Planning for your financial future? Give your plans a boost with information tailored for you
Start Choosing Here »

How to Use All Your Vacation Days Without Fearing for Your Job

How to Use All Your Vacation Days Without Fearing for Your Job
Getty Images
According to a recent report from the U.S. Travel Association, 40 percent of American workers don't use all their vacation days. The fact that so many Americans feel uncomfortable taking the time off that they've earned is disturbing -- and it doesn't have to be this way.

I remember that when I was growing up, my mother, a high school math teacher in the South, got 15 paid days of vacation every school year. She always said, "I earned them. I'm going to take them." That philosophy stayed with me when I grew up and started my own career.

Unlike most of my colleagues who roll over vacation days from year to year until they're told they must use them –- my employer only lets you bank 60 -- I closely monitor my time, take a few vacations throughout the year, and start fresh each January with a zero balance. That makes me an anomaly.

Many employees fear that if they take time off, their jobs won't be there when they return. Some believe they're more likely to be picked for layoffs if they're not around all the time. Others think that they're indispensable -- the whole place will grind to a halt without them, so they can't take a break. Our workaholic culture and fear for their careers holds others back: In many workplaces, there's a stigma against those who take prolonged time away from the office.

Regardless of unofficial policies, office politics or stigmatization, you are entitled to the amount of annual vacation that your employer promised you in your contract, and they can't officially penalize you for taking it. It's yours in the same way that your paycheck is. You've earned your vacation days, and you can and should take all of them, without fear. Here's how.

Be Reachable While on Vacation

With technology and smartphones, we may be able to go on vacation and still conduct those parts of your job that can't be left untouched for a week or two. Your clients don't always have to know where you physically are.

"Being reachable and productive even during vacation has become a way of protecting our 'brand' as employees," says Jenni Luke, CEO of Step Up, a nonprofit that recruits professional women mentors to propel girls from under-resourced communities. "Because technology makes us capable of being in touch at all times, employees today feel like they do not have an excuse to not be available.

Have Someone Watching Your Back

Adriana Ruiz, a public relations consultant with Newlink in Miami, recommends having a "trust buddy" system -- someone who's always watching out for you. "Having at least one person you can rely on for keeping your work afloat during the time you are outside of the office [helps] releases a lot of the pressure that comes with leaving work," she says.

There's a reason the military uses the buddy system. When someone falls down, it's easier to cover and help them and the company up again. Just make sure that it is someone you trust, who isn't looking to move up into your job. This works best when you work in teams.

Train Your Replacement

No one is irreplaceable, no matter what we want to believe about our work productivity and ourselves. If you are actually irreplaceable to your organization, you're probably not delegating enough to your staff and colleagues.

Our employers will replace us all one day. It's inevitable. In fact, training our subordinates to replace us helps show that we are ready to advance up the corporate ladder as well.

How else would there be places for us to advance if our bosses were irreplaceable? We need them to train us to move up, and we need to do the same for the workers that report to us. Your vacation can be a great test to see how your staff and co-workers rise to the occasion.

Let Your Intentions Be Heard

Don't keep it a secret that you are going to take some personal time. Let your boss and subordinates know with as much lead-time as you can give them. That will give everyone involved the time to plan ahead, and smooth over any bumps that may be caused by your absence.

"We plan ahead so that if someone is out, someone from our team will cover for them and let our clients know when their day to day person is going to be out and for how long and make sure they know who is their contact at the agency" says Carol Bell, a partner at BrandLink Communications. "Organization is key to being able to take time earned and really be able to enjoy it."

Coordinate Your Time Off with Your Boss

This is obvious, but it's worth saying: Some times will be better than others for you to be gone. If you're worried about the work you'll be leaving behind, have an open and honest discussion with your supervisor to find a vacation time that works for you and your company.

"You know when things in your company or department is not so hectic and where your position might not be required for a short time," says Carol Gee, a former editor at Emory University Business School Atlanta. "I made sure that any outstanding or critical tasks or deadlines were completed and relayed that to my supervisor when putting in request for leave."

Get a Second Opinion

Richard Kline, a hiring manager at, recommends bouncing your vacation ideas and backup plan off an impartial third party.

"The trick is to gain an objective perspective and escape the 'office group fantasy' that taking a vacation is selfish," he says. "Quite often, discussions with people outside the office will assist people in realizing that the fear of taking a vacation is an unhealthy mindset that is to be overcome."

Have you ever been reluctant to take the vacation days you'd earned? Why? Was their an unwritten rule or feeling that it would be held against you? How did you get through it and still take your days off? Or did you?

Hank Coleman is the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions about investing, retirement, and other money matters. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Getting out of debt

Everyone hates debt. Get out of it.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

There are over 4 million job openings You think maybe their waiting for a visa worker? I met many people who thought they were too skilled to be replaced. The contract agencies are too eager to replace an entire workforce. Once they get a piece of the firm they'll only steer the hiring to benefit their own.

September 06 2014 at 11:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are plenty of people on vacation. In fact there are 92.3 million not in the labor force and 9.6 million unemployed. Taking vacations just make it easier for companies to decide who to let go. With a 62.8 participation rate there are too many people on vacation.

September 06 2014 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My wifes boss will NOT let her take a vacation at the end of the month, she is afraid to take vacation for fear of losing her job because of her boss. Her work stock piles while she is gone yet when one of the men go on vacation their work is piled or her desk and is her responsibly to keep it up to date as per her boss. Trambled on in a mans world, I would say she is.

September 06 2014 at 11:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Fred's comment

Today they replace the entire staff with contract workers. Companies are merging and eliminating staff. Companies are quietly replacing staff.

September 06 2014 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Terry and Mandy

For those people who don't take vacation time because they think they just can't be away or the business will crumble or there will be too much work to get caught up when they return, give some thought to what would happen if you were fired. The business would go on and a replacement would be hired. Control issues keep you from taking your vacation time and recharging yourself. It's not good for your health and it's not good for your soul.

September 05 2014 at 7:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Terry and Mandy's comment

My only concern when I was working (I am a retired IRS agent, gone 11 years). was work pilingup while you were gone. I didn't care about whether agency mission would go on or not. I knew the IRS would not "crumble". I earned it, I left nothing at the table.

September 06 2014 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Been with the company for 26 years. I get a total of 42 days off counting holidays, vacation and personal. I used to end the year with a couple of weeks left but no more. They didn't appreciate it so I make sure every day is used.

Don't give them to me if you don't want me to take them.

September 05 2014 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with your Mother, I earned them. I'm taking every last minute of my vacation every year. I'm not rolling over any of it. Life is more than work. People who have a real life are happier, more balanced people.

September 05 2014 at 1:54 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Do the same planning for your sick days.... and use those days to get appointments taken care of.
Your company basically does not give a rats ass about you in the first place is all about money.
Stay off Face Book...they will use it against you

September 05 2014 at 10:41 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

My Opinion is Vacation is just that. Preparations and Planning before you leave should be in alignment with your company. I personally leave my work Phone, Computer off or at Home when I am on Vacation - return replies from my email stating who to forward any important information needed immediate Response along with when I will return. I do have my personal phone that I give 1 trusted person for EMERGENCY, Catastrophic Events that I may need to assist on. I have never had a call on my personal phone during vacation yet.

September 05 2014 at 10:18 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What a crock.

September 05 2014 at 9:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What a crock.

September 05 2014 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply