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

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

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