Taking Time Off Work When Your Company Culture Doesn’t Support It

Taking Time Off Work

Just say no to interoffice shoulder massages. Take time off instead.

My first “real” job out of college was working as an administrative assistant for an ice cream company based out of Columbus, Ohio.

The job featured several perks: a paid day off on your birthday, free ice cream, health benefits, and one week of vacation.

Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to take that vacation time because only one person could be gone from the office at a time, higher-ups got first dibs on time off, and the entire ice cream season (April through September) was off limits for employee vacations.

I worked at that job for less than a year, mostly because it became eminently clear to me that office work was not my future, but partially because I wanted to work in an environment where expectations for time off were completely clear.

(I went on to become a teacher—so I knew my days off years in advance.)

Sadly, many employees feel a similar Catch-22 about vacation time. Vacations are absolutely necessary for avoiding burnout, but the culture of many jobs makes it difficult or impossible to actually take time off.

A study put on by JetBlue, the airline, found that:

57 percent of working Americans will have unused vacation time at the end of the year, and most of them will leave an average of 11 days on the table – or nearly 70 percent of their allotted time off. The survey also showed that while more than 60 percent of those with vacation days believe they deserve to take their time off, 39 percent report having reservations about asking their boss for a vacation.

If you are facing yet another year of forgoing a vacation, here are some ways to make sure that your time off won’t affect your career standing;

1. Plan Ahead

One of the reasons why it can be difficult to take the vacation time you’ve earned is due to scheduling. You don’t want to be out of the office during your industry’s busy season, if you have one.

But if you’re also trying to plan around your family’s available time, this can get frustrating enough for many people to simply throw up their hands and give up the idea of a vacation.

Even if the level of work is steady (and relentless) year-round, some judicious planning can make your vacation possible. For a month to six weeks prior to your time off, add some extra time to each workday so that you can get ahead.

This will not only help to make things easier for your team while you’re gone (and on you when you get back), but it will also impress the boss. Even if you work in a culture that frowns on taking time off, this kind of advance planning and work will show how committed you are to the job.

2. Communicate

In some cases, it can be difficult to know how your absence will affect your department at any given time. So make sure you sit down with your team or your boss and a calendar to review what your upcoming responsibilities will be. This is a good idea even when you’re not planning a vacation, but it is particularly helpful when you will be unavailable.

For example, when my husband and I took our vacation last summer, a major (and somewhat preventable) problem erupted at his job that he needed to fix—which meant he came back to an enormous mess.

If the communication between his department and another team had been better—or even if my husband had made it clear that he could be contacted with problems while out of town—his summer would have been a great deal less stressful.

3. Stand Firm

Sometimes, employers can make their employees feel as though they are selfish by taking vacation. It can even feel as though a vacation will negatively affect your career. But vacation time is not just a perk—it’s a part of your total compensation.

You would not refuse to be paid a week’s salary for fear of looking selfish, would you? Then don’t do the same with your vacation time.

If planning time off is a sure way to field some stink eyes from your managers, then make sure that you show your worth as an employee while you are at work. And remember, it is much easier to give your best effort and increase your productivity if you get a chance to recharge your batteries.

The Bottom Line

Vacations are necessary so that you can continue to work hard and grow your career. While it may be difficult to find a way to take that time off depending on your workplace culture, a vacation will ultimately make you a better and more productive employee.

If you are having trouble convincing your employer of that fact, you might consider finding a job with a better understanding of the need for work/life balance.

What are some of your strategies for making sure you take all of your vacation days? Alternatively, if you are hesitant to take time off of work, please share why?

Image by UP There Everywhere

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About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is an award-winning writer, author, money coach, and retirement expert. Her four books include The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. I think taking time off in any organization should not be an issue since most of the organizations offer vacation or <a href=”http://www.replicon.com/time-off”>paid time off</a> these days. Still, if it is not in your organizations culture, then you definitely need to take some stern steps so as to apply for a time off, might be your supervisor is not ok with the same or whatever may be the reason, you should think before you apply for one.

  2. I send an e-mail to my supervisor asking for the days so I have proof since once time i was told verbally I can take the days and then he just forgot he told me that.
    A problem that the department is facing is two employees asking the same days of vacation one of them new employee the other has been in the company for a while but the last 4 years has been asking the same days off. Is not time to let other enjoy those days as well?

  3. Jackie Beck says

    I have the opposite problem — I could use more vacation days 😉