By Hannah Morgan

U.S. News Money, July 11, 2018 —

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Vacation Time

American employees took an average of 17.2 vacation days in 2017, according to the State of American Vacation 2018 study by Project: Time Off. While Americans are taking more vacation, up from 16.8 days taken in 2016, there is still vacation time not being used.

You’ve earned it so take it. It may feel like there is never a perfect time to get away, but don’t let that stop you. The Project: Time Off study found that 52 percent of U.S. employees didn’t use all the vacation available to them in 2017. Also, let go of the fear that you’ll appear less dedicated or replaceable if you take a vacation. The job market is in your favor. With low unemployment and companies complaining they can’t find the right talent, this could be the best year to take your vacation.

Submit your request early. When you request your time off well in advance, it gives your employer a heads up and shows you are responsible. Together, you and your boss can come up with a plan to cover your work while you are out of the office. Advanced notice helps everyone develop a contingency plan and decreases the likelihood of a crisis.

Let go of the fear that you’ll appear less dedicated or replaceable if you take a vacation. (iStockPhoto)

Identify your backup. The secret to a relaxing vacation is to identify someone on your team to fill in for you. You may need to bring your manager into this decision to make sure there is agreement. Map out a plan and hand over work instructions, project timelines, customer contact information and notes so your backup knows what is going on. Don’t wait until the last minute to drop your instructions on your backup’s desk. The earlier you do this, the better the cross-training will be and the less stressful it will be for everyone. And don’t forget to show your colleague how much you appreciate the help. Consider bringing back a souvenir or give a gift card to show your appreciation. Delegation can be difficult, but it’s a valuable skill and when done well it proves you’re organized and professional. It may also help set the bar for how vacation is planned by others in your department.

Avoid crunch times. Don’t request vacation that falls right in the middle of an important project or major company event. And if you plan on asking for time off during a major holiday, you better submit your request early. Many of your colleagues will also want to take time off during the holidays and if you are late submitting your request, your manager may not be able to accept it.

Review the policy. Before you submit your request for paid time off, review your company’s vacation policy. Sometimes, requests for PTO may need to be submitted months in advance. Or, you may not have accrued enough time to take your vacation. But the good news, according to Project: Time Off’s study, is that there’s been an increase of more than half a day in the amount of time off earned. This means the average employee earns 23.2 paid time off days. It also pays to be in good standing with your boss. Be sure you’ve been meeting your deadlines and performance expectations before planning a vacation.

Take a long weekend. Another way to get in your vacation is by taking a Friday or Monday off. This gives you a three-day weekend and more time to unwind. Or you could plan your mini-vacation by taking an extra day before or after a holiday. Some companies already offer decreased summer hours, so try and coordinate taking time off during these months.

Set up your OOTO email. Unplugging and relaxing during your vacation helps ensure you’ll be refreshed, not frazzled when you return. Once your vacation has been approved, notify clients you support or customers who will miss you while you are out of the office. Let them know the dates you will be out and communicate who will be available to handle emergencies in your absence. It’s equally important to make sure you set up your out-of-the-office email to indicate the dates you’ll be out and the right person to contact in case of an urgent situation.