How To Use All Your Vacation Days This Year — Or Next

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Americans are notoriously bad at using their vacation days. Glassdoor found that only slightly more than half of U.S. employees with paid days off use that time, and two-thirds work during their time off. Plus, women are less likely to take PTO.
Some long-term government workers bank their vacation days in order to cash out on them when they retire, but not everyone can take advantage of such a benefit. Here's what to do at the end of the year with that leftover time.
Roll It Over
Research from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that nearly 40% of organizations require employees to use all their vacation days each year, or lose them. Of the 60% that permit rolling over days, only 8% allow unlimited rollovers; so, if you don't use it, you really lose it.
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Before the end of the calendar year, contact your human resources department to learn about your company's policy. Ask if they do permit rollovers; if so, how many; and what type of days can be rolled over.
Sick days usually can't be rolled over, and personal time off is a case-by-case basis. Some employers treat personal days like vacation days, paying employees' out for that time if it goes unused before someone quits or is fired. But there is no Federal law stipulating that PTO be required as a benefit; state law and employer regulation should be considered, not assumed. So ask your HR department to confirm what's what at your company.
Additionally, inquire with HR if there are any policies about how to use the rolled-over days. Some companies require that that time be used within a certain amount of time in the next calendar year or be lost — for example, within the first six months of 2018. You don't want to bank on having extra days to use at your leisure, only to lose them because you took your sweet time.
Plan For Next Year
If you're finishing the year with a ton of time leftover, or didn't have as much as you liked for end-of-2017 fun, start thinking about next year. Every year is different; perhaps you are in several weddings (or are getting married); maybe you'll be sick, or just need more time away from the job; or maybe it is just harder to get away. In any case, start to look through your calendar — especially if you have a partner — and loosely plan out your vacation days.
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For example, only about 1% of workers have an unlimited vacation day policy. But research has shown that those who do often take fewer days off, out of uncertainty about how the policy works, fear of being seen as abusing the policy, or a lack of seeing management do the same. Whether you have a lot or very little time off, requesting as early as possible will make it easier for you to get the time you want, plan for it, and commit to using it.
And if you arrive at the conclusion that you didn't have enough days off, performance review season is just around the corner — start thinking about how you can negotiate for more time off.
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