time. 

Examples of time off request emails

Here are a couple of templates and examples that you can follow when you craft your email to your boss:

Example 1:

Hello [Supervisor's name],

I want to request time off for [dates] because of [reason]. 

My team doesn't have any pressing deadlines or work during [dates you're requesting off]. Would it be acceptable if I use my vacation time then? I'm happy to discuss further details with you if you'd like. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you for your time,

[your name]


Example 2:

Dear [Name],

I am writing a formal request to have [dates] off. I haven't taken any days off since the beginning of the year, and I'd appreciate it if we could work this out.

I've already asked Sam if they can take my shifts, and they said they're available to do so. Sam is trained and suitable for every task I do. I have confidence in Sam's ability to handle this.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns with my request. I'm more than happy to come to your office to discuss them.

Thank you and talk soon,

[your name]

Bottom line

After reading over some strategies and ideas on how to structure your request, here are some final tips to keep in mind:

  • Be respectful and reasonable when you communicate with your boss
  • Ask experienced workers for career advice and how they've navigated time off requests
  • Don't let others intimidate you from taking time off because you deserve it
  • When you get a new job offer, make sure you ask about the company’s time-off policy
  • Don't make plans before you ask for time off

If you find making direct requests challenging, or if navigating the situation feels overwhelming, this is an area to work on. A BetterUp coach can help you put in place tools to increase your confidence and assertiveness. Find out more about how coaching can transform your life. 

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Published February 10, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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