How To Ask Your Boss For More PTO

Here’s what to remember about negotiating more time off for yourself and your family.

by Jesse Will
Originally Published: 
A collage of two hands one handing small calendars to the other depicting on how to ask a boss for m...

You may still be at a full-time job you took several years ago, but you’re likely a different person than the one who showed up on day one. Your circumstances might have changed. Perhaps you started a family, and all of those snow days and sick days and appointments and whatever else have eaten into your allotted PTO. Maybe your spouse, or your parents, need care and attention that demands you be away from work for a while. Or maybe you’ve just worked your ass off and are in a field like tech, where some peers are pulling “unlimited PTO” while you’re clocking in like a chump. In any of these cases, you need more paid leave. So how do you talk to your company about it? Carefully. Here’s how to negotiate more PTO

1. Consider Your Timing

The average American job holder is offered just ten paid days off per year, aside from sick days and holidays, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not enough. The best time to negotiate for more, of course, is when you have the most leverage — before you accept the job. But if that ship has already sailed, the next best time to ask to expand your allotted paid time off is when you are up for a performance review. The annual review is a natural spot to ask for a way to be compensated for your above-and-beyond performance — especially if you’ve been told that a pay raise is either minimal or has been taken off the table.

2. Give Your Manager a Heads Up

Waltzing into your manager’s office and straight-up asking for four weeks of paid leave instead of your current three is a bad idea. According to organizational psychology expert Liane Davey, author of The Good Fight, a book about workplace conflict, by doing this you’re making it too easy for your boss to decline. “If you unload what you want on them at the drop of a hat, and they’re taken by surprise, you might get a ‘no’ reflexively,” she says. Instead, try introducing the topic at the end of a one-on-one meeting or Zoom call. Say something like, “A few things are changing for me at home — I'd love the opportunity to talk with you about what my work setup looks like and how I can be the most productive over the next stretch.”

Also, in most cases, unless you’re asking for time off for a health issue that requires privacy, approach your manager about it first — not HR.

3. Come in with a Plan

When you do sit down with your manager, bring up your loyalty first. “You want to lead with your commitment,” says Davey. Say you really love the job, mention your recent accomplishments, and talk about how you’re building steam recently. Give yourself a glow.

Next, say why you’re asking for more leave — mention what’s changed in your life — and ask if there’s a possibility for some flexibility. And third, go in with some kind of vision. Be prepared to explain what more time off for you might look like for your department, or how you’d handle your duties differently (if you’d need to).

Don’t go overboard arguing that your recent corporate wins are the reason why you deserve more paid time off. “Time off to tend to family needs isn’t a benefit that should have to be earned through accomplishments,” says psychologist Lindsay B. Jernigan, who works with teams and organizations as part of her practice. “You should never feel like you have to prove you’re worthy of self-care. Illness, loss, and other unexpected crises happen to everyone.” As you make your case, don’t forget that.

4. Arm Yourself With Your Company’s Values

Has your CEO spoken out about the importance of family on LinkedIn, or some such? Does your company have value statements about the quality of life? It might be a good idea to keep those in your back pocket to add to your case.

5. Don’t Give Your Manager an Ultimatum — Give Them a Question

Whenever possible, ask questions — even when you begin to get some pushback. Consider: “What would it look like for me to be able to take a couple of months of parental leave?” “What would it take for me to be able to leave at three to pick up my kids?” “How can I take a month off to care for my ailing father? How could we make that work?”

By asking questions you are identifying to your boss what it is you’re trying to solve and opening up the conversation. “You’re pushing them into problem-solving mode, which is inherently collaborative, not combative. So, if the manager wants to seem smart, they're going to do it by coming up with some win-win solution — they have some ego invested in it,” says Davey.

6. Didn’t Get the Outcome You Wanted? Use It as a Chance to Rethink

If you are rebuffed in your request or don’t feel comfortable making it at all, perhaps that should give you pause. “If you find that you don’t feel comfortable being open and vulnerable with your employer, perhaps you should consider it a sign that it’s not a safe and supportive environment where you’re likely to thrive, long term,” says Jernigan. Maybe it’s time to open your horizons and consider changing jobs to an employer where time off for family gets a fairer shake.

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