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I applied to attend a 10 day silent meditation retreat at the end of March/beginning of April this year and my application was accepted. My plan is to take those days off as unpaid leave.

For context, I work at a research company with 2800+ employees worldwide, based in the US. The company is pretty good about promoting a healthy work-life balance and usually provides a good deal of flexibility.

Now, my question is: Should I tell HR that I'm going to a meditation retreat? Self-exploration may not be seen as a "good enough" reason for taking time off in corporate America. Would it be better to come up with another excuse?

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    What's your company policy for time off? You seem to be assuming there will be a subjective evaluation of your request, when it seems more likely there is an objective policy that would dictate your answer. – dwizum Jan 22 at 15:58
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    Does your company allow unpaid leave? I've worked places that did not. – thursdaysgeek Jan 22 at 18:30
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    As long as you give them plenty of notice and your request does not overlap any major events (project deadlines, deliveries, etc) that you have to support, nobody will care. Just say you are taking some time off and that's it. – ventsyv Jan 22 at 21:40
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    Just to clarify, are you not allocated any paid leave, or have used all your paid leave already? – fjw Jan 23 at 4:30
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    Strictly speaking, this comment is off topic, but here goes anyway: congratulations on being accepted for your retreat, that sounds absolutely wonderful! I this all works out for you. – KlaymenDK Jan 23 at 8:57
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Should I tell HR that I'm going to a meditation retreat? Self-exploration may not be seen as a "good enough" reason for taking time off in corporate America. Would it be better to come up with another excuse?

You are taking a vacation.

Assuming you are normally permitted to take unpaid time off when desired, there's absolutely no reason HR needs to know what you plan to do during that vacation. In a company of 2800+, they have far bigger issues to worry about.

There's no need to come up with any excuse. "Taking an unpaid vacation" is all anyone needs to know.

If taking unpaid leave would require an exception to normal processes, you can still indicate that these 10 days are vacation time (they are). You'll have to judge for yourself if more justification is needed in order to secure the exception. If more justification is required, then just be completely transparent and explain about the retreat.

In companies where I have worked, unpaid leave must be approved by a manager before it is granted. If that's the case in your company, next time get your manager's approval before applying to a retreat. And in that case, HR will seldom care at all as long as a manager has approved.

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    We just had a Tech Lead take a 2 month sabbatical. As long as your manager approved with all of the paperwork needed, you don't have to disclose why you're going on vacation and you don't need to disclose the leave is unpaid. – jcmack Jan 21 at 20:46
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    +1 for the last sentence. Unpaid leave does not cost company any money directly, and only manager knows if it would cost company indirectly, so pretty much everywhere I worked it was managers call. – Mołot Jan 22 at 12:38
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    @Molot Well, paying your benefits (health insurance, etc.--assuming you have such things) does cost the company directly, and they generally can't cancel it for the two weeks you are unpaid. That's why normally taking unpaid leave (vs paid leave that's in your contract) is an exception that requires approval. It helps to go into any negotiation knowing what you're asking from the other side. – user3067860 Jan 22 at 14:40
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    @user3067860 in Poland, unpaid leave does not count as employment time for ZUS (our social security agency) and employer does not have to pay for that. Employee can cover health insurance out of his own pocket if he wishes. So I guess it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. – Mołot Jan 22 at 14:43
  • Make sure your employer is not expecting you to receive/answer any phone calls, e-mail, etc. from them while you are out. – SolutionMill Jan 22 at 21:00
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One more time with feeling....

HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

Consider HR on a need to know basis.

If they don't need to know, don't tell them.

Talking to HR is like talking to the police, "Everything you say can and will be used against you".

Now, if HR does demand a reason, YOU TELL THEM THE TRUTH! You do not lie to HR, not ever. Lying to HR will in the very least result in a note in your file, at most, termination with a "do not rehire" note in your file.

So, be ready to be turned down if they don't like the reason.

If you can be vague with something like "I need to deal with some personal business", do so, but do not give details unless required.

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    Absolutely agree with this answer, I would add: in the event they want to turn down your request you could then suggest you need this for your health and wellbeing (which is probably true anyway) and this is something that may be backed up by a doctor. I've never seen HR turn down a request backed up with a letter from a doctor. – solarflare Jan 21 at 21:33
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    @code_dredd some industries can have times where they only want a certain number of staff away on leave so there is still enough staff to work. If the quota is full then you might need a good reason (ie a medical reason) to demand leave. HR normally wouldn't ask why you're leaving but they can refuse approval in which case you want to be prepared. – solarflare Jan 21 at 22:51
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    @paul23 that's really context sensitive. If something has happened and you need help, yes, the police can be your friend. If you're being questioned, there's no upside for you, and you need to get representation before saying anything other than requesting what legal representation you're legally entitled to in that jurisdiction. – Morgen Jan 22 at 1:41
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    I agree with do not lie to HR, but, "Now, if HR does demand a reason, you tell them the truth!" is not an only option. Another quite valid option is to say "It is a private matter so if I can't get leave without disclosing it, I will retract my leave request" or something like that. – Mołot Jan 22 at 12:40
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    I agree with this. I learned the hard way at two very different companies that HR is there to protect the company, not the employee. They will not tell you your rights, but they will tell you the policy. I would not tell them anything unless it is absolutely required. And, definitely, don't lie. But, you don't want to be passed over for another position in the company if a silent meditation retreat would be considered weird to some managers, because HR will put it in your file and leave it to be viewed. – DataGirl Jan 22 at 20:21

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