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I've been with my company for about two years since I graduated college.

I always wanted to travel when I was in college but didn't have the funds. I think that, since then, I've come up with a solid plan and resources for extended travel. I'm aiming for 6 weeks, and at minimum 1 month. Unfortunately, I will only have about 2 weeks paid time off, so I plan to ask for another month of leave - without pay. Of course this could simply boil down to whether or not my manager (and his manager) approves, but I want to increase my chances of success.

Some relevant points:

  1. My manager loves traveling and has traveled extensively.
  2. My projects are solely internal development and I usually am not under the pressure of deadlines.
  3. I've been at the company about 2 years, and I am set for a promotion in 2 months. This is exactly the time I hope to set off on my trip.
  4. It's possible that I might want to leave this company in a few months' time. So I do not wish to sour any relationships by asking for this favor and then leaving.
  5. I have considered the possibility of leaving this job in 2 months and then travelling without a time restriction and then returning to find a job. But I think I should be concerned about finding work, because I have been doing a few interviews (for coding/systems engineering positions) and haven't had any luck yet.
  6. I'm American and this type of thing isn't common here for some reason.

Forgot to mention, and this is probably the most important factor: I am paid hourly. So I will ask to get about 1 month unpaid-time-off.

How do I go about asking my boss for extended leave to travel abroad and increase the chances of success?

  • 2
    It doesn't change the culture much if any, but it's worth noting that in large parts of Europe, around one month of paid time off is commonplace. (In Sweden most people have five weeks of paid vacation time per year, for example.) If your boss has travelled extensively, he is probably aware of that difference of culture, and you might be able to leverage that point. However, do not use that as an argument to force the issue (even if your boss doesn't say it outright, it is highly likely to result in a "if you like that so much, then why don't you move there?" kind of response). – a CVn Jun 5 '13 at 9:48
  • does your company hand book not cover unpaid leave? – Pepone Aug 14 '14 at 21:00
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    If you're intending to leave anyway, why not just leave a gap between the employments? Tricky to arrange, perhaps, but not impossible – Jon Story Jan 2 '15 at 1:02
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Rephrasing the Question

It seems you are asking us, "How do I get my current company to give me an extended time off so that I have a job to come back to while looking for another position?" What you give us as background is contradictory:

It's possible that I might want to leave this company after a few months later. So, I do not wish to sour any relationships by asking for this favor and then leaving.

I have considered the possibility of leaving this job in 2 months and then travelling without time restriction and then returning to find a job. But I think I should be concerned about finding work, because I have been doing a few interviews (for coding/systems engineering positions) and haven't had any luck yet.

(emphasis mine)

If you don't want to sour relationships, it obviously isn't a brilliant idea to ask a huge favor and then plan to leave. If you don't want to leave without having a job lined up, then you probably shouldn't fixate on traveling in two months. If you don't want to stay in this job long, you're probably better off focusing on finding a new position rather than focusing on traveling. Asking for a long vacation is not a small thing, and the casualness with which this question reads doesn't sit well with me.

I hope it was a brief lapse in judgment, and that thinking it through will set things straight.

Put Yourself in your Boss' Shoes

So your boss just promoted you. He said to his bosses, "CareerQuestions is responsible and hard-working. I want to give him a promotion and a raise." He has put his neck out for you.

And how do you repay your boss? "Thanks for the promotion, by the way, could you convince your bosses to give me another 6 weeks of unpaid leave before I get that promotion?"

So let's say he's a really nice boss. And he says, "Sure CareerQuestions, if that's what it takes for you to be happy, I am more than willing to help you out." He expends political capital to convince his management you're worth giving the special treatment to, and covers for the position you're absent from for the 6 weeks.

Upon coming back, you find yourself another job in a couple weeks/months. You come in to your boss and say, "Hey boss, thanks for everything, here is my two weeks notice."

How are you going to feel about that?

You have fought for this employee not once, but twice. You put your personal reputation on the line on the assumption that the employee would not abuse your trust. Instead, the employee was being 100% selfish and gave absolutely no consideration to what impact their actions would have on you or the company.

Think you'll get a nice recommendation letter?

Ethical Choices

You have three choices:

  • Ask and live with the answer
  • Ask and quit if the answer is no
  • Don't ask and find a job that will give you time before starting

Abide by your Boss' Decision

Go in and talk to your boss:

Hey boss, I was wondering if before starting at my new position in August, I could take 6 weeks off (unpaid of course). I know it is a big favor to ask, but I've always wanted to travel, and since I will be handing my responsibilities off before switching to the new role, this seems like the best time to do that. I know there is no ideal time to ask for a long break, but you can't get what you don't ask for!

If your boss says "no" then you ask if there's the possibility in the future, and live with whatever he says. Because he is your boss. And he's already given you a promotion. And this is a mighty big favor to ask.

Be Willing to Lose the Promotion/Job

The second option will give you a better chance at getting the job, but at a bigger personal risk. You ask the same as the above, but are willing to say the following depending on the situation:

I know I was just promoted, and if the promotion is the only issue with me taking an extended unpaid leave, I am more than happy to pass on the promotion because this is important to me.

Or even in a more extreme case (where the boss says it is flat out impossible).

I understand it's a big request and I'm sorry to have put you in such a tough situation. This is incredibly important to me, much more so than this job, and if that's the choice I have to make I will hand in my resignation letter and give notice.

In the best case your boss decides that keeping you is more important than whatever barriers there are to agreeing to your request, and you get what you want without giving up anything. In the worst case, you quit the job and get to travel.

Realize that if he gives permission, there is an expectation that this will prevent you from quitting. If you return and quit you will burn bridges. Very quickly. And for good reason.

Don't Ask

If you aren't willing to give up your job or your travel, then your only other choice is to negotiate with other companies. Don't tell your boss about your plans to travel, and keep looking for other jobs. When you discuss your plans with other potential employers, be clear that you will be ready to start from date X, where X is your notice period plus six weeks for traveling. This way you have a job waiting for you when you come back, and the future employer is agreeing to let you do that up front.

  • Excellent points. Regarding the interviewing and not wanting to sour relationships, I can see why you thought this was a contradiction. What I meant was that I was previously attempting to land another job, and thought about quitting before travelling. Thus the interviews. But if I decide to stay, management approves the travel, how long do I need to stay to not make it look bad? Again I'm asking for 1-2 months travel. I've worked for 2 years. Is there a minimum period I should stay to be polite? Obviously, I should work where I'm happy, but I'll consider that another question. – CareerQuestions Jun 6 '13 at 7:32
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If the place you work is large enough to have written policies, see if they have one about leaves of absence. My policy is that anyone can have a leave of up to a year. You get no pay, you accrue no vacation time, but I keep your benefits going. You can't claim unemployment - if you want to do that, you can ask me to lay you off for a while, and I will, but your benefits will stop in that case. This is a rule of the insurance company that I can't change.

That said, I would expect as much notice as possible. If the reason is a family emergency of some kind, you can't give me notice, and I'm cool with that. But if the reason is that you want to travel, and you come to ask me when you've booked all the tickets and made all the plans, I'd be irritated. Checking with me that the leave is ok should have been step 1.

I would discourage some sort of hybrid partly-working thing for most staff. Someone who is really key to the company and who has plans that involve staying in one place for a week or two, then going to another place, and so on, I might agree to working for a few days a week. But the chances are high that I will be paying salary for someone to keep "coming up to speed" on what is going on. I would need to have little other choice to be ok with that.

If your company has no policy, consider that your request may form the basis of the policy going forward. Behave in the way that you would like future colleagues to behave when they leave you behind for a few months.

7

For your boss’ part, they would probably would love to help you, but your extended vacation might be hard for the company to weather. Be considerate of the difficulty your request poses.

Planning

Draft a plan for your extended vacation, being as specific as possible. Include details about how long you will be gone, how much work you can accomplish while out of the office, what chance there is of you not coming back at all and any other details that can help your boss process your request. Try to anticipate your boss’ concerns. Potential issues might include what projects will have to be put on hold, which employees can fill in for you and whether you'll be willing to forego pay and benefits for the duration of your extended vacation.

Meeting

Ask for a private meeting to discuss your request. Explain your plan and offer clear assurances to counter your boss' worries. Be understanding of your boss’ predicament. For example, your company’s vacation policy might prohibit extended vacations, making it impossible for your boss to approve your request.

Compromise

If there is a significant problem with your plan, try to devise a workable compromise. For example, perhaps you can ease the workload for others by working overtime before your departure date or coming in occasionally during your vacation. Another option is to drastically reduce your hours instead of taking a vacation. For instance, a work-sharing arrangement involves two employees working part-time to do the tasks of one typical full-time worker. Or perhaps you can try non-traditional work hours or telecommuting, which will allow you to work during more convenient times. Finally, you can offer to take the extended vacation in lieu of a promotion or salary increase.

Considerations

Prepare yourself for a rejection. An extended vacation might be too difficult for your company to bear. If taking an extended vacation is a necessity, you might need to leave your job. If possible, help your boss find and train your replacement before you leave. Another possibility is postponing your extended vacation until a time when it is easier for the company to compensate for a missing employee.

  • 6
    This seems like a useful answer to the general question of taking a long vacation (due to stress perhaps) but not to the specific question asked here. For example the question says "without pay of course" but you say it's a good idea to discuss whether you're willing to forgo pay. The question says the OP wants to travel; you say come in every few days or just work less hours each week. These aren't good suggestions for someone touring another continent. – Kate Gregory Jun 4 '13 at 19:41
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It is okay to spare your boss' interest some thought but we dont live in SciFi fiction: you cannot know what your employer thinks unless you ask them. Your own considerations should be:

  • how much money have you got saved (for travel and to help you bridge a possible period of unemployment)
  • what are your expenses, do you have a mortgage that needs paying during your travels?
  • how in demand is your skillset? How quick can you find a new job? Also bear in mind that ideally you would want your next job to be better than your current, but if you come back from traveling unemplyed, you will not be so picky.

There is nothing wrong with asking your boss for 2 months, negociating it down to 6 weeks and then make your plans definite. (That's what i did.) If they say 'no' then you put extra effort in finding a new job, and negociating you start after your travels. Or you quit and find a new job when you come back. Or you give it a few more months, save up extra cash and then quit/renegociate/find a new job.

I stressed a great deal before asking my boss, but it turned out easy. Admittedly, this was in the Netherlands, where this is more common. Someone i know left for 3 months, and because he was really hard to replace his boss let him. His wife though had to quit her job as she was not so irreplaceble. A friend rented treir flat when they were away.

The thing i regret? Really not going for a longer period of time. I met so many people travelling for months, not a measly 6 weeks as i did. Admittedly most of them were students or self-employed, but not all of them were. Remember: it's your life!

As for what is a fair period to stay after, if they grant you your leave, that's a difficult one. We had a colleague stay with us for about two years during which she had 4 months (governement payed) maternity leave. One person felt 'she had used us', i disagree. In your case its only 6 weeks, which shouldnt be a huge deal unless it's during a particulary busy period. You can never make everyone happy but you should try to be fair. And to give you some perspective, see this question where the employer pays for a degree, and you're only asking for a little time off!

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Our resident blogger, Carmen, has answered this question at this blog post here - she took a month off work after only having started her new job for a month. In summary, our top tips are (1) know your worth; (2) get your timing right; (3) frame your request correctly; and (4) think long-term. Check out our blog post for the details of how to get these things right.

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