How to Ask for More Vacation Time

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It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that Americans don’t get enough vacation time from their employers. The average American worker in private industry gets only 11 paid vacation days after a year of employment (plus, generally, federal holidays and paid sick leave). That’s awfully stingy compared to how much leave workers in other industrialized countries get.

However, a lot of people don’t realize they can often negotiate more time off, either right up front when they’re first being hired or down the road after they’ve been in the job for a stretch. Here’s everything you need 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 ask for more vacation is when you’re negotiating your job offer. In fact, this is true of pretty much any benefits you want to ask for, whether it’s more vacation time, more money, or working remotely two days a week. When a hiring manager has decided they want to bring you on, they typically switch into “wooing” mode, and you have leverage. There are limits, of course; if you ask for twice the salary they’re offering or for something wildly outside the norms of your field (say, a company car or summers off in fields where that’s not the norm), you risk seeming out of touch and undermining their desire to bring you onboard. But asking for a bit more vacation time than the offer originally includes is both (a) something that people do and (b) a request that’s often granted.

The easiest way to get more vacation time is to compare the offer to the number of days you’re getting at your current job and ask 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 big step back for me. Would you be able 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 increases the vacation leave it offers employees the longer they’re with the company (for example, starting new hires at two weeks a year but offering three weeks after three years), you can propose that you start off at the higher level: “I saw you offer three weeks of vacation after three years of employment. Given the experience I’m bringing, would you be able to set me at three weeks from the start?”

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 say yes.)

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the employer will agree; some companies have rigid rules about how much vacation time they’ll offer and won’t budge from that. But it’s a normal and reasonable thing to ask about, and an employer shouldn’t have a problem with you raising the question. A lot of people don’t even ask because they don’t realize it’s something that might be on the table.


How to negotiate more vacation time at your current job

If you missed the chance to negotiate more vacation time when you were being hired, you might be able to do it after you’ve been on the job for a while. In that case, it’s similar to asking for a raise: Wait until you’ve been in the job for at least a year (so you’re not asking for a significant change to your compensation package when you haven’t been there that long), and make sure you’re in good standing with your company (this isn’t a request you can make if your manager is unhappy with your work). If you meet both of those conditions, meet with your boss and ask for what you want.

It’s easiest to tie your request 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, assuming you’ve received a positive performance review, 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. That trade-off won’t make sense for everyone, but if it does align with your own priorities, that’s an option. If budgets are tight and you’re informed you won’t be getting a raise despite a good review, that makes your position even stronger.

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 on 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!”

Find even more career advice from Alison Green on her website, Ask a Manager. Got a question for her? Email (and read our submission terms here.)

How to Ask for More Vacation Time