How to use your vacation before you lose it

These strategies can help you take your vacation time before the end of this year—or at least help you get off to a good start for next year.
By Sheon Wilson

CPAs are busy throughout the year, so finding time for vacation may be difficult. The year is three quarters gone, and those who don't act quickly are in danger of losing vacation days they've worked hard to earn.

But doing so is possible—and necessary. "From a health standpoint, we want employees to take vacation, because they get a break and come back refreshed," said Beth B. De Lima, CEO of HRM Consulting Inc., which helps clients with HR policy development and implementation.

These strategies may help you use your vacation before the end of this year, or at least help you get off to a good start for next year.  

1. Bone up on the policy. You're more likely to get the vacation days you're entitled to if you follow your organization's rules to the letter. Your organization has rules spelling out how and when you take vacation. Should you get approval a month in advance? Will you lose time you haven't used? Step one is to know what those rules are.

2. Schedule it now. Tell your supervisor right away how you plan to use vacation time that will expire in December. If you wait too long, co-workers may have already asked off for the same days, which could complicate your plans. In the future, try to schedule the majority of your vacation by February or even by the end of the year before. Requesting your vacation early helps your company manage human resources issues related to staffing and benefits, De Lima said.

3. Take a block. It takes about two weeks to mentally leave work behind, said filmmaker John de Graaf, whose documentary The Great Vacation Squeeze explores the importance of vacations in modern life. De Graaf suggested an extended vacation. "You need to take a block of time, even if it's only a week, where you really get a break," he said. "That has to happen often enough that you can recover, because people who put in the hours that CPAs do need some decent recovery time."

4. Take a day or two. While you can probably schedule a week or maybe two off at the same time, most of us can't take off three weeks in a row at one time, even at the end of the year. It helps to whittle down that big block a bit by taking a day off every once in a while to run errands or just as a mental health day. "When we have employees taking time off, even if it's just a half-day vacation, they will be more able to handle the challenges of a high-pressure job," De Lima said.

5. Ask for help. There's a bigger problem if you can't find time to take vacation, De Lima said. Sit down with your supervisor or an HR representative to figure it out. "If your job load is so high that taking time off prevents you from doing your work, then maybe you're taking vacation at the wrong time," she said.

6. Pick the right company and boss. If you value extended time off, an organization that discourages long vacations will make you unhappy long term. "That's something you can discover during the interviewing process," De Lima said.

Sheon Wilson is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, AICPA senior manager, newsletters.

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