Start planning now to make sure you use your vacation days in 2020, says career expert


Vacation is not something Americans do well, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research's "No-Vacation Nation" report. Even when Americans get paid time off, they don't use it all. And when they do take advantage of paid time off, the report finds, they have a hard time unplugging.

"It's important to use vacation days because they're there for a reason," says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. Taking time off can actually increase your productivity when you are in the office because it gives you an opportunity to recharge, Salemi says.

Here's how to make the most of your paid time off in 2020 and beyond.

Plot out how you'll use your PTO

At the start of the year, figure out how many paid days off you're allotted. Then look at your calendar and decide on some of the potential dates you want to take off.

You may have a friend's wedding on your agenda, or you want to make sure you're off when your kids are on spring break. Run those dates by your boss sooner rather than later.

When figuring out your next vacation, it's always a good idea to look at your company calendar to see if there's an important event or project deadline you can't miss. "Keep the needs of your company in mind," Salemi says. "If you're a tax attorney, you wouldn't ask for vacation days in April." In general, she adds, "there's no steadfast rule, but the earlier you tell your manager, the better."

Mapping out requests helps you avoid losing them at the end of the year. More than half of Americans had seven days of paid time remaining ahead of the holiday season, according to a survey from Priceline, which polled more than 1,000 adults in October.

Here's how to save money on holiday spending

Video by David Fang

'Prepare, so you can feel at ease'

"Before taking time off, properly prepare, so you can feel at ease when you're away," says Remy Schneier, HR manager at fitness company P.volve. "Set up time with your manager before your time off to discuss any outstanding items and how you plan to handle what you'll miss when you're out."

Planning ahead will set you up for a more relaxing vacation. If your work is covered by someone else, or if you were able to get your responsibilities squared away before taking time off, it's less likely you'll hear from your boss when you're trying to relax.

In addition, prepping in advance will show your employer that you are thoughtful, responsible, and that you care about making sure your work gets done.

Unplug while you're out of the office

Nearly 60% of American workers admitted to checking in with their bosses or co-workers at least once a day while on vacation, according to a 2019 report from LinkedIn, which used Censuswide to survey more than 1,000 working professionals between the ages of 18 and 74.

That's a bad idea and can lead to burning out. The World Health Organization, an agency that guides many health providers and organizations, recently included "burnout" in its International Classification of Diseases, defining it as a syndrome resulting from "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

Having the self-discipline to unplug while away is hard, but it's also really important, says Salemi. And a lot of the time, the stress you're feeling is self-imposed. Employers should want you to actually use your days off to rest, recover and come back energized. "Companies don't want to have burnt out employees: It causes retention issues and productivity issues."

Before you accept a job offer, check the PTO policy

If you're in the market for a new job, paid time off (PTO) is something you should ask about during the interview process. "Vacation benefits are a factor that can help you decide whether or not a job is right for you," Salemi says. Ask about the policy, if you can accrue additional time the longer you've been with the company, and if you can cash out or roll over days from year to year.

"You should think of those days as part of your compensation package," she says. "Time is money. Let's say you have five days and if you don't use it, you lose it. You're losing out on money even if it's not necessarily money in your pocket."

More from Grow: