my boss wants to know how I’m spending my vacation before he’ll approve it

A reader writes:

Does it seem strange that my manager wants to know what I’m doing for any vacation request I submit? And not in the friendly conversational way of “where are you going” or “big plans?” but in the way that he’s asking if it’s worthy to give the vacation days. Is this right? I know it’s the latter because he asks what the plans are before he grants the request. And I get the impression if I said staying home and relaxing, the answer would be no. Seems kind of odd to me. What are your thoughts?

Yes, it’s odd. It’s also unreasonable and bad management, if indeed your interpretation is correct.

Your vacation days are your own, to use in any way you want. You don’t need to prove their worth in order to get them okayed.

However, there are two possible explanations that would let your manager off the hook:

1. He really might be trying to be friendly and doesn’t realize he’s giving you the impression that his okay your request hinges on whether your vacation plans meet his approval.

2. He might have someone else who has already requested those days off, and he’d rather not be short-staffed — but if you want the time to do something like attend your brother’s wedding, then he’s going to okay it and just work around it … but if it’s something more flexible, he’s going to ask you if you can pick a different week. In this case, he has a legitimate reason for asking but there’s a better way to handle it. (He should say explicitly, “Jean already has those days off and I’d rather not have you both gone at the same time; are your plans flexible at all?”)

My recommendation is that the next time he does this, smile and nicely say, “Does my ability to get the days approved depend on the answer?”

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly*

    Even before reading AAM's response, my gut reaction was similar to the second scenario.

    You've earned this vacation. You shouldn't have to give it up if someone with more seniority but without any vacation/personal days left wants to take time off. It's absolutely none of his business what you do with your vacation time.

    I had a co-worker in a previous position who was all set to leave on vacation and she had to take a different week because the manager had an unscheduled week of vacation that he needed to use. Of course, he couldn't take a week that no one else was scheduled. The selfish SOB decided on short notice that he was taking it the next week. The co-worker was really annoyed and irritated that she had to reschedule her vacation, but she didn't have any reservations that she had to cancel at the last minute. She decided to go see her parents another week instead.

  2. Mike*

    What part of "vacations are part of compensation" do many managers not understand? I've never been asked what I'm going to do with the money from my paycheck, and I'm sure as heck not going to be happy about explaining how I plan on spending vacation time.

  3. Anonymous*

    > I've never been asked what I'm >going to do with the money from >my paycheck,

    Really? That's what managers are doing when they check your credit. As was pointed out in another letter, they use those as a way to determine how much money you "need" and how they can lower any raise or employment offers.

  4. Anonymous*

    Kelly- where did you find the seniority issue in the original post? I can't find it anywhere. Our work group allows everyone 2 seniority choices at the first of the year, then everything left is first asked gets.

    It probably is issue #2. Part of my job is scheduling vacations for a 21 person work group. Sometimes I have to remind myself "the why" doesn't matter, because people will ask for vac for reasons that I think are utterly BS. Like helping their grown children move, or having a contractor come by. I decide strictly on our policies and staffing levels.

  5. Anonymous*

    Anon @ 3:46 – Although the OP doesn't mention anything about seniority, I don't see Kelly's comment any less relevant. We don't know the reasoning behind the OP's boss for asking, and there might have been some thinking as to whom in the higher ups requested vacation.

    Granted there are BS excuses for people taking a vacation, but the ones you mentioned aren't necessarily BS. It sounds judgemental, and who is anyone to say if someone used their time well or not?

  6. FREE Career Newsletter*

    Anon @3:46: Those reasons for missing work don't seem like poor ones to me.

    I think the person in this situation should just give a really lame excuse for their vacation. Then, see how the manager reacts. It could be risky, but why not try?

  7. Anonymous*

    I agree with AAM that the manager is most likely just trying to be friendly, but very well could have a prior scheduling issue.

    Yes, there are better ways to say that, but we are all human, right?

    As a manager with a department to run, my concern is getting the job done. I need to be ale to ensure I have adequate staff to do that.

    Many times I have more than one staff member ask for the same day (usually around holidays) and, though I shouldn't have to "play Solomon", and make a determination on who actually gets to be off, sometimes I must. It's a difficult position to be in. My company does not pay me to schedule vacation days, it pays me to schedule work days and make sure the job gets done.

    I'm not denying an employee their "earned vacation days," (I ensure they take every single one, sometimes reminding them that they have days left) but I can't let the whole staff off on the same day either.

    Sometimes looking at the other person's perspective (or in the case of a manager, the overall picture) helps one understand the reasoning behind the request.

  8. Anonymous*

    It's not a scheduling issue. There are only three people he oversees and none of them do my job when I'm gone. The work just waits until I get back.

    I honestly think he wants to know if it's a worthy enough reason to grant the time off. And he's definitely not being friendly – I don't get the vibe at all and if he was wouldn't he ask AFTER the request was granted.

  9. Class factotum*

    Those reasons for missing work don't seem like poor ones to me.

    Not to be too nitpicky, but "missing work" and "taking vacation" are not really the same thing. You are owed vacation days. You are not entitled to not show up to work when you are not on vacation.

  10. Anonymous*

    anonymous @ 3:46 again
    I'm talking about a group of 24/7 shift workers, working a compressed schedule. They always have days off in the middle of the week. And they have 80 more days off a year than 9-5 people. Having to get vacation approved goes with the territory, because coverage has to be scheduled.

    Vacation days are a benefit the company has to give you. They don't have to give you exactly the days off that you want when you want them. The company should try to do this, and have rules that apply to everybody for when they can't. My whole point still is, people ask for vacations for BS reasons, the reasons are irrelevant, vacs should be scheduled according to impartial company rules.

  11. Anonymous*

    I'll be frank. I don't know how individual states govern vacation time, but at my company (and every other company I have worked for), I was never asked to justify my vacation time and would have been very insulted if I had been. It may or may not be legal to ask that but as a seasoned professional in an in-demand field, I would take my talents elsewhere if I found myself in that type of work environment. Is something this petty really something that upper management should concern themselves with? If they think so then perhaps management is not for them.

    1. Sue*

      I’m kind of in the same place you are. My boss demands we submit a letter requesting vacation time off. Nobody else in the company I work for has to do this. Then he had the nerve to tell me “I better be going somewhere” or ask “Have I packed yet?” My husband is suffering from stage 4 COPD, travel is on our own trips, mainly small short day trips. I have put in almost 20 years with this company but my boss is a work-a-holic, totally blows his family off.I’ve worked hard for my time off, why do I have to give a complete detail, breakdown of what I want to do on my time off? It’s especially hard for me to understand when fellow co-workers do not stress over this. What makes my boss so different and how do try to explain this to your HR deapartment.

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