Why You Don't Need To Explain Your Reason For Taking A Day Off

How you choose to spend your vacation or annual leave is your choice. You shouldn't feel obligated to offer an explanation to your boss.

I am one of those poor unfortunate souls who feels the need to have a “reason” to take the day off from work. Because of that, my vacation days tend to pile up ― luckily, California where I work doesn’t have a “use it or lose it” policy as some US states do so my unused days off get carried over to the next year.

Every time I do request a day off, though, I tend to overexplain myself: “I’m going to Palm Springs with my sisters!” I’ll say in my email request to my manager. “We have some family from out of town coming over and I need to prep so I’ll be taking a half day, if that’s OK with you.”

But as Twitter user @localanxiousbae’s recent viral tweet points out, in most cases, that’s really not necessary.

“Normalise not telling your boss what your day off is for,” she wrote in October, to the acclaim of people who, like me, need to chill with their overaccountability at work. (So far, the viral tweet has over 519K likes and 78.2K retweets.)

Keni Dominguez, a career coach and workplace culture strategist, wholeheartedly agreed with the tweet’s sentiment. She thinks it’s true whether you’re asking your boss for the day off or the week off.

“How you choose to spend your vacation or paid time off is your choice and does not require an explanation,” Dominguez told HuffPost.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re planning a vacation, taking a staycation, headed to a doctor’s appointment or procedure, taking time to care for a sick kid or just need time away to recharge from work,” she added. “It’s your time to take, recharge, rest and return back to work refreshed.”

You’ve earned your sick time, vacation and personal days ― and given the heightened stress you’re likely under because of the Covid-19 crisis, you probably really need them, even if you’re doing “nothing” for the day.

“We really need to normalise rest in the workplace, and not guilt people into feeling like if they take time off, they’re exhibiting laziness,” Dominguez said.

What do you need to say in the email? Keep it short and sweet. You do want to make sure it’s coming across as though you’re asking for the day off, not demanding or announcing it.

“I recommend adding ‘time off’ or ‘vacation’ in the subject header with the dates you’re requesting,” Dominguez said. “In the email body, simply include the dates you’re requesting and discuss how you plan to prepare for your time off.”

For example, if you take extended time off, like a week or two, figure out what needs to be completed and share your plan of action with your boss and any co-workers who need to be clued in. Make sure you provide notice, especially if you’re planning to take more than a day off.

If you have important upcoming meetings, be sure to clue in the organiser and let them know know in advance that you cannot attend in case they want to reschedule for when you return or you can offer to send someone in your place.

With that approach, you’re not oversharing your reasons for taking time off and you’re doing your due diligence with planning for your absence.

Of course, work martyrs ― people who put their job first, even when it means eschewing personal time off ― may struggle to take this more streamlined approach in their request.

“Many times people-pleasing cause us to feel obligated to explain why we’re taking off,” said Melody Wilding, a coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.

“We may feel shame — like we’re not good enough or we are failing — if we need to take a mental health day or time off, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

If anything, taking time off for your well-being proves you care about your company and your performance.

“It is an investment in your career — not a sign of inadequacy,” she said.

We also may feel obligated to tell our bosses why we’re taking the day off because of our lopsided work-life-balance. Even when we do take our days off, we’re bad at it. Two in three employees reported working while on vacation and only 23% reported taking all of their eligible time off over the past 12 months, according to a 2017 survey by Glassdoor.

The US is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. Meanwhile, by law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. That funny tweet about Europeans’ out of office email versus Americans’ out of office email?

Not too far off the mark.

“We can feel guilty about taking time off because in the US culture, taking your vacation, paid time off, and sick days is often quietly looked down upon,” said Lisa Orbé-Austin, a licensed psychologist who focuses on helping professionals manage their careers.

“Even in organisations that offer unlimited days off [like Netflix and many tech startup companies], employees are even less likely to take those days,” she said.

Orbé-Austin thinks we need a culture that views taking the time that is part of your compensation package as normal and healthy rather that seeing it as an inconvenience to your coworkers, clients or boss.

Workplace expert Lynn Taylor agrees. Good managers rarely grill their staff about reasonable personal time off — except for when they feel the practice becomes abused, she said.

“At that point, they’re understandably going to become more inquisitive,” said Taylor, the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.

"We really need to normalise rest in the workplace, and not guilt people into feeling like if they take time off, they’re exhibiting laziness," said career Keni Dominguez.
Oscar Wong via Getty Images
"We really need to normalise rest in the workplace, and not guilt people into feeling like if they take time off, they’re exhibiting laziness," said career Keni Dominguez.

Now that more offices have made the switch to work-from-home as a Covid-19 safety precaution, Taylor hopes to see a more accommodating approach to annual leave ushered in by managers.

“It obviously depends on the person and company, but work cultures here are shifting, thankfully,” she said. “Covid has been an eye-opener for employers, many of whom are realising that greater work life balance and flexibility can actually enhance productivity.”