Learn How to Ask for Vacation When Starting a New Job

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Julia West, a writer for Metro Philadelphia, asked me for input for her May 2013 article Vacation Time: When Is Too Soon To Take A Vacation?. She wanted to know if I had any practical advice or thoughts on how soon a new employee could request vacation time without jeopardizing their good standing with an employer. Because her question was such a good one, I thought I would expand on my reply to her here, in my "Women in Business Answers" section.

Learning A New Job Takes Time

Starting a new job can be exciting and fun, but no matter how skilled you are in your profession, any new job comes with a learning curve. It takes most workers three to six months to settle into a new job and master their new duties with complete understanding and proficiency. During this learning curve phase, you don't just learn how to do your job, but you also are learning how to get along with co-workers, and developing a good feel for "how the office ticks" -- what is acceptable and what could be career suicide.

It is generally not a good idea to ask for time off until you have mastered your job and completed any training necessary to perform your job -- especially if someone else will have to fill in for you when you take time off. If there is a probationary period for new hires at your company, it is better not to ask for any time off unless it is an emergency or you are too sick to work.

Vacation Time Is A Perk -- Not Your Legal Right

In all fairness to your employer, you were given an opportunity to prove yourself on the job, and the employer takes all the financial risk when it comes to investing in your ability to perform and contribute. Your employer bears the costs of training, your employment perks, and will most likely be paying you at your full rate even before you are fully up to speed.

Before asking for the reward of taking time off for a week long vacation, you should appreciate your employer's investment in you and not consider vacation time an entitlement. There is no law (in the U.S.) that requires any employer to give you paid vacation time -- or even time off to take a vacation without pay. Employers offer such benefits to remain competitive in the job applicant pool when hiring.

The Employer's Perspective On New Hires

The average time people stay at one job is approximately two years before changing jobs either by being promoted internally or latterly moved, or leaving to work for another company. For these reasons, most companies have policies that require employees to accrue vacation (and sick) leave over time rather than offer them an advance of time benefits. Individual company policies vary widely, but generally, allotted time for vacation is earned on a pro-rated basis, or, based on the length of employment. For example, an employee might earn one day per month of employment up to a certain amount each year. Some employers (especially in companies where employee turnover is high) may not allow employees to begin to accrue until after six months probationary period of employment.

It is important to establish yourself as a dedicated employee right from the start. For this reason, it is usually in your best career interest not to take a lengthy vacation (more than two days off) for at least six months; even better – wait until you have completed your first year at your new job before taking vacation time.

It Is Okay To Plan In Advance

If your company requires you to schedule a vacation in advance, even new employees should feel free to do so in order to block out time. It is fine, even for new hires, to ask their employer to schedule their vacation in advance. Just as you may need time to plan for a fun vacation your employee also needs advance notice in case they need to find someone to fill in for you, or, to avoid having too many staff out at one time.

Tracy Porpora offers his advice for scheduling a vacation:

"If you have been denied vacation time due to a busy time in your industry (e.g. during tax season if you work for an accounting firm), try to work vacation in at a time that is both beneficial for your family (e.g. when the kids are off from school) and during downtime at work. Many industries slow down the week between Christmas and New Year's Day when the kids are off from school, making this a good time to take a vacation."

If you are considering taking a new job, and already have a vacation planned in the near future and cannot change the dates, be sure to let your potential employer know before hiring you that you will need time off as a condition of your accepting the position. You may have to take a vacation without pay if your vacation comes before you have accrued vacation time. However, be aware that many employers do not allow time off even without pay to avoid setting a trend that employees can simply take time off whenever they want if willing to do so without pay.

Vacations are fun, but your first priority should always be to your new employer's schedule during the first year. The sacrifices you make will payoff down the road and increase your chances of getting better raises and opportunities for promotion -- something that may even enable you to afford a longer, more exotic vacation the next year.

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