HomeEmploymentShould Employees Feel Guilty About Taking Vacation Days?

Should Employees Feel Guilty About Taking Vacation Days?

Should Employees Feel Guilty About Taking Vacation Days?In the past few weeks, I’ve heard a couple stories from friends who wanted to use some of their accrued vacation time, but ran into approval issues when it came to actually requesting the time off.

Two Vacation Requests

In one case, my friend wanted a single day off to attend to some personal business and was given a hard time about it. There was no specific reason given as to why the company didn’t want him to take off, but it was made clear to him that approving his vacation request was a favor.

Another friend requested time off to take a two week vacation with her husband. She had saved up her vacation for this big trip and had more than enough time to take off the two weeks, but was getting some resistance from her supervisor. A week would have been doable, but two weeks was too much. There was obviously nothing in the company rules prohibiting vacations longer than a week, it was simply inconvenient for the team to have to pick up the slack for that long.

When Rejecting Vacation Requests Is OK

There are certain situations where it’s reasonable for an employer to deny a vacation request. If there is not enough notice, it can cause short-term issues. If others have requested off at the same time, there are staffing issues to consider. There have to be the right number of people to handle the workload, and if everyone takes off Christmas week, there might not be enough people left to handle the customer inquiries.

Why Most Vacation Requests Should Be Approved

Other than some specific situations, I think it’s ridiculous not to allow employees to use their vacation time. Whether they want to use one day each month or take 2 weeks off at once should be the employee’s decision to make. Especially if it’s done with enough lead time, people can make adjustments. Having an employee out of work is not going to make it easier, but just like employees need to make changes based on employer needs, companies need to adjust to their employee’s commitments. The employee made an adjustment and didn’t take any time off for an extended period of time, the employee has the right to take his accrued vacation time in a way that fits his schedule.

If you can’t take a vacation day without feeling guilty, where’s the trade-off? Employees work for their employers, and return get certain benefits, including vacation days. There shouldn’t be much negotiation about when they’re allowed to be taken or for how long. The way I think about it is if you’re the employer, if you request time off, maybe the employee will simply leave the company? In that case, the employer is usually responsible for paying the employee for the time off, and in the end, they’ll be left without a full trained employee, so it’s a very big risk to reject these types of requests

The Unintended Consequence of Denying Vacation Time

Not allowing employees to use vacation time they’ve accrued probably has an unintended consequence: more sick days. If an employer isn’t allowing employees to take vacation time, they’re probably more likely to have an unannounced day off. Think about it: if you ask for time off and they deny you, you have no other options. But if you don’t ask and are “sick” that day, you can’t really get in trouble, right? I’m glad I’m not in that position, but I wonder if it happens.

Have you ever had a hard time taking vacation time you accrued fairly?



  1. I’m a HUGE believer in the power of getting away once in a while. I also agree that if an employee schedules their vacation time in advance by several weeks or months, then it should be approved. Period. In my last job, it was first-come, first-served and all vacation time was approved unless someone else had already requested that day (only had 4 people in our department). I submitted the days I was sure that I wanted to take on January 1 or 2 every year and never was turned down.

    Now I’m self-employed, so I rarely take full days off or schedule that time months in advance, but my boss never says no. ;-)

    My friend, Isabelle, has to fight for nearly every day she requests. It’s insane. She may want 3 days off in November that she asks for in February and they say no. And yes, she’s “sick” a lot. I couldn’t live like that.

    • Glad you agree! Smart to get it all in at once, usually I submit a month ahead of time, but I think I’m going to start doing it way ahead of time going forward.

      It would be a terrible environment to have the stress of worrying about when you’d be allowed to take a vacation!

  2. If I’m ever thinking of taking more than a week off at a time, I talk to my manager as early as I can, because I know that is a non-typical request that can be a burden to the organization. I’ve never had a problem, but then again, I’ve always done it well in advance and I present it in a way where I offer to make sure that things get covered as long as they provide a resource or two where I can pass along urgent tasks.

  3. I worked as a retail manager for over 5 years, and was never allowed to take a vacation. It was absolutely horrible! I was the best worker (I’m not just saying that), and my boss never wanted me to leave because of that. It was a huge drain on me and I eventually left that job because of it.

  4. I had a lot of issues getting time off (both vacation days and sick days) with my former job. For example, I had requested 2 days off to attend my sisters wedding 3 MONTHS in advance, made all arrangements so that no one would have to cover my work for those 2 days, but management still waited until ONE WEEK before I was supposed to leave before approving the time off. By that point, I didn’t care… I was going to wedding regardless of what they said. I could write a novel at how horrible management at that job was, and most of it revolves around not giving people the proper time off they need. (Which is also why I filed a labour board complaint on them.)

    Calling in sick used to involve a whole lot of blow-back, and I haven’t been able to shake that feeling even though I’m now in a much better job where I am allotted sick days, vacation days and even personal days. Instead of taking the time off, it looks like my unused vacation days are going to be paid out (and I’m okay with that!).

    • My thoughts exactly, if they wait so long to tell you it’s approved, you’re going to be going either way. It creates a terrible situation for all parties involved.

      I heard a great response to someone who says you don’t sound sick: “you don’t sound like a doctor.”

  5. Hey Daniel and thanks for an interesting post :)

    This is why I am self-employed! No vacation squabbles and no time issue squabbles! If I am not feeling well or just not into working, then I take as much time as I need. And yes, I am fully aware that if I don’t work, I don’t make money, so there is a balance to consider. But at least I am the one considering it!

    That being said…In Montreal, Canada, where I live, there’s something called the Construction holiday, where the last two weeks of July are taken off by everyone in that industry, including peripheral companies as well. This way, everyone knows that companies will be closed during that time and there’s no issues! If you have to work for someone, I think this model is the one to follow when it comes to vacation time.

    Take care and all the best.


  6. Very glad our culture here values time off. It is hard in my current job to take time off because we run so lean and because of that I only ever took one holiday and they had to get in a temp (who sucked). That said, my work is somewhat flexible and I have been able in a couple of cases to take trips and work while away. My last job was at a much bigger place and as long as you gave sufficient notice taking your time off was never really an issue.

  7. Taking vacation time can be complicated, depending on the nature of your work. It can be a real bummer to get your request denied, but you’ve given some good explanations for why that can happen. I always try to give my request well in advance in order to account for the possible challenges.

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