Here's What Your Manager Is Thinking When You Ask for Time Off

Robin Reshwan

The holidays are quickly approaching. If you haven't already, now is the time to plan your escape from the office. Time away is one of the most beloved perks of professional employment. Here are some things your manager hopes you consider before you book that trip.

Are you in good standing? Of course, if you have earned vacation time, you have every right to take it. However, if you are underperforming in your job, it may not be the best time to ask if you can take an extended trip to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Being out of the office can impact your success at work, so if you are currently struggling, you may want to schedule time away after you have a plan in place to increase your productivity.

Is there protocol for a busy season up ahead? In certain industries and companies, there are trends regarding what level or tenure of employee can take time off during high-demand seasons. For example, if you work in the retail industry and are one of the newest employees, chances are you will be the low man on the totem pole when it comes time to ask for Black Friday off. Many employers will inform you that holiday season is their busy time in order to set reasonable expectations for time off. But make sure you verify if certain time periods are taboo.

Additionally, other businesses reserve extra holiday time off for more tenured employees, because they need to maintain a certain staff level to keep businesses running. Again, retail is an obvious target, but any business that serves vacationers and holiday shoppers will be busy when everyone else is out of the office. Given that cycle, the few vacation approvals are often reserved for exceptions or for senior employees who have put in their time in previous busy seasons.

Is it approved? Don't buy those nonrefundable tickets just yet, even if you've already made sure that your work performance, protocol or seasonality won't foil your plans. Every vacation needs to be approved. Remember, it is a time-off request -- not a demand or a sure thing. Depending on your environment, either verbally ask your manager if a specific time frame works, or submit a request in writing/email. It is best to phrase it as: "I would like to plan a trip to Hawaii for the last week of December, Ms. Bosslady. I wanted to confirm with you first to make sure the timing works before committing to anything."

Understand that your manager could deny your request, because others have already asked for that time or because of other work demands. In most cases, your manager is likely to do her best to accommodate your trip, but nothing is for sure until it has been approved.

Do you have your work in order? Leaving the office for a trip is one of the best ways to change your colleagues' and manager's view of you -- and it's often not for the better. Employees that take shortcuts, are disorganized, ignore operational best practices or have poor work habits often find that those flaws come to light when someone else has to cover their duties. For example, a customer calls to get a copy of an invoice, but no one can locate the invoice due to disorganization. That vacationing employee should expect an in-depth conversation upon his return about the necessity of filing systems.

However, if your organizational or operational brilliance has been unrecognized, you will likely move up in everyone's rankings when your peers realize that they can easily cover your duties due to your effective work habits. You will also find that you are more likely to be undisturbed while out of the office with emails, such as "Where do you have Acme Company's report?" or "Did you send that proposal to John Brown? I couldn't find any record of it in the database." Taking the extra time before you leave to ensure your desk runs smoothly is not only courteous to your co-workers, but it may help to protect your job.

Have you remembered the little things? A week to a few days before you head out, take a few minutes to make a plan for the little things that make a huge difference. Set up an out-of-office message or email forwarding. Update your voicemail greeting to reflect your time away and who the appropriate contact in your absence is. Also, work with your manager to establish an escalation process if issues arise and when (if at all) you should be contacted. Finally, determine if you need to inform anyone of upcoming projects or client initiatives that may unexpectedly require assistance.

There are many things that are not likely to pop up but would be time sensitive and beneficial if they could be addressed quickly. Make sure you think about those and how they should be addressed.

The best way to enjoy vacation time is to minimize any distractions or issues before you leave. If you factor in the items listed above, you have the best chance for a work-free vacation.

Of course, there's no guarantee that visiting the in-laws will go so smoothly, but at least you won't have to pretend to enjoy the 15th telling of when your father-in-law received that promotion because his generation knew the meaning of hard work in between urgent emails about work fires.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.