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I have a problem with words in social situations: I obsess over their meaning and try to get my phrasing as exact as possible so as to convey my intent. This is an anxiety thing.

I would like time off. My workplace does the Paid-Time-Off pool for time off (just one set of time-off, no separate sick/vacation/etc). The general understanding around the workplace, however, is that taking time off is 'stealing time from the company.' This is, of course, not explicitly expressed, but it can be seen in the culture (no one takes time off unless they're really sick or they'll take it for a full week at a time). My boss also likes to make jests at his employee's expenses, and few others are willing to return them.

How do I ask for this time off? I feel like it's my time; I've earned it by consistently producing good material (single developer doing literally every task on a large project). But I don't want to say, "I'm taking time off." At the same time, because I feel like I've earned this time, I don't want to ask, "Can I have time off?"

Is there a magic bullet here, a perfect phrasing that I can use that expresses my desire for time off without implying that my boss has total control over my time off? Or does he, and I have to ask for it?

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    Only ask if it's a favor. If you're taking paid-time-off that you've accrued, then you don't ask, you tell. You've already earned that time, you don't need permission to use it. If your employer thinks otherwise, that's a sign that it might be time to start looking for a different employer. – aroth Sep 15 '12 at 7:05
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    @aroth: That might be overly self-confident and unnecessary. "I'm going to take a day off next week. Am I needed on Wednesday?" is still asking, but in closed form. It only allows two answers, yes and no. And a "yes" answer implies that you'll be away on another day. – MSalters Sep 21 '12 at 11:28
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    @aroth If you have accrued paid time off, you still cannot necessarily decide when you are able to take it. So you are still asking about taking your time off at a specific day. – skymningen Nov 22 '16 at 10:45
  • @skymningen - I agree with you only technically, insofar as most employment contracts probably say that leave must be requested and approved. In practice, however, it's in exceedingly poor form for an employer to actually refuse a leave request. Most never will, and if one does it's a pretty clear signal that you should probably start looking for somewhere else to work. – aroth Nov 22 '16 at 14:06
  • @Aroth, employers refuse leave requests all the time. They can't afford to have all three peopel who know the system off the same day for instance. It in no way indicates a bad place to work. Taking the time without asking is a good way to get fired at any place I have ever worked. Giving people advice that couldget them fired is bad form. – HLGEM Nov 23 '16 at 15:01
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You are obsessing over the small things, when there are larger issues at hand.

The phrasing hardly matters, so long as you are polite about it.

The problem with asking is that the answer might be "no" - if that's not an outcome you can live with, don't ask, but say it as if it has already been approved "I am taking my time off between x and y".

But the above is skirting the larger issue - the company culture that "taking time off is 'stealing time from the company.'". This is non-sense. Time-off is something that helps employees recharge and relax and return to work with renewed energy. Not having any time off is counter productive to the company. If the culture is such that you feel this is frowned upon, I would say you should seriously consider your future there.

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    This is also a company that expects their employees to be 'always on': always programming, always doing support stuff, always doing company things. Yes, I don't plan to be here long, but it's the first step in my career and I'm a bit nervous about everything... – Blechl Sep 14 '12 at 21:18
  • Thank you for your answer; I understand what the actual issue is (perception) more clearly now. – Blechl Sep 14 '12 at 21:21
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    Sounds like a sweatshop - an exploitative environment :( – Oded Sep 14 '12 at 21:21
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    @Blechl - My point about time off is that you have earned it. It is yours to take. Not the company. – Oded Sep 14 '12 at 21:22
  • I agree! :) Thanks again for a different perspective. – Blechl Sep 14 '12 at 21:24
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The time off is part of your entitled compensation specified in your contract. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using it, so be polite but assertive about it.

I usually use the phrasing, "I'm planning on taking vacation on…" That neither feels like I'm giving an order nor like I'm asking permission. If my plans are flexible and I suspect the timing may cause a hardship, I sometimes suggest alternative dates and ask which one would work better for the company. That might help you feel more confident that your boss thinks you're taking the best interests of the company into account.

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    It's always a good idea to check the dates are OK before making any definite bookings. That way, if there is a problem you can sort it out. – ChrisF Sep 15 '12 at 11:31
  • @ChrisF - Asking if it will cause any conflict is fine. You just leave yourself open to NOT taking the time off if they come back and give you an answer you don't like (i.e. "yeah we are doing a contract sell off and need you there all month" ). Telling your employeer you plan on taking it, and not asking that question, doesn't give your employeer an excuse not to allow it ( leave which I might add you already earned ). – Donald Sep 17 '12 at 12:40
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    @Ramhound - That is true, but what you don't want to happen is to book the holiday and then find you can't take the time off. Phasing it like Karl suggests is one way to minimise the chance of being turned down. I wasn't suggesting you should have to say "Please can I go on holiday", but that you should just check that the date are OK. – ChrisF Sep 17 '12 at 12:42
  • @ChrisF - I agree, its important not to ask permission, and simply make your supervisor aware you are taking leave. If there is a problem they will come to you to discuss it. – Donald Sep 20 '12 at 11:47
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You are entitled to the time off, that's for sure. But that doesn't mean you're entitled to next Wednesday off, if you have plenty of coworkers who will be away that day, or the last week of December, or all of June. You need to co-ordinate the specific dates with your company. That's why there is an element of asking. (Also: you haven't earned it by doing a great job or by being the only person who does what you do. You have earned it by breathing. Don't burn yourself out and then ask for a medal for that. PTO is a benefit for everyone and you should take it.)

The unwritten rules at your firm seem to be that you can use these days:

  • when you're really sick
  • for a proper, planned-in-advance vacation of a week or more

And you can't use them:

  • for five or ten short-notice "mental health day" instances, whenever you just feel like a day off
  • to make yourself long weekends and mini holidays many times throughout the year

I can hear you (and some other answerers) objecting to these rules, but they seem ok to me. It's better for you to take real vacation and people get fed up if one person on the team is "having a long weekend AGAIN" which is how it will feel if you use all ten days this way. If you want to take a week or more, just ask your boss "Is it ok if I take the last two weeks of October off?" and expect to get a yes. (In my firm, you'd get "sure, send me an email so I don't forget you'll be away.") If you want to take a day here and a day there, even though that goes against your company culture, make up a list of them and go to your boss saying "I have a bunch of personal business to take care of over the next few months and there are 8 days I will need to take off. Here's the list; is this ok?"

Don't nickel-and-dime yourself or the company taking short-notice single-day breaks until you have used up all your PTO. You won't get the rest you deserve (it's clear reading your question you need a real vacation) and the company will find planning harder as well. Take it in one or two bunches, or make a plan to use a pile of it over a shortish period of time, and either way get it all approved at once. Everyone will sleep easier, including you.

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    I would argue you can take a personal day if you want. Its as simple as calling the supervisor and requesting the day off. – Donald Sep 17 '12 at 12:36
  • Sure, one day, everyone should be able to do that. But if you do that a lot you are shortchanging yourself (and the company, but we've established that in this case no-one cares about the OP's employer.) – Kate Gregory Sep 17 '12 at 13:37
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Pick a specific day and when you ask for time-off, you can also ask if it is going to create a problem. If there is something specific going on that day, maybe you can ask for the next day.

Anyone who doesn't think people are going to need personal time is just a fool. They can't deny it forever. All this talk about taking company money makes "me think they doth protest too much." Seems like a lot of people like to talk about working instead of actually doing it. They're so busy where is the time to talk about not taking time off. It's all silly.

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