Tips for Asking for Time Off at the Holidays

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During the holiday season many of us want to spend time with friends and family, without having to worry about work-related responsibilities. The trouble is, many of your colleagues have the same idea. Add the fact that some people are in fields where work must continue throughout the holidays, and you have a tricky challenge to navigate.

Employers have to juggle requests in order to keep employees happy and to make sure that the workload is covered.


It can be a challenging time of year to ask for—and to be granted —extra time off work.

That's especially true if you work for an organization (such as a retail company) that is particularly busy during the holiday season.

Tips for Asking for Time Off for the Holidays

When you want to take time off for the holidays, it's important to be flexible, to be willing to give as well as to get, to plan to ask early, if possible, and to be able to offer solutions for getting your work covered (if necessary) while you're away.

Here are tips for successfully asking for time off from work during the holiday season.

Know What Time Off You Have Available

Before you ask for holiday time off, check your vacation or personal leave allotment to be sure you have the time available to use. Also find out whether your company has a "use it or lose it" vacation policy, which could mean you have to take days off from work prior to the end of the calendar or fiscal year or forfeit them. 

Check company policy to see whether there are guidelines for requesting time off, and be sure you comply with them. The information should be available in your company's employee handbook or on its website.

Also check whether your employer closes on any days in the holiday season - some companies give Christmas Day off, for instance, while others may shut down for the week between Christmas and New Year's. 

Do keep in mind that even though many employers provide time off during the holidays, they are not legally required to do so. There are no federal regulations providing for holiday leave or pay. State laws may differ, so check with the department of labor in your location for information.

Ask Sooner Rather Than Later

Strategies for handling this holiday dilemma will vary, given your situation. However, the earlier you ask, the more likely you will have your request approved. If you are in a sector like retail, hospitality, IT, or healthcare, where coverage must be maintained, then you may need to discuss scheduling with both your manager and your coworkers. 


One approach is to prioritize your holiday preferences as far in advance as possible and to bring the issue up for discussion with bosses and colleagues.

The earlier you raise the topic the better, and although being the first one to ask for time off doesn't necessarily guarantee that your request will be granted, it does give you more leeway with your negotiation.

Be Ready to Compromise

Be understanding and patient when asking for time off. Kindness will go a long way. You should also spend some time thinking about how you can best compromise if your request isn't granted in full.

For example, if your family gets together on Christmas Eve, then you might volunteer to work on Christmas Day so you can take the day before off. Or, if you have colleagues who celebrate Jewish or Islamic holidays, then you might volunteer to work those days in exchange for coverage on Christmas or New Year's Day.

Another approach is to explore the possibility of splitting shifts on holidays. For example, you might offer to cover 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. instead of your typical 12-hour shift.

Plan in Advance

If continuous coverage is not an issue in your field, then advance planning can be the best way to clear time off for the holidays:

  • Anticipate deadlines that occur around the holidays, and set your own deadline for December 15th to make sure you get the work done before the holiday period. 
  • Sharing your plan to work extra hours or do whatever is necessary to clear the holidays with your supervisor and team members well in advance can help alleviate any concerns.
  • Raising this issue with your work team well in advance can also help you to avoid preemptive competitive requests from colleagues.

When you submit your request for time off, be sure to convey to your supervisors how you plan to ensure all of your responsibilities will be taken care of before you leave for your vacation.

The Bottom Line

Ask Early: The earlier you get your request in, the better. 

Have a Plan: Clear your to-do list well in advance of days off, so you won't leave colleagues in the lurch.

Be Kind: For managers, ensuring there's coverage during the holidays can be a logistical nightmare. Be patient and courteous when you ask for time off. 

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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Holiday Pay," Accessed Nov. 29, 2021.

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