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A few years ago I had a job in which I received four weeks of vacation annually. Unfortunately, that position was defunded. When I took my next position, the new employer would only give me two weeks of vacation; when I said I'd rather have at least one more week of vacation they gave me a larger salary instead of more vacation, and then said they were not permitted to match my previous vacation level. Since then, I've changed jobs one more time; I was able to get a third week of vacation, but they also preferred to pay me more, rather than to give me a fourth week of vacation.

The industry I am in usually works by contracting services to other organizations. I realize that my employer doesn't get paid when I take time off, and that vacation actually costs them money. However, with the family responsibilities I have, I find that three weeks of annual vacation is insufficient for me to meet family obligations and also take a "real vacation" which allows me to properly re-charge.

When I pursue my next job, what arguments and negotiation tactics can I use to get more vacation time?

  • 16
    Move to Europe? :) 4 weeks vacation is a standard legal minimum in most countries. – Michael Feb 28 '13 at 14:53
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    +1 I have been wanting to see if companies go for this, if you do the math a week of vacation is less than 2% salary so it seems as though the two should be interchangeable but management seems to disagree – CincinnatiProgrammer Feb 28 '13 at 15:31
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    @PaulBrown You're making the mistake of valuing the employee's time at their salary rate, instead of the rate at which the company profits from the employee's work. The latter is clearly higher than the former (otherwise why would the company keep you employed?), and in many industries it can be a lot higher. – Tacroy Feb 28 '13 at 17:17
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    In the US, a lot of companies just are stuck in their ways. I recently passed on a job because I insisted on 3 weeks vacation. They came back 3 times increasing the salary proposal each time and just couldn't understand why the extra week of vacation was so important. Ultimately, companies that want talent will accomodate your request. Companies that want to simply put butts in seats likely won't. – DA. Feb 28 '13 at 20:15
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    Unfortunately, many hiring managers have no flexibility in the benefits they are allowed to offer, which are dictated by corporate policy - unless you have spent X years with that company, they simply won't offer more vacation. It's one of the main ways they chain you to the job. – JAGAnalyst Feb 28 '13 at 21:08
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If a company isn't in a position to offer more vacation, then you are wasting your time arguing and negotiating.

If you are working with an agency, make it clear to them that this is on your "must have" list. If you are in an interview, bring up the topic and see if they can meet your needs. If not, thank them for their time and let them know that you are not a good fit.

When negotiating for a job, there are must-haves on their list, and must-haves on your list. Unless this item isn't really a must-have, then arguments will be wasted.

Have you ever considered contracting? Most of my contractor friends can easily choose to take 4 weeks off between gigs.

  • +1 for the contracting suggestion. Short-term projects may be the best fit, especially if family obligations are not very predictable – JAGAnalyst Feb 28 '13 at 21:24
  • @JoeStrazzere: I did my 10 years at one place and got to 4 weeks of vacation. I've talked to many people who've done the same and then (successfully) bargained to stay at that level when they moved to another job. However, I was in a weak negotiating position when I sought my next job and wasn't able to retain that level of vacation. My desire is to find ways to negotiate for what I want/need here. – GreenMatt Mar 5 '13 at 20:18
  • Contracting has some attractiveness for the potentially lengthy breaks between jobs. However, when I've talked to people about that sort of work, there's usually little to no allowance for some things I need to deal with: being ill, field trips, sick kids, visiting out-of-town family at holidays, etc. Once I declined a 2 month contract job because it started in November and they refused to give any time off other than the legally required holidays in the period (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years), and I had committed to a Christmas visit with family which was a full day's drive away. – GreenMatt Mar 5 '13 at 20:27
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I don't really feel any of the answers effectively addresses this:

When I pursue my next job, what arguments and negotiation tactics can I use to get more vacation time?

Some companies may have defined vacation schedules and granting 4 weeks simply is not possible as you are finding. So don't only focus on "vacation time" but rather the end goal - the ability to take time off.

There are a variety of ways to get there you can explore during negotiation.

  • Can you purchase vacation? Does it matter if you have 3 weeks vacation and the option to buy another vs 4 weeks?
  • Can you take unpaid time off? Maybe the company allows unpaid leave but doesn't call it vacation.
  • Does the company offer personal/sick days? If offered, these can sometimes be used interchangeably with vacation days. It is good to know if the company requires use of vacation for sick days too.
  • Ask if the company allows flexible working schedules. Working 12:00-8:00pm on a day you have a morning obligation or working 10 hour days Monday-Thursday or some variant, etc.
  • Find the company holiday schedule. For example not having to use vacation for Christmas time or the Friday after Thanksgiving can increase your "effective" vacation.
  • Can you take partial days vacation? This can stretch vacation, especially combined with flexible hours. Take a 1/2 day vacation and still put in 4 hours in the evening, etc.

The question is not "how much vacation" but, "how can I get time off from work from levers the hiring manager CAN pull?" Find what levers the person wanting to hire you can manipulate.

No hiring manager (that you want to work for at least...) has the perspective of, "no, we don't want you out of the office more than 2 weeks a year, so unfortunately I'm going to shoot down all your hopes for working out any alternatives, have a nice day." They want to find something that works just as much as you do.

2

Some companies will let you purchase vacation time. You refund them a portion of each paycheck during the year so that you get an extra week or two that you can charge to vacation. It is revenue neutral, the benefit is that you don't have to deal with LWOP (leave without pay) for those extra days. Typically they will refund your money for the unused portion of the extra vacation if you don't use it all, or you may be able to carry it over to the next year.

Some will allow alternate work schedules. You work 10 hours days for 4 days, so that you get an extra day off per week. Others allow you to work 9 hours a day for 8 days, then 8 hours for one day, getting an extra day every two weeks.

These are alternates if they can't grant you the extra time off. The issue is being able to charge customers a high enough rate for enough hours to generate enough income to afford your pay and enhanced benefits.

  • Thanks for the suggestions. The option of "buying" an extra week has never been available to me. The alternative work schedules are known to me. Most places I've worked allow such to some extent, but there are strict limits; for example, if you want time off for extra time worked, you must take that time off within the same pay period. So, if this week (Feb. 25 - March 1, 2013) I had worked 10 hours each day on Monday - Thursday, I would still be expected to work on Friday. – GreenMatt Feb 28 '13 at 19:27
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Vacation time is a strange concept in the US. Unlike salary and some other benefits, it's more obvious if someone has more than others. I've never been anywhere that this wasn't established at a corporate level with possibly a tiered schedule based on senority and/or position.

It's important to pick the right hiring manager. Try to find one that is willing to go to bat for their team instead of hiding behind corporate policy. I had one manager who really went out of his way to make sure HR indicated January 1 as my hiring date, so I wouldn't have to wait another year to qualify for the 401K.

Unfortunately, it usually requires you to be with a company for a few years before you can negotiate beyond the company policy. I worked at one place that refused to let me work one day a week at home (I made the request during a very positive annual review; my boss wouldn't even ask.), but when I moved to another city, they agreed to let me do it all the time. I guess it was easier on the manager to make this request than go through the trouble of hiring someone else.

Maybe you can try and work during a holiday or weekend and then let you roll the day into a vacation period.

  • Regarding your work-at-home request, it's all about BATNA. When you asked for one day at home, their BATNA was that you carried on doing exactly what you'd done before, work in the office. Employers find it very easy to say something is "impossible" when they lose nothing by refusing. When you moved city, their BATNA was that you quit. Employers find it very easy to make the impossible possible as soon as it does cost them something to refuse. – Steve Jessop Jul 29 '14 at 9:11
  • @SteveJessop - I disagree with the one day at home request being the same as if I worked at the office from the company's perspective. Without the commute time, fatigue and interruptions, I showed I could get more work done. Also, allowing to work from home, made my company just as competitive as future jobs that could offer me a shorter commute time (all other things being equal of course). – user8365 Jul 29 '14 at 13:31
  • what do you mean by "I showed"? Do you mean that in that appraisal you presented evidence and your boss agreed that it would be of benefit to the company for you to work at home one day a week, but nevertheless refused to consider the request? I just mean that to explain that company's decision it's completely irrelevant what is true about working from home, it only matters what they believe. If they turned the request down, someone must think it would be worse (or is tossing coins in place of thinking at all). – Steve Jessop Jul 29 '14 at 13:42
  • Oh, and I didn't mean WAH was the same as being in the office. I meant that their BATNA was "no change occurs". If they're happy with you as you are, working in the office, then that's a pretty good incentive for them not to negotiate what they see as being a concession to you, even if you strongly believe they could be even happier with you under other circumstances (and even if you're right). Once it's a case of "meet my request or I quit" they're playing a completely different game. – Steve Jessop Jul 29 '14 at 13:44
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Let me get this straight

  • You clearly strongly desire more vacation time
  • You are actively contemplating changing jobs in order to obtain this

It seems to me that you should inform your current employer that they are liable to lose your services (which they apparently value) if no flexibility can be found in this area. In the meantime actively research your next position and make it abundantly clear to any company that you contact that you require a minimum of four weeks annual vacation. If you can find companies that meet your criteria that greatly strengthens your negotiating position.

I highly recommend reading a book on negotiation before engaging in these conversations: my favourite is "Getting Past No" by William Ury.

  • It seems to me that you should inform your current employer that they are liable to lose your services. A lot of companies will kick you to the curb immediately if you present them with an ultimatum. – Ninja Edit Aug 26 '15 at 12:14
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Depending on what your family situation is, you may be able to take FMLA leave at no pay, either for a chunk of time or intermittently throughout the year.

However, some employers frown on this, and I'd recommend ethically disclosing your special needs to a future employer up front.

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    FMLA is overkill here: This is about stuff like taking my turn as chaperone when school field trips come up, or taking a couple days off for cross country travel to attend a family events like holiday gatherings, graduations, weddings, etc. – GreenMatt Mar 1 '13 at 14:00

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