If you’re like most Americans, you don’t get nearly enough vacation time from your employer. The average American worker gets only ten paid vacation days after a year of employment (plus, generally, federal holidays and paid sick leave). That’s pretty paltry, especially compared with time-off norms in other industrialized countries. What you may not realize, though, is that you can often negotiate more vacation time for yourself — either as part of the job-offer negotiation process, when you’re first being hired, or later on after you’ve been on the job for a while. Here’s everything to know about how to ask for more vacation time.
How to negotiate more vacation as part of a job offer
The easiest time to negotiate for pretty much anything — more money, more vacation time, working remotely one day a week, or so forth — is when you’re originally negotiating your job offer. When a company has decided they want to hire you and is in the process of wooing you, but you haven’t accepted their offer yet, they’re often more open to accommodating your requests than they will be later. There are limits to that, of course — if you ask for too much or for something wildly outside the norms in your field, you risk turning them off or seeming out of touch. But asking for a bit more vacation time than the offer originally includes is (a) something that people do and (b) a request that’s often granted.
The easiest way to get more vacation time included in your offer is to compare the offer to the vacation time you’re getting at your current job and asking if the new employer can match it. For example, you could say, “Right now I get four weeks of vacation a year, so two weeks would be a pretty big step back for me. Would you be able to do four weeks to match what I have currently?” This is a particularly common request from people in mid-level and senior roles, who have worked their way up to a higher amount of vacation time at previous jobs and don’t want to start at the bottom again.
Or, if the new company will increase your vacation time the longer you’re there (for example, starting people at two weeks a year but offering three weeks once you’ve worked there three years), you can ask to start off at the higher level: “I know you increase people to three weeks of vacation after three years. Given the experience I’m bringing, would you be able to start me at three weeks right away?”
You can also suggest more vacation time if the employer is unable to agree to something else you’ve requested during negotiations. For example, if they didn’t agree to your request to increase the salary, you might say, “Would you be able to do an additional week of vacation instead? I’d be glad to accept if you can do that.” (That last sentence can be helpful incentive — it’s telling them that you can both wrap up negotiations right now if they’ll say yes to it.)
Of course, the employer may not agree; some companies have rigid rules about how much vacation time they’ll offer and won’t budge from that. But it’s a very normal and reasonable thing to ask about, and an employer shouldn’t have a problem with you raising the question.
How to negotiate more vacation time at your current job
In many ways, asking for more vacation at your current job is similar to asking for a raise. Since you’re asking for a change to your compensation package, you should wait until you’ve been at the job for at least a year, and you should be in excellent standing; this isn’t a request you can make unless your manager is thrilled with your work. But if you meet both of those conditions, you can try meeting with your boss and making the request.
It’s easiest to tie it to performance evaluations or salary reviews, because that gives you a natural opening where you and your boss are both already reflecting on and discussing your performance. In that context, you could say something like, “One thing that would keep me really happy here is if we were able to increase the amount of vacation time I receive each year. Would you be open to giving me an additional week of vacation per year in recognition of the work I’ve been doing?”
If you suspect this will be a no-go for your manager, your chances of success may be better if you ask for more vacation time in lieu of a raise that year. That’s often an easier thing for an employer to agree to, since you’ll be saving them money.
It’s also worth researching how much vacation time other employers in your field are offering. Your employer might be much more willing to grant your request if they know that their competitors are offering more paid vacation than they are.
Get it in writing
If you do get an employer to agree to give you more vacation time, make sure you get that agreement in writing. This doesn’t need to be a formal contract — and in the U.S., most likely won’t be, since most U.S. workers don’t have employment contracts — but just something that memorializes what was agreed to in case there’s any question about it later. If you don’t put it in writing and then your manager or HR person leaves, the next person won’t have any record of the agreement. Plus, with nothing in writing, there’s a higher risk of genuine mistakes or misunderstandings, like someone forgetting a year from now what your agreement was.
If the employer doesn’t offer anything in writing, you can simply send an email saying something like, “I wanted to summarize our conversation earlier, agreeing that effective this month, I’ll begin accruing four weeks of vacation time per calendar year. Thanks for working with me on this!”
Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.