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How to reduce stress and anxiety when requesting Paid Time Off (PTO)

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Do you, like many working adults, struggle to ask for time off?

  • Does the mountain of work you will return to prevent you from using your Paid Time Off (PTO)?

  • Does the anxiety around asking for time off cause you to procrastinate asking for months?

In this blog, I will explain why so many adults feel stress and anxiety when asking for time off.


I also share a customizable email template that you can use to request PTO and out-of-office email responders.


Stressed about taking time off? You are not alone.

My family lives on the other side of the country.


During the holiday season, I like to take time off from work and travel to visit them.


I always book my flights months in advance in hopes of getting a decent price (is there even such a thing anymore?). 


Last year, I booked my flights in October. I could have requested time two months ahead of time.


Instead, I procrastinated.


Asking for time off came to mind during every one-on-one meeting I had with my boss for over a month.


I could not bring myself to ask or even send a request via email.


To be honest...I was scared.


Asking for time off gives me anxiety.



25 percent of millennials felt nervous when requesting time off. Millennial workers are most likely to feel guilty, afraid, or shameful when requesting vacation days.

I tell myself stories like... 


What if she says no?

Maybe I don’t deserve that much time off…

What if I lose clients when I cancel some of their sessions?


Here's the thing...deep down, I knew my boss would be totally fine with it! 


They were very understanding and even encouraging about taking time off.

Still, I could not bring myself to ask. 


Finally, at the possible moment, I frantically typed an email and sent it off.


Their response was the same as last year: "Of course! Enjoy your time with your family!"


No questions asked.


Why did I procrastinate and create unnecessary stress in my life?


Having a ready-to-use email template would make my life a lot easier.


Plug in the relevant details and press send. That's it!


Why does requesting PTO cause stress and anxiety?

Requesting time off from work can create stress and anxiety.


Today, more companies offer unlimited PTO than ever before.


You might expect that employees take advantage.


That is not the case. According to the BBC,


...in cases where workers can take as much paid holiday as they want, they tend to take less holiday than employees with a fixed number of days.

We all know that taking time off allows us to regain energy and become better employees.


This thought is rarely enough to push us to ask.


Why am I afraid to request PTO?

Fear, stress, and anxiety are among the most common reasons why adults fear requesting PTO.


Do you procrastinate requesting PTO?

  • Yes, always!

  • No, never.


Maybe you witnessed your boss reacting poorly to your coworker's request.


Or, maybe the last time you asked, the request was granted, but the conversation left you with feelings of guilt and shame.


This is enough to prevent anyone from taking action.


You might tell yourself stories like:


What gives me the right to take this much time?


Do I even deserve to take time away from work?


If this is the case, before asking for PTO, consider the contributions you have made.


Make a quick list of your positive impact on your work over the past six months.


Recognize that taking time off will allow you to return to work with renewed energy and passion.


If you take a break, you will be a better employee and the best version of yourself.


Differently, many adults tell themselves stories about what could happen.


What if something slips through the cracks?


Check-in and see how true this is.


If it is likely that something will slip through the cracks while you are away, plan for it in advance.


What if I return to a mountain of work?

The thought of a pile of work waiting for you after vacation is enough to stop you from taking time off completely.


This is a real challenge.


Taking action before your vacation can make returning to work tremendously easier.


Planning makes all of the difference.


One month beforehand, block off an hour to look ahead and begin planning for projects that will need your attention when you return.


Determine precisely what you will do when you come back as well as what you will not do in the first week of returning.


Share the dates you will be out of the office with your team well in advance.


Add it to the team calendar and delegate specific responsibilities while you are away.


A few days before you leave, remind your boss and your team about being Out of Office (OOF) and make yourself available to answer questions before you leave.


If possible, get ahead on projects you know will need your attention when you return.


white male in wearing a light green t-shirt and a black jacket with a green background and white text

My company has a negative view of taking time off

In today’s hustle culture, some companies discourage employees from taking time off.


Working through the holidays and never taking a break can be seen as a badge of honor.


Some managers model unhealthy work behavior, making their employees feel guilty about requesting time away.


...one of the biggest reasons US workers didn’t take time off was fear of being seen as replaceable.

If this is the case, put your request in well in advance and aim to do so during your company's ‘slow season’.


Additionally, consider if this is the work environment that you truly thrive in.


Maybe it is time to contact a recruiter or start a job search.


How do I request time off?

First off, do some research and confirm your company's policies.


How do they require a PTO request to be submitted?


How many days in advance do you need to submit a request?


If an email is sufficient, keeping it short and simple is best.


Use the G.A.S. technique to write your request:

  • Greeting

  • Ask

  • Sincerely

Below is a template that you can copy, paste, and recycle anytime you request time off via email!


Hi [name],


Thank you for taking the time to help me with [insert scenario].


I am writing to request time off from [date] to [date].


I will coordinate with [team member] in advance and set an out-of-office email response.


If there are any additional matters that I need to attend to before the {date}, please do not hesitate to inform me.


Warm regards,

[your name]


What if I need to ask my boss in person?

If a conversation is required, effective communication is key.


Think about it and find the best time to talk to your boss.


After you have been praised for excellent work or at the end of a positive one-on-one is a great opportunity.


Make sure your boss is not busy or under a lot of stress when you ask.


The trick is the read the room.


If you are anxious about having a conversation, practice what you will say in advance.


You can do this with a friend, your partner, a roommate, or into the mirror.


Keep in mind you are requesting time off, not demanding it.


Asking politely will produce the best response from anyone.


Instead of saying, “I booked my flights for my summer vacation and will be out of the office for two weeks.”


Say, “I would like to take two weeks off this coming summer. How does July 10th to the 24th sound?”


What if I get important emails while I am on vacation?

Have a conversation with your boss, manager, or team and discuss how emails should be handled.


Will you be checking emails or completely offline?


If an urgent email comes through, who is the point of contact?


Next, set an out-of-office responder that automatically replies to all incoming emails.


In your out-of-office responder, state the date you will return, and the date you plan to respond to emails, and include the name and email of a team member to contact if the email is urgent.


Below is a list of out-of-office responders that you can copy and paste!


How do I write an out-of-office email?

The style of your out-of-office email should align with company expectations.

Here are a few examples:


Simple and professional

Hello,


Thank you for reaching out. I am currently out of the office and will not be available until [your return date]. During this time, I may have limited access to my email, so my response may be delayed.


If your matter is urgent and requires immediate assistance, please contact [alternative contact person's name] at [alternative contact person's email] who will be able to assist you in my absence.


For all non-urgent inquiries, I will make sure to get back to you by [insert date]. I appreciate your understanding, and I look forward to connecting with you upon my return.


Warm regards,

[your name]



Relaxed and professional

Hi,


I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to let you know that I am currently out of the office and will not be available from [start date] to [end date]. I am taking some time off to unwind and recharge, but don't worry, I'll be back in action on [insert return date].


During my absence, if you have any urgent requests that require immediate attention, please feel free to reach out to my colleague [insert contact person’s name] at [contact person’s email]. [He/she/they] will be more than happy to assist you.


I know being away from work can sometimes be challenging, but I am looking forward to taking time away!


If your request can wait until my return, I kindly ask for your patience. I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible upon my return.

Thank you for understanding, and I look forward to connecting with you again on [insert return date].


Warm regards,

[your name]


Conclusion

The reluctance to request time off is a common challenge among working adults. Many people face anxiety and fear when requesting vacation days. Some adults hesitate to request PTO because of the fear of rejection, guilt, or shame, as well as concerns about returning to a mountain of work. Company culture and societal pressure to work without taking breaks also play a role.


To address these concerns, you can use a customizable email template for requesting time off and tips for in-person conversations with your boss. Additionally, address how to manage important emails with an out-of-office responder while on vacation.


By understanding the reasons behind our apprehension and using the provided resources, you can overcome the stress and anxiety associated with asking for time off while enjoying a well-deserved break. Remember, taking time off is essential for your well-being and can make you a more productive and happier employee.


Stay Engaged


About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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