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I am 23 and I have been working as an Assistant Brand Manager for a global brand at one of the leading FMCGs in the region for a year and a half now. Although my title is Assistant Brand Manager, I have been managing the brand on my own for over 7 months now, reporting directly to the Marketing Director after the Brand Manager transferred to another department.

Over the past couple of months, I have started to feel worn out and extremely demotivated, until I reached the point where I actually went into the Group Marketing Director's office and told her I wanted to leave. After an hour long discussion, where she told me how she understood that I'm under an exceptional amount of pressure, and that she could see a huge potential in me and that they were giving me a salary increase, she convinced me to give it another try. It's been 2 weeks, and it's getting worse, I feel like I'm getting depressed by the hour and if I don't get a break soon I will snap.

So, my question is, is it too soon to ask for a month of unpaid leave? Is unpaid leave even an option in this case?

  • Would hiring an assistant for you help? One time when I was feeling overloaded my manager talked over what I was doing, identified a subset that any good Java programmer could do, and hired a programmer to do that part of my job. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 7 '16 at 22:42
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    You really need to find another way to solve this. If your job is miserable, get your resume out to other firms ASAP, but with a handful of exceptions it's much easier to find a job when you don't have to explain why you throw over your desk and left. – user42272 Feb 8 '16 at 0:29
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    Just for perspective: in Europe, it is the norm for everyone to get a month of paid leave once a year, with enough days off left to cover eventualities and family visits. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 8 '16 at 9:06
  • Sounds like a tough situation. I’d say it’s at least worth talking to your manager again to explain what you’re going through — it sounds like your work is currently taking a substantial toll on your mental health, and that’s not something you have to put up with. – Paul D. Waite Feb 8 '16 at 10:24
  • I would go on a two week holiday and see how you feel after that – Ed Heal Feb 8 '16 at 12:44
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You can ask for whatever you like. You may even get it - normally, the "worst case scenario" is that they say "No. And by the way, you're fired as well", but it doesn't sound like you'd think that was the end of the world, so there's pretty much no downsides to asking.

However, I'd question if a month's leave is really what you want. As I see it:

  • You'd under so much pressure at work you feel you want to quit.
  • You told your boss about this, and they said "You're great. Have a pay rise", but didn't actually do anything to fix the problems.
  • Two weeks later, the problems are still there and not unsurprisingly you still feel pretty awful about your job.

If you take a month's leave, is anything going to have changed? Will things be any different when you come back? If not, you're just postponing problems rather than fixing them.

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    Exactly, OP should be asking about the timeline for replacing the former brand manager, as it sound like he doesn't want to take over the role himself. – Lilienthal Feb 7 '16 at 19:29
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    Things probably will be different when the OP returns from a month's leave - they'll have a month of backlog on top of their already too-heavy workload! – Carson63000 Feb 7 '16 at 23:26
  • I'll disagree. If OP's problem is mainly accumulated stress and not an untenable work situation (and the question doesn't really say), then a month off may very well be what he needs - this is why people get weekends off and paid leave in the first place! And @JoeStrazzere: I submit that if nobody else can do your job for a month, you are proving that you are incompetent at delegating, and careless. What if you get sick/injured and are unavailable without any warning? "Irreplacable" employees are a risk, not an asset. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 8 '16 at 9:00
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    @MichaelBorgwardt Please don't go to such absolutes. If someone got promoted to sole director of a department that would need 3 people to manage the work, who is he supposed to delegate to? Are you going to blame that person for higher management's incompetence and refusal to hire sufficient staff? Irreplaceable employees are a risk but a sad reality in many mismanaged companies. – Lilienthal Feb 8 '16 at 9:53
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    @Lilienthal: you're absolutely correct of course that it may not be the fault of the employee in question. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 8 '16 at 10:44
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I'm going to take a different tack - because while you do sound like you need leave, it won't really do much in the long term because the job will be there when you get and you will quickly wear down again.

You need to fix this situation. You.

When you went to your boss, it seems like you said "hey, I feel overworked, I'm losing my motivation, and I'm thinking about moving on". They heard this, and though "this person is doing good work, maybe a rise will make give them motivation".

What you need to do is go in with a plan. If you think that another person is needed, write up a document that lists all the work you do for your job. More importantly, list all the work that you should be doing, but don't have time for. Explain how all that work will bring more value to the company than what you can achieve alone.

This is exactly the process I followed when I found that I needed to split half of my responsibilities to someone else. The immediate outcome was that I was able to reprioritise those responsibilities, giving me more time and less stress. The second outcome was that a new staff member was hired to handle all those things that weren't considered core to my role.

So, when you go to see your boss again, think about what the actual outcome you want is, and present a plan.

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    That might be the direct question - I just don't see that it will help their situation. – HorusKol Feb 7 '16 at 22:51
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    @JoeStrazzere the question was also "is unpaid leave even an option in this case" - and the answer is no,its not an option as the problem will still be present when the OP returns. – gbjbaanb Feb 8 '16 at 9:51
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You can ask for a months leave without pay. You probably will be declined and it may not solve your underlying issues.

A month is a long time and it seems that you are a key staff member in your role, so it would be very disruptive since someone would have to cover your role. Perhaps more constructive (assuming you don't want to quit) is to keep pressuring for a reduction in duties and/or another staff member to assist you.

When roles become too big it's fairly normal to split the responsibilities with someone else to avoid problems like this. So if you feel that your role is more than a one person job, make that known. Meet with management and hash out what can be done to reduce your workload and suggest that you need someone to assist.

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While I agree with everyone else that taking a month off is probably not the best solution to this asker's specific problem, I feel like it's also worth answering the actual question asked, "Can I Ask For a Month of Unpaid Leave?"

There's a term for this: Leave Without Pay, often shortened to "LWOP".

Larger companies with HR departments should either have a formal LWOP policy, or, have a policy to not have a policy. There should never be any harm in asking what your company's policy on LWOP is.

The standard definition is set out on this US Chamber of Commerce "HR Practitioners" page. While an American page, the policy is identical to the basic terminology my last British employer used, so it appears to be pretty standard:

Leave without pay (LWOP) is an approved temporary absence from duty in a nonpay status re-quested by an employee. The term does not cover a suspension, furlough, an absence for which leave has not been approved, or nonpay status during hours or days for which an employee would be compensated on an overtime basis.

Extended LWOP is a period of LWOP exceeding 30 calendar days.

...

The authorization of LWOP is a matter of administrative discretion and may not be demanded by an employee, except that [three military and family related US-specific exceptions]

But note that it is a case of authorisation, do you should expect to go through some kind of application process, which will likely include explaining why you want this leave.

To give one real-life example, my previous employer's LWOP policy was something like this:

  • You needed your manager's approval for standard (<30 days), and approval from higher up the food chain for extended (>30 days) including a conversation with HR about whether a temporary replacement was needed
  • There was a formula for how much notice needed to be given. I believe it was roughly double the amount of days requested, although exceptions could be made if the need was an unexpected emergency
  • For extended LWOP there was an expectation that you give a business justification (which could be like, "this is for a family emergency and without leave I'll have to resign")

Obviously that's just one example, different employers' policies will vary. People in my team used standard LWOP for things like, taking a baby to visit relatives overseas, honeymoons, supporting family members through challenges, etc, but my employer was pretty family-friendly so I don't know how well other employers would treat such requests.

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