Americans are overworked. In fact, Americans consistently rank highest in average working
hours. A recent study found workers in the United States registered nearly 25 percent more
hours on the job than Europeans. Within this statistic, researchers found American’s work more
hours weekly, taken less vacation days, and retire at a later age than other industrialized
counterparts around the world. (1)
High levels of competitiveness within the American business culture drives workers to forgo
vacation days and work longer hours though while many may see this as a source of pride, the
repercussions can actually result in a net loss of productivity.
A strong work ethic should surely be applauded, the practical ramifications of “all work and no
play” must be rationally considered, by employers and employees alike, for long-term success
So how do we ask for days off when ultra-competitive work practices is the norm? Below are
several things to keep in mind in regards to PTO and how to remain competitive in your work
Industry and Company Culture
While the general heuristics below are sufficient in many typical scenarios, the prevailing factor
that should affect how and when you use vacation days is your specific company and industry
culture. Be aware of your company’s normative practices and industry specific demands, e.g. if
you work in retail, requesting off a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be
In more casual business environments, verbal requests may be the norm but for all their ease,
the practice can introduce other potential complications. Whether your request is verbal or
documented, be sure to send a reminder email to your supervisor a week or two before your
This provides an opportunity for your boss a chance to address time-sensitive or other matters
that need to be addressed before your time off. This insures you aren’t pinned with an
unreasonable backlog upon your return or a mountain of work showing up on your desk hours
before your flight to Cancun.
Bosses can be forgetful just as often as their workers and by extending an informal, unrequired
reminder to your supervisor, you display foresight and responsibility any employer would
Put in a Quarter
Three months of work at a new company is a common rule of thumb before submitting your first
“request off.” You should use this time to climb your respective learning curve and by waiting at
least this long will also show responsibility to management. It is also important to not exceed
one day requested off per full month worked.
The earlier your request is on the books the better. Plan at least three to six months ahead of
time for the highest chance of requests approved while also reflecting organizational skills to
To reiterate, these tips are just to be used as a guide as your specific situation will be dictated
by environmental company and industry culture.
Don’t Ask on a Monday
Phrasing and timing your request submission can be just as important as when you are
When approaching your supervisor, ensure it is phrased as a question, not a statement. Show
deference even if you are contractually entitled to vacation days.
It is no mystery that people in the office are generally happier towards the end of the week or
after a good lunch. Time your request submission to not fall on grumpy ears. For example, a
slow Friday after you’ve submitted weekly tasks will yield better results than approaching your
boss after a three-hour, Monday morning staff meeting.
Send your request with large timeframe ex. “I’m looking to employ some vacations days this
summer,” rather than, “I am taking off June 1, 2, 4, and 5.” This allows management flexibility to
coordinate other business practices around your absence.
-Be mindful of industry and company normative practices
-Put some work in and make your presence known at a new company before requesting time off
-Submit plans far in advance and phrase as an interrogative, not a declaration.
-Try to send send requests when your boss is in a good mood.
Following these tips and remaining vigilant to your specific company and industry culture is the
best way to ensure you use your contractually allotted vacation days, soak up mental and
physical rejuvenation of vacation, and accomplish this without losing your competitive edge.
(1) Bick, Alexander, Bettina Brüggemann, and Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln. “Hours Worked in Europe and
the US: New Data, New Answers.” IZA DP No. 10179 (2016): n. pag. Web.