company only approves new hires once a year, “use it or lose it” vacation policies, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. How can I convince my boss to end our “use it or lose it” vacation policy?

In March of this year I started working for a small startup in California. We get eight holidays (including one “floating” holiday), plus 10 days of vacation each year. Vacation is accrued monthly (5/6 of a day each month), and we have to use it by the end of the year. We have separate sick days.

As the end of the year is nearing, I’m getting annoyed with the fact that our vacation time doesn’t roll over. I don’t really “need” to take any more vacation this year, as I’m not traveling during the holidays. In fact, I have to go out of town for a wedding in February and I would like to use my accrued vacation time then. However since vacation does not roll over, I will probably just take the four days I have left off at the end of the year because I don’t want them to go to waste.

I don’t know exactly why the policy was implemented like this in the first place. I have only ever worked at places where it rolled over. My sneaking suspicion is that he just didn’t want to deal with keeping track of it, although now we have an Admin who takes care of it.

I would like to present the idea of changing the policy to having vacation time roll over. Our CEO is a nice guy and is usually open to suggestions when presented with good backup/evidence. Do you have any suggestions for as to how I can approach him?

Well, you can tell him that it’s illegal in California. California prohibits “use it or lose it policies”; all vacation days must roll over and be paid out when an employee leaves, although employers can put a cap on the total amount of vacation time you can have accrued at any given time.

So you don’t need an argument; you just need to show him the law. But if you weren’t in California, I’d tell you to point out that the policy isn’t optimal for cases like yours, and you could suggest having a cap on the maximum amount of vacation time that can be accrued in case your company was worried about people banking huge amounts of time that then need to be paid out when they leave. Or, if they didn’t want to allow time to roll over, you could suggest paying out any unused time at the end of the year. But all this is moot, because your employer is required by your state law to change their policy.

2. Company only approves new hires once a year

Recently I learned that the company I work for does not approve mid-year replacement requisitions. If an employee leaves then we’re expected to fill that gap with work done by other people until the next “hiring cycle” rolls around and we can put in a request to get a req approved to replace that person.

This seems crazy to me and I’m wondering if you or your readers know how common this is. I see a really bad effect on hiring due to this. People are afraid to hire someone who might be a good candidate but who has any unknowns or risks because if that person leaves they’ll be stuck and not able to replace them. I think we all know that hiring is never 100% and sometimes people don’t work out for whatever reason. I think there’s an expression for this – something about letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. I understand that the company does not want hiring to be chaotic and that the process of hiring and interviewing can become a constant drag on everyone’s time if it goes on and on. But this seems extreme to me.

Yes, that’s crazy. Why aren’t the managers in your company rising up and rebelling against this? They should be pointing out the long-term impact on their ability to get the results they’re responsible for getting.

3. Job searching with dyslexia

I have dyslexia, and it has been the main reason I’ve been let go from many (if not all) of my jobs. I work closely with production teams, and when things get sent out wrong or there is a data entry mistake, it fouls up the working process greatly. It’s something I struggle with and work on daily.

I was recently let go again, and I’m wondering if it is appropriate to ever disclose to an employer that I have this issue?

I’d look for jobs where dyslexia isn’t likely to get in the way of major functions of the job. You want something where it will be a side issue; if it’s getting in the way of your ability to do essential pieces of the work you’ve been hired for, that isn’t usually fixable, no matter how accommodating your manager might want to be.

So you want to find something where it’s not likely to interfere with your success at the core pieces of the job. And once you’re in a job like that, you can certainly let your manager know you’re dyslexic so that she can take that into account when she assigns you work. (You don’t want her asking you to help on on Minor Task A if Minor Task A happens to be dyslexia-unfriendly.

In other words, it’s reasonable to let your boss know that she shouldn’t rely on you for proofreading when the bulk of your job has nothing to do with proofreading, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask that for a job where proofing was a major component. (Unless you find and use effective strategies to minimize the dyslexia’s impact, which readers might be able to offer suggestions on.) Good luck!

4. Do I need to have pretty graphics on my resume?

Does the format/design of the cover letter matter? What’s the position I’m applying for, you ask? Human resources generalist, or anything remotely close to that title. So do I need to have pretty graphics and huge flashing fonts for my name running up the side of the page? Is this my 15 minutes of fame and I’m expected to make the best of it?

Good god, no. Your resume should be clean, well organized, and easy to quickly scan, with a font that’s big enough to easily read (generally 11 or 12 point) and a reasonable amount of white space. It should not include a “creative” design, which will make good hiring managers (and a lot of the others) wonder if you think your skills and achievements won’t speak for themselves, and whether you put an inappropriate emphasis on appearances over substance.

Your resume doesn’t stand out through design. It stands out by showing a track record of achievement.

5. Should I send Christmas cards to people who helped in my job search?

I have a question regarding thank you notes to my (one-time) mentors. Earlier this year, around March-April, I applied for a number of graduate programs (commencing early 2014) and contacted managers at the companies I applied for in order to find out more about the organization. I was fortunate enough to get a coffee with almost every manager and I’ve sent thank-you emails after each coffee.

Seeing as it has been more than 6 months now, I would like to take the opportunity to send Christmas or a holiday card to maintain the relationship. At my age, those meetings, even though it was just once, meant so much to me.

I was wondering if this might be an appropriate way to keep in touch and whether you might have any suggestions that won’t make me seem overly thankful, if that makes sense? Mostly, I didn’t receive a reply to my thank you emails (which is completely understandable). Also, I was fortunate enough to receive three graduate offers, but only accepted one, and I am unsure whether to mention this to the mentors who work at the companies I turned down.

Better: Send them an email letting them know the outcome of your job search and about the job you accepted. So often, people spend time giving someone help in their job search and then never hear about the outcome the person got. So tell them, and tell them specifically how their advice helped you (which is another thing people too often don’t mention — thank-yous are often vague/generic, and they’re so much more meaningful when they’re specific about what helped and why).

You can send holiday cards too if you want — but I’d do this first.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. Nodumbunny

    #1: is this a first? The OP didn’t ask the infamous “is this legal” question and then it turns out…it isn’t!

      1. Anonymous

        You may want to suggest a different date for how far to roll the time. For instance, we have until march to use our time from the previous year, but by then already accrued 3 months of new PTO time. Most save theirs until for a lets get out of New England in the winter vacations.

    1. Laufey

      My first thought was that OP #1 just broke our AAM magic eight balls.

      Q: Is this legal?
      shake, shake, shake
      A: Actually, no, it’s not.

    2. Vicki

      I live/work in California. I knew AAM was going to say “That’s not legal”.

      I guess we have to have one “yes, it’s illegal” every so often to keep us on our toes!

  2. OP #1

    Thanks for answering my question – I had no idea that it was illegal here in California. I will point him towards that webpage.

    1. LisaLyn

      Good luck, OP1! With the law on your side, you are in a good position.

      Where I work, we are allowed to accrue up to a week more than the total amount of vacation we get in a year. For example, I earn four weeks of vacation every year, so I can have up to five weeks before I stop accruing more. It’s a system that seems to work pretty well!

      1. Chinook

        In Canada, where “use it or loose it” is also illegal, most companies allow you to carry forward half of the previous year’s. The rest is either paid out or you are told to use it (which is rarely a problem as Dec. 24th to Jan. 2nd is a popular time to take off as it includes 2 or 3 state holidays depending on your province).

    2. Bryan

      If you boss hates keeping track of things maybe also ask him to accrue one day a month instead of 5/6 of a day.

        1. CAA

          Are you getting paid monthly? If so, that may also be illegal. California requires that non-exempt employees be paid at least twice per month.

    3. Yup

      FYI, there are financial/accounting implications for a company when rolling over unused paid time off. I can’t speak to the exact details, but in general: if there’s a company policy to pay out unused PTO upon termination, then unused PTO must be recorded as a financial liability — i.e., a debt owed to the employee that hasn’t been paid out yet. (If the company doesn’t pay out for unused PTO, then is a non-issue.) So companies that pay out for unused PTO have a financial interest in not letting people carry over unlimited days, which is why you’ll often see it limited to 3-5 days per year.

      I realize this doesn’t matter for your particular situation, but I mention in case you’re still interested in why there might be a no-rollover policy. You can search GAAP + vacation accrual to get a sense of what’s involved.

      1. Amanda

        Ahh–thanks for this. My company does allow carryover, but it has to be approved by one’s manager, and time that is carried over must be used by March of the carry-over year.

        A fairly lecture-y companywide email went out strongly advising everyone to use all vacation time before the end of the year because of “financial costs to the company” if time is carried over. Your post helps explain what, exactly, are the “financial costs.”

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes. They need to treat their employees in CA according to CA labor law, even if the company is based somewhere else.

        I found this out the hard way at one point, in regard to exactly this issue on vacation accrual and payout, when I had a lone employee in CA and a vacation policy crafted around the laws of the state we were based in.

        1. Mints

          Good to know! I was trying to use all my vacation days because I thought the use it or lose it applied to me too

            1. Mints

              This is spurring me into action! I’ll email HR today. I’m thinking I’ll frame it like— Do you have a separate policy for California? The “forfeit” language might not be applicable to California

      2. Parfait

        I work in CA for a company headquartered elsewhere. Their Elsewhere employees are subject to use-it-or-lose-it. The way they’re doing it for us is, we are strongly encouraged to use all of our vacation days, and they don’t roll over, but if we don’t use up all of our time, we get paid cash for the days.

        This never bothers me because I am highly motivated to use all my vacation time and I’ve never had anything left over.

    4. LCL

      If you want to be really helpful, you could suggest he think about the following before he implements policy changes. If there isn’t any company policy already around these items. And as Cal law allows.
      1. Your vacation request process. How is it decided who gets to go on vacation when everyone wants the same time off?

      2. Can employees ask to be cashed out for some vacation while they are still employed, if this is legal? What is the limit on cashouts?

      3. Floating holidays. Shudder. We have them, they are a huge headache because they can’t be cashed out, they can’t be carried over, they have to be taken, and can’t be taken on official holidays. Does a floating holiday request beat a vacation request? I interpret and enforce our labor agreement on this as NO! but I get a lot of pushback. There is a perception that a floating holiday is a magical vac day that bumps all others. Ask him if he would consider changing the floating holidays to an additional vac day per year and have one less headache.

      4. Are there limits on how many vac days you can take at once? Or how many vacs you can take per year?

      1. Marianne

        One thing to remember is that just because you are in California it doesn’t mean you cannot require your team members to utilize their vacation within certain time limits. You just can’t “wipe out” accrued vacation if it falls under an accrual cap. In my company I am required to ensure that my team takes all but 5 days of PTO during the calendar year, and to use the carry over by March 15. Exceptions to this rule require management approval. In general this policy works well as it forced us to do better time management. We are advised to get at least half of our team’s time off scheduled by end of summer. Also, we manage projects and need to be able to predict how many employee hours we have in a year and letting folks accrue unlimited PTO creates a risk of year where there could be a large variance in hours. We need to reserve that variance for things like extended sick leave.

    1. Sourire

      Ha! Also, make sure it’s pink and scented. Per the ever wise law school/job hunting guru Elle Woods, it adds that “little something extra”.

      1. Jen in RO

        I’ve been listening to Legally Blonde: The Musical lately – I didn’t like the movie very much, but the musical is pretty entertaining and it does have a scene with pink scented paper :)

  3. Ann Furthermore

    #2: Be grateful that any hiring is allowed at all. My company has a hiring freeze on, laid off people a couple months ago, and continues to pile the work on. We are not even allowed to backfill positions for people who quit or retire.

    1. MR

      You may want to make sure your resume is up-to-date and you are networking. These are not signs of a healthy company.

    2. Jennifer

      Hah, I thought the exact same thing. We are not allowed to hire here unless we’re completely and utterly desperate, because every year there’s new budget cuts and the only way to not lay people off is to let them quit on their own. And some of our staff is on a yearly hiring schedule, so last year enough of that group quit or was fired and we were so low on people. I am hoping this year’s crop doesn’t have a bunch of quitting or sick people come winter again or I may have a meltdown.

      I’m really annoyed that two people are being allowed to transfer into the tech section of the office (i.e. less work) because seriously, god only knows when they will be replaced. We are desperate enough that we have to replace them, but since it takes months to get through HR….they will be long gone before replacements come.

      1. Joey

        Here’s a secret- frequently consistent HR delays to fill a position are intentional and at the direction of leadership or finance. The longer a position is vacant the more salary savings there are.

    3. Brett

      We are under the same issue here as well as a public agency.
      The finances are great (we have not had a tax increase since the mid-80s), but it is politically indefensible to replace retiring employees. The irony is that we are easily spending as much in overtime as we are saving by not replacing retirees but everyone looks more at FTE numbers and budgeted compensation than actual compensation.

      1. Joey

        That’s usually a misconception. It’s frequently cheaper to pay OT than to incur the cost of another employee, especially if you have a rich benefits/retirement plan

        1. Mike C.

          Sure, until you start keeping track of the costs of high turnover or mistakes made by burn tout employees. Then when that happens you have people complaining about “ineffective government” and the whole cycle starts over again.

          Additionally, if we’re talking about departments that deal with anything outdoors – public works, sanitation, road work, etc – then you’re starting to deal with a serious safety risks which are incredibly expensive.

          A lot of times it’s only cheaper when you don’t count the increased risk of catastrophic failure.

        2. Brett

          We have a good retirement plan, but since that is based on actual compensation that scales up even larger with OT. Our benefits plan other than retirement is very mediocre. The easy way to see this is that actual compensation expenditures are the same as budgeted each year despite employees not being hired.

      1. Jen in RO

        In my previous company (pretty big) HR was divided in HR Recruitment and HR Operations. HR Ops employees never dealt with recruitment, only with current employees (onboarding, keeping track of PTO, etc).

        1. Elle D

          My company works the same way – there are some associates who are solely responsible for things like benefits, PTO, employee handbook/policy related issues, etc. and others who are responsible for recruiting and hiring.

    1. Joey

      Doesn’t necessarily mean she has an HR background. Lots of people with not a lick of HR experience think they’re qualified (I’m hoping that’s the case here.)

    2. Bea W

      Not if she’s new to the job market. Even if she studied HR, I suspect “Resumes 101” isn’t standard curriculum. It’s not the job of HR to write resumes, and some HR jobs may or may not involve even reviewing them.

  4. EngineerGirl

    #2 – I would go to management and argue about all the lost talent that is passing the company by because they are constraining the hiring period. Sure, job openings are only available a few weeks a year, and the “right” person has to be available during those few weeks. But narrowing it down to an exact certain time of year reduces the candidate pool even further. That means that the company won’t have the ability to snap up good workers when they come available.

    1. MissDisplaced

      Perhaps they could have 2 hiring periods per year. This would minimize all of the interviewing time, yet still allow more flexibility in hiring replacements if someone leaves.

  5. FD

    #3

    This sucks, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. How pervasive is the dyslexia? Is it bad enough that it makes it hard for you to take in any information that’s written, or more that you have trouble with data-entry type tasks? If it’s the latter, like Alison says, there are plenty of jobs where entering data or having trouble proofreading shouldn’t be a major part of your job.

    I have mild dyslexia myself so I have trouble with getting numbers mixed up. Something I find helpful is to repeat back numbers when people say them to you, and read numbers aloud to myself when possible if it’s important that I get something right. Sometimes, that can help avoid mixing things up for me. (I still hate entering wakeup calls though. Room numbers + the time is too many numbers to potentially mix up.)

    1. OP #3

      It’s been bad enough that I’ve written entire descriptions and dates in a jumbled up fashion, so it’s sort of a combination data-entry and information intake. Really my field is within art so I just have to find a place where they have data entry done outside of the art department.

      In the end, the reason I was let go from my last company was because me checking my work took too long, and sometimes there were still mistakes. Lesson learned! I now know where I stand.

      Thanks for the tip, I’m definitely going to try it.

      1. AB

        OP #3, please make sure you apply also what AAM wrote here:

        “I’d look for jobs where dyslexia isn’t likely to get in the way of major functions of the job.”

        It looks like it’s the case that you repeatedly took jobs that didn’t fit this condition. I admire you for trying hard, but really, I have a friend (incredibly smart and successful) who has dyslexia, and I cringe when I think of him in a position described as “work closely with production teams, and when things get sent out wrong or there is a data entry mistake, it fouls up the working process greatly.”

        I think that before you start applying to new jobs, you need to do some research, check job boards, and figure out jobs in a different area that fits AAM’s description and could benefit from the skills you have. Then, dyslexia can even become a point in your favor in your cover letter and interview: you can explain why you are applying to jobs that are different than the ones you had in the past, and at the same time, explain why, despite your best efforts, some (or all) your past jobs didn’t last too long (this is particularly helpful if, for example, you have in your resume a series of short tenures that could look like job hopping to a hiring manager).

        I think this will greatly increase your chances of finding a job that is a great fit and lets you thrive instead of struggling. Good luck!

        1. OP #3

          Yes! I was silly to think I had ‘grown out’ of my ‘old habits’ but I will definitely make sure to reposition myself in terms of expected work responsibilities.

          Since you’ve had some insight into this situation – Has your friend ever been terminated from a job that was a poor fit? If so, how did they explain it?

          I’m trying to map out likely Q&A about my shortened time at various positions and I’m a bit unsure of whether I should be completely honest about why I had to leave.

          1. Mary

            Hi OP#3, I can’t really help with the job searching challenges with dyslexia but I can share how I cope with mine at my job. Although, I should mention that I’m pretty lucky and mine is relatively mild so I’m not sure how our coping strategies would compare, but here is what I do to handle it at work:
            1. Plan ahead – some days are worse than others (ie some days I can’t process written data, or write things myself, to save my life – this includes dialing the phone correctly and transcribing numbers and taking notes) so I make sure that I have tasks to do that I’m capable of on those days, and that I’ve planned ahead on other tasks so that I’m not late. Also, I freely tell my boss this as soon as I know I can trust them, so that they understand why I want to have my numbers early, or why I want to schedule a deadline for a few days later than he wants.
            2. Time between drafts and submission – when I have to draft budgets or text I make sure I get it done a few days in advance of the deadline (partly in case I have a bad day) but also because I find it easier to catch mistakes with some time in between the draft and the editing.
            3. Change the format – for some reason I find that just changing the font size/zoom on the computer screen, or changing from screen to print on paper, or changing the contrast between text and background helps me to process data. I generally try all these things before giving up and switching tasks.
            4. Identify your strengths and volunteer for whatever you are good at – I volunteer for tasks all the time, this helps slant my work towards my strengths, and if the tasks help other coworkers it builds some good will which comes in handy when I’m asking them for help proofreading or similar.
            5. Telling trusted people – I do end up telling people eventually about my specific challenges, and I do this in two ways – I name it “dyslexia” so they have a reason that I need help, and then I tell them what I need. For example: “I am having trouble writing this down, can you please read what I wrote and make sure it is correct?” or “I am having trouble reading this number, can you please read it out loud to me?” With some people, who are particularly sensitive and interested, I might explain more “some days are worse than others and the letters and numbers move around so it’s hard to me to see…” or whatever might help them to understand. It’s really important to be patient with people who are helping you – even if they want to help you it is very hard people who aren’t used to dealing with learning differences to retain what you need for them to do – I think this is similar to people dealing with allergies, even if you are really well intentioned it’s hard to remember all the ways the allergy might impact someone so it’s easy to want to help, but have trouble helping in a consistent way. It’s not personal if they forget and start reading you numbers too fast during a meeting, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped wanting to help you, instead just remind them to go slower, or ask them to spell out what they are saying or whatever you need.

          2. Mints

            One of the regular commenters has some type of numbers dyslexia. I forgot who, but hopefully she chimes in!

            1. Elizabeth West

              Me! :)

              Mine is dyscalculia. It’s bad enough where I’m completely eliminated from any kind of accounting whatsoever. Thanks to the recession, a lot of office jobs I previously did were combined with accounting duties, except $7.00-an-hour receptionist ones. :( Unfortunately, I never got any help with it in school–I wasn’t diagnosed until recently. I had to go to Vocational Rehabilitation and am attempting to completely change careers.

              OP, my experience may be different from yours, and where I live may also make a difference, but I haven’t found anything but VR, which is a bureaucratic nightmare. There just isn’t much else out there for adults who were never diagnosed in school. I would look for a job developer in your city. They may shoot you toward VRhave any resources they could point you to.

              The Internet has a lot of stuff too; make sure you are looking at reliable sources (universities, clearly-identified organizations with available contact information, etc.). I found some; you may find more.

              http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/dyslexics/living-with-dyslexia/job

              http://www.interdys.org/

              http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dyslexia/dyslexia.htm#Organizations

              I have been terminated for poor fit, but that wasn’t related to the disability. I just explained it by saying it was a poor fit. When you look for jobs, you really have to dig as far as what the responsibilities are and how they fit into what you can do and what you can’t. I learned to ask if there were accounting duties. At the interview stage, I don’t disclose my disability–I just say that I have trouble with numbers.

              Dyslexia is pretty well known, especially after they made Theo on The Cosby Show have it in the 1980s. Nobody really talked about it before then, at least not outside educational circles.

              I’ll be back in here later if anyone has any more questions. I wish I had more info than this right now!

          3. Elisha

            Not sure if this will be helpful for you or not, but there’s an open source font that was created to help people with dyslexia called OpenDyslexic. It might make any reading/writing you have to do easier, at least?

        2. ChristineSW

          Completely agree with AB. I don’t have dyslexia, but I do have issues with multi-tasking and information processing, and similarly thought I’d be able to overcome them if I’d find a job that fits my area of interest, even if it was a challenge (I provided information & referral by phone & email). No dice. There’s still a part of me that wants to give it one more try, but the sensible part of me says it’d be a bad idea.

          Good luck to you!!

  6. ManishRM

    The answer to the importance of ‘Use it or lose it’ is very simple
    It ensures that:
    1. Employees are forced to take breaks; relax, destress and join back with renewed vigour and energy – higher productivity
    2. The Organization can save money by not having to encash the balance Leaves when the employee leaves – More savings
    3. Very important – if a person is working in a role for a long duration of time, the opportunity to indulge in irregularities are higher; and once he is on leave, someone else can manage this work and find out if everything is being managed in the right way – Ensuring a stronger system of checks!

    1. KellyK

      Other than #2, it doesn’t actually accomplish any of those things, though.

      #1 – Requiring people to take all their vacation before the end of the year *adds* stress, because it’s one more thing to have to juggle and manage. Particularly if those people are exempt, if they get stuck having to take vacation at a busy time, they’ll just end up working more when they leave and when they come back. Also, taking a vacation day you didn’t really want is the exact opposite of relaxing. Sitting home worrying about whether you’ll actually make your deadline and being aggravated that you’re missing that family event in January because you won’t have leave—not my idea of a stress reliever.

      #3 – Not rolling vacation over doesn’t affect how people will take that time through the year. Use-it-or-lose it actually encourages a lot of three day weekends. The people who aren’t taking the time when it rolls over are often too busy to get away, so if you make them use the time, they’re likely to take it as a day here and there.

      If you need people to be gone for a week at a time, then you make that a requirement. You don’t make other vaguely related requirements and hope they cause the result you want.

      And if you want to make sure people rest and relax, you give them as much freedom as is feasible with their vacations, and ensure coverage so that everyone can get a real break.

      1. KellyK

        Oh, also, if vacation balance disappears at the end of the year, you’ve just given someone who makes the decision to leave in late December a monetary incentive *not* to give you much notice before they quit.

        1. CAA

          Well, use-it-or-lose-it policies usually include no payout when you leave, so if you work in that sort of company and want to quit, then you take all your vacation and resign on the day you return.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule

              and by end I mean when you quit. Sorry for being unclear. That coffee needs to kick in this morning. -:)

          1. KellyK

            Yeah, that’s true. I was assuming a company that pays out leave when someone quits (which you have to for reason #2 to make sense—if you already don’t pay out leave, adding “use it or lose it” doesn’t change that).

      2. Elysian

        “You don’t make other vaguely related requirements and hope they cause the result you want.”

        If only everyone would be as straightforward as you suggest, the world would be a much easier place to navigate. We can dream.

        “Why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?”
        “Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.”

      3. Natalie

        I find #1 particularly amusing because someone who doesn’t want to take their vacation time for whatever reason is probably not going to be motivated by the prospect of losing their vacation time. Why on earth would they care?

        I have a co-worker who has taken one day off in the 5+ years I’ve worked with him. I doubt he knows or cares how much vacation time he has banked, and I doubt he would even notice if the company stopped accruing vacation.

      4. BCW

        I agree with #3 especially. I once worked at a great organization that paid awful, but we got a ton of vacation time. They did max out how much you could roll over though. Well since I was young and broke (from not making much money there) I couldn’t really afford to go anywhere for like a week at a time. So essentially from November through the end of the year I took every Friday off, along with the week between Christmas and New Years that everyone took off. Unfortunately this lead to issues with me and my co-workers because there were things that they had to cover for me every Friday for like 2 months. I got their frustration, but at the same time, I felt the policy kind of forced my hand unless I wanted to donate those days back to the company.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          This is a sincere question. Why did you feel like you had to go somewhere to take a week’s vacation? I hear this from a number of people: I can’t afford to go anywhere so I’m not taking time off.

          Am I the only one who takes a week off to sit around in my pajamas and catch up on Person of Interest?

          1. MissDisplaced

            Depends on where you live I guess. Some people can find it depressing to camp out all week in their apartment, or they have roommates and no privacy.

            I can understand wanting to take every Friday off in the summer, but I had an employee who did this every week ALL summer, every summer! It got to be a real pain!

          2. Yup

            Nope, you’re not alone. I take vacation days to sleep late, run errands, do laundry, catch a movie in the middle of the day, go to the park and read a book — whatever. Sometimes you just want a day to not be at work.

          3. BCW

            Well for me, I was 25, had a roommate, and my friends were all working. So to me it wouldn’t have been fun to just sit around by myself all day for a week watching TV. I get that for some people, that’s great, but not for me, at least not at that point in my life.

          4. KellyK

            I’ve never taken a week just to stay home, but I can see taking a few days just to relax and recharge, or to catch up on errands.

            A week is a long time unless you have something fun planned, and if you don’t find sitting home fun, I can see where it would feel wasted. Probably depends on what you find fun and relaxing and whether it requires going anywhere.

          5. Chinook

            You are not. I rarely can afford to travel but a week off means waking up when I want, a leisurely breakfast and reading lots.

        2. Joey

          Isn’t working fora great organization that pays awfully sort of like saying you love your job except for the actual duties.

            1. Joey

              Sorry I can’t characterize any organization as great if they don’t pay well. Noble, sure. A great cause, sure. But organizations don’t deserve a generic label of great unless they’re also great to their employees.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                “Great to their employees” means different things to different people. If you’re working at a nonprofit with limited resources because you care about the work they’re doing and they have a huge impact — and you know going in that their salaries are low because they pour their money into program work, and it’s spent effectively there — plenty of people are perfectly happy with that set-up. (I was, early in my career. Now I’m more mercenary.)

                Some people aren’t, of course. But it’s perfectly possible.

                1. Joey

                  Agreed. Just as someone who doesn’t need healthcare benefits because they’re covered by their spouses plan. I’m sure there’s people out there that think Wal Mart is a great company to work for.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Hmmmm, I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. If an organization is paying a living wage but one that isn’t competitive, why can’t they be a good employer if they treat people well in other ways and the money is going toward something they collectively agree as a group is more important?

                3. Joey

                  Why isn’t it a fair comparison? Don’t most people think benefits are up there in importance with pay?
                  Shouldnt a generic label of great be reserved for those than can say all of the big ticket items are great?

                4. Cat

                  Joey – I’m curious: do you think all non-profit employers are then, per se, bad? That seems strange to me. Plenty of people are willing to forgo money in order to do something they care about.

                5. Cat

                  It depends on what you mean by “well.” There are plenty that pay a living wage, but I don’t know of any where qualified, competent employees couldn’t be making more in the private sector.

                  Personally, I don’t work at a non-profit but I could double my salary by going somewhere else; I don’t because I believe in the work I’m doing here and there are non-financial benefits to compensate such as drastically reduced hours compared to the more lucrative jobs. I mean, it’s easy to say “but there should be a job with reasonable hour AND the super nice salary,” but I just don’t know that those jobs exist in any kind of statistically significant quantity.

                6. Nonprofit Office Manager

                  Important missions besides, I prefer nonprofit work because the working environment tends to be more casual. A lot of them also offer extra vacation since they can’t pay as much as for-profit organizations. In addition to my 20 paid days of vacation, I have also negotiated to receive 2 unpaid weeks over the summer so I can travel with my husband (he’s a teacher). I’m happy to forgo a bit of pay in exchange for extra time off and getting to wear jeans to work everyday.

              2. BCW

                I’d say I was treated very well. I’m as concerned about money as the next guy. But I’ve also had jobs that paid me a very generous salary, and they also treated employees like garbage. If you know the salary going in, and you choose to accept it, to me you can’t really complain about it later.

          1. BCW

            You know, at this point in my life, I’d agree. I was younger and this was a place (yes a non-profit) with a great reputations, and I did actually enjoy the job. So for me, I knew what I was getting into, and I was fine with the bad pay. Now that I’m 8 years older, I probably wouldn’t do the same, but it was great experience.

            1. Joey

              You know my wife use to think the same thing when she worked for a non profit with a great cause and great people. That is until she realized that there were other great organizations out there that paid her well enough that she could afford to live in a decent place by herself and eat something other than ramen.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I mean, I realized that at some point too (see my old post on doubling my salary in a single career move) — but I don’t think the organization is any less great than I used to. It just wasn’t for me any more at that stage in life.

                1. fposte

                  But this has come up before–for you, the financial reward is the main one, and that’s fine and not uncommon but it’s not the only way people find work satisfaction.

                2. KellyK

                  This reply is for Joey.

                  *Every* organization is going to have something about it that’s “not great” for someone at some phase of their life. Between location, salary, benefits, job duties, schedule flexibility, vacation, etc., etc., etc.

                  Say you work with the nicest people on the planet, doing challenging and interesting work, with clear expectations and helpful feedback and room for growth, making 6 figures and getting a ton of vacation time. But they have really rigid schedule needs, to the point that someone with chronic health issues (and the zillion doctors appointments that go with that) would have a very tough time working there. Someone who doesn’t have that need is going to find the place great, while someone who needs more flexibility won’t. But it’s not a flaw in the organization so much as a clash of needs.

                  I think you’re taking “bad fit for a given person” and wanting to make it a general, overall “bad.”

      5. OP #1

        Just to clarify, I don’t totally hoard my vacation time, I just want to be flexible with it. I would rather take a week in February for a wedding than take four days in December.

    2. Nonprofit Office Manager

      “3. Very important – if a person is working in a role for a long duration of time, the opportunity to indulge in irregularities are higher; and once he is on leave, someone else can manage this work and find out if everything is being managed in the right way – Ensuring a stronger system of checks!”

      Huh. Never thought of that. That’s a good point. I still think use-it-or-lose it policies suck though.

  7. Poe

    #4 has to be a troll. HAS TO BE. I refuse to believe that there are HR people out there seriously considering “huge flashing fonts” for their resumes. Also, since when are job applications related to fame? Reality show applications excluded, of course.

    1. Ruffingit

      I totally thought that as well. The question is so bizarre and naive that I feel like it has to be trolling. And yeah, I know there are people out there who think like that, I get it. But I’m still erring on the side of troll on this one.

      1. Ill Legal

        I don’t know. I work in HR for an urban school district and I had a candidate who was not selected for several support positions flop herself down at my desk and say “I need a job like yours–HR doesn’t seem very hard.” I almost had a stroke right then and there. So maybe this is someone who is not currently in HR and just has a very skewed perception of what HR does and how to get an “in”?

      1. Kat

        Agreed, plus I’ve seen quite a few of these graphically designed resumes work. Several people hiring for high level positions have showed me resumes like that, and expressed excitement over the creativity and coolness factor. Many of those candidates were hired (to be fair, as far as I know they have all had the proper experience to actually be a good fit). When you see it work, you do end up questioning whether you need one as well. I know my biggest fear is that they will become common place, and I’ll need to somehow design one as well.

    2. Anonymous

      Prob just a recent grad being told stupid things by her college career dept. The ONLY time a graphically designed resume is a good idea is when you are applying for a graphic design / art job. Even then, its gimmicky and resumes prob should just include a link to your online profile or sample work attachments.

  8. Jen in RO

    I was going to say that in some countries it is legal for days to not roll over to next year… and while reading the labor law I realize that what my ex-company was doing was definitely *not* legal! Their “rule” was that you could only roll 3 days over to next year, and you had to use them by March 31st or lose them… well, the law says that *all* remaining days get rolled over and you can use them at any time during the following year. I was such a sucker to believe they could legally wipe part of my PTO balance! (They are required by law to pay out remaining PTO when you quit, so they were doing this to make sure every one took as much vacation as possible, so they wouldn’t have to pay too much.)

    1. hamster

      Yes. Somehow i always get into workplaces that need coverage and people who act like it’s a crime to take pto, so when i left last job i had a lot of them payed.

  9. Anonymous

    #1 – I’m not in the US and used to completely different rules around holidays (we get 25 days by law, of which we can move 5 days over to the next year, and the company gives us 5 more which will be paid out, if we don’t use them) and here they want you to take days off so that you get some time to relax and take a break every now and then. They’re not interested in a situation, where people only work all year every year and never get a decent break.

    1. AmyNYC

      <— JEALOUS
      I'm currently missing a friends wedding in India because I don't get enough PTO in a given year. All my friends are there and mandatory vacation time sounds PARTICULARLY nice right now.

  10. Elkay

    Can someone explain the accrual part of #1 to me (as a non-US resident)? Does that mean no-one can take any leave in January because they haven’t accrued a full day?

    1. KellyK

      It depends on the workplace. Most places, you earn time off a little bit each month or each pay period.

      Some will let you carry a negative balance, and some won’t. So, whether you can take time in January really depends on the company. I would guess that most places with a strict use-it-or-lose-it policy would be equally strict about only taking time you’ve earned.

      1. Chinook

        You can also be a year behind and have a year always in the pot. At one place I worked, you earned your vacation time in year 1 to use in year 2. Year 2’s earned vacation was to be used in year 3, etc. It means you were guaranteed a pay out when you quit and no vacation time off in your first year.

    2. Frances

      It also depends on the employer’s work calendar. When I was in academia our vacation rolled over on the 1st of September, because that was what they considered the start of the year. They also used to “advance” us any time we would have earned by the end of August on Memorial Day to encourage people to take their vacations during the less busy summer months.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        Our vacation calendar is currently calculated based on the employee’s anniversary date and we have a use it or lose it policy and 4.5 months of vacation blackout periods.

        I’ve got 5 full time employees who have a combined 5 months of vacation time to squeeze into 7.5 months with no more than 2 of us gone at any one time. It can be quite the balancing act.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule

            Why? Because everyone who wanted to take vacation got to take it. Nobody was denied their time off.

            1. KellyK

              But did people end up losing vacation time? I’d view that as the point where it becomes lip service, not just someone requesting leave and not getting it. Because if you already know that the maximum number of people are out, you *won’t* request that time.

              I do have to say you must be a miracle worker with schedules to have pulled that off.

    3. CH

      My company has a use it or lose it policy with pto (and sick time is in that bucket so many people end up taking a couple weeks at the end of the year). However, on January 1, your account is credited with all the pto you are due that year–for example, I will get 20 days of pto on January 1. It is still accrued by pay period, so if I took it all in March and then left at the end of June, I would have to pay back 6 months worth (10 days in my example) but I can use it whenever I need it during the year. It’s not a perfect system but it’s better than some I guess.

    4. OP #1

      Right? Our company has an informal policy of letting you borrow against future vacation, but it’s not guaranteed, and it’s even more confusing to keep track of.

  11. Claire

    Re: dyslexia. My sis is dyslexic and has had mixed results when telling employers. A good employer should help you find reasonable accommodations – past employers of hers bought her special computer software. Poor employers will berate you for not being able to spell.

    She found it pretty easy to tell which employers were which and I think she has had mostly good results from telling her employers about her dyslexia. Mostly she finds understanding – for when emails contain typos – and accommodations – like great software.

    1. fposte

      Do you know what that software is? I’ve never heard of that it and it sounds like it might be good to know about.

      1. Claire

        She has used Dragon Naturally Speaking in the past. It’s a voice recognition software so she can dictate things. There is also software that will read documents to you. She doesn’t use it as much anymore and I think there are different options on the market now.

        1. Joey

          One executive I know uses Dragon because its faster than his two finger typing. It’s not super accurate (think of autocorrect on your phone), but it works pretty well.

        2. fposte

          Oh, okay, VR software–I thought there was some special anti-dyslexia software.

          I’ve used various incarnations of voice recognition software in the past. Training it is fun–I’d sit down and read a lot of my writing to my computer :-).

        3. Elizabeth West

          I just bought that–you DO have to teach it how to spell/learn certain words, but I guess once you do, it’s pretty good. I got it because my wrists are killing me at the end of a long day of editing and I still have to do homework / write books.

          The first thing I taught it, of course, was naughty words. ;) hey, I write crime fiction and criminals curse! :)

      1. Joey

        Wait until you know it will impact performance . If you’re interviewing wait until you get an offer. At that point they’re obligated to try to accommodate. Tell them before and its likely they’ll pass on you for “other” reasons. You can make an argument that you wouldn’t want to work for those employers anyway, but given what feels like a choice i would bet the majority of employers would at minimum subconsciously see it as a negative.

        1. Elizabeth West

          That’s why I don’t say anything. But I will ask plenty of questions in the interview about duties–the trick is phrasing it so I don’t sound like a lazy whiner who doesn’t want to do certain things.

  12. The IT Manager

    I familiar with use or lose leave policies as part of the government, but in my experience you could carry over a good bit of time (a month or so) and then lost anything beyond that. I have no problem with that, but the policy LW#1 describes sounds very hard for employees especially if they start January 1st with zero days every year.

    1. fposte

      Yeah, that’s what ours is–limited rollover rather than straight out starting over at the beginning of the year (and I’m state government, so it makes sense that you and I might have a similar policy). That to me makes more sense than straight out use it or lose it.

      However, around here it definitely doesn’t achieve the “making you take a vacation” effect that’s being talked about upthread.

    2. Elizabeth West

      At Exjob, we lost anything that wasn’t used (two weeks for new hires, three weeks at seven years, and more after). I started the first of the year at two weeks. At Newjob, we have a rollover at the start of the fiscal year (up to 40 hours). Yay!

      1. Elizabeth West

        To clarify, I had to wait a whole year at Exjob to get two weeks vacation; I didn’t get it until I’d been there a year. Then it was two weeks a year until you hit seven years. I left at six at the end of January, so I didn’t even get payout, but they gave me plenty of severance.

  13. Lily in NYC

    #1 – My office does two things to allow roll-overs but to avoid having people who end up with a year’s worth of vacation. First, we can only roll over up to 10 days total. Second, we have an awesome “vacation buy back” event every December. You can sell up to 15 days of your accrued vacation time back to the company. I sold all 15 last year and it was a nice lump sum that made me less resentful about my piddly raise. It is a huge hit here – everyone loves it.

    1. CAA

      We have a 2 for 1 plan, so any time you take vacation, you can cash out an equal number of days. It’s a big hit here too.

    2. Joey

      Consider yourself lucky- leave buybacks are going the way of the dodo bird. It’s an easy way to cut expenses. Yes, there’s still the cost of an employee not being there when they use leave, but it takes actual cash on hand to pay a buyback.

      1. Lily in NYC

        Joey – I guess I feel lucky, but it’s really offered as a perk because they can’t pay us even close to market rates.

  14. Joey

    I don’t know exactly why the policy was implemented like this in the first place.

    Use it or lose it policies are there to force you to take time off. Its a way to make sure you’re taking an extended break from work and don’t go long periods of time without one. But there should really be a cap on how much can roll over for scenarios exactly like this-so you have a reasonable amount of leave at the beginning of the year if you need it.

    1. fposte

      I think that’s what mandatory vacation policies are for. Use it or lose it is just to keep people from taking off a big chunk at a time.

      1. the gold digger

        Related are mandatory vacations for people who handle money. In many cases (so many where I live in the past few years) of embezzlement aren’t identified unless the person is away for a few weeks and someone else is looking at the books.

        (Every time I read one of these embezzlement stories in the paper, I want to yell, “Why do you have only one person signing the checks, you idiots?”)

        1. Cassie

          I remember learning about that in an auditing class I took – I think the standard was 1 week per year. And should be a full week, not just a couple of days.

      1. Elysian

        See also “unlimited vacation” policies, where no one has an assigned number of vacation days and you can “take off what you need.” This policy sounds employee friendly, but I think it is just a way to clear vacation off the books. In reality no one every takes time off (or people take less time off) because things stay busy at work and they don’t feel the pressure to use accrued days.

  15. PPK

    I work at A Really Big Company and it is a use it or lose it. In early December, people start asking, “When’s your last day” because a lot of people count backwards from the end of the year to use up their last days. Vacation days do not pay out if you leave.

    You can make a deal with your manager to “roll over” a day or two. But that’s unofficial and is assumed you’ll be taking it in Jan or Feb. And if the manager leaves, your deal is toast — it was just a verbal agreement.

    Makes me wonder what our coworkers in CA do? Maybe they get a special deal.

    My company used to let vacation time accrue and pay out, but we had people who never took vacation and would end up banking months of vacation time.

    1. CAA

      In a really big company I worked at that had employees in all 50 states (and many other countries) they had a standard benefits booklet for everyone in the U.S. and then they handed us a California supplement that replaced the vacation plan with something that was legal here.

      In that case, it didn’t make any sense to me because we didn’t get anything different. All employees were allowed to bank up to 2x their annual leave, and everyone had access to their full year’s vacation allotment in January. As far as I could tell, the only thing the California supplement did was explain the same program in different words.

      1. Natalie

        We have people in nearly every state, too, but my employer decided to make one handbook. So there are 20 pages of state specific supplements in the back.

  16. OP #2

    Allison: I am struggling to figure out why the managers here deal with some of the absurd practices, of which this is just one. My best guess is that this company has recently emerged from a period of internal chaos and financial loss. They seem to see rigid policies of all sorts as necessary to maintain order. Since the company is now growing again, the other hiring managers also have complaints about “constantly having to interview” and the time it takes to review a neverending stream of resumes. I see these as valid concerns, but… yeah, this is crazy.

    And for #1 – a major reason for “use it or lose it” policies at public companies is that accrued vacation time shows up on company balance sheets as a debt. Companies want to be able to control their visible debt burdens and one easy way to do that is not to owe a lot to their employees.

    1. Mike C.

      Crazy, micro-managing owners. It’s their little fiefdom and if that’s how they want to run it you have no right to even question that decision. You should be thankful that they were nice enough to even hire you. Do you know how many people out there would be willing to do your job for half the price? I have folks here willing to work 10 hour days, why don’t you care enough to do that? We’re like family you know.

      Uh, sorry for the flashback. You get the point ;)

  17. N Co Anon

    Speaking of pay policies, does any know if a company can deviate from their written holiday pay policy whenever they feel like it?

    1. Joey

      You mean change when/if/how they pay you for holidays. Absolutely! (At least in most states). There’s no requirement to pay holidays at all.

      1. N co anon

        Seems like there’s no point is having a written policy then, if they don’t follow it and change how they pay you each holiday

        1. KellyK

          Honestly, I think you’d have to talk to an employment lawyer in your state to get a useful answer to this question.

          I would think that if the policy says you’ll be paid for X, then not paying for X while that policy is still in place would not be allowed. I would expect that to constitute a written agreement. But I could be wrong. There’s also nothing that says they can’t change the policy going forward at any time, or put something in the policy that says “This is a general guideline, but holiday pay is at the company’s discretion.”

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yes, they need to follow any written agreements they have with you, which usually includes the employee handbook. However, they can change those policies at any time (unless you have a contract saying they can’t, which most people don’t have), as long as they inform you ahead of time.

  18. Anon

    If you can only carry over a week or two max of leave, how on earth to people do maternity leave? Unless you can carry over an unlimited amount of sick leave.

    I can carry over 400 hours of annual leave from one year to the next. Sick is unlimited. The only thing that is use or lose each year is our 3 personal days and 2-3 days of floating holiday. So at most a week. I’ve been hoarding leave like an animal about to go into hibernation so that I can take 12 weeks paid and still have plenty of leave when I come back.

    1. Natalie

      Some companies have a separate maternity leave policy, or a short term disability policy that covers maternity leave.

      1. Anon

        Good point that I hadn’t thought of. None of my friends have worked at a company like that, so I hadn’t thought of it as an option.

    2. Anonymous

      Mostly short term disability or if the person doesn’t qualify for that, extreme frugality/cost cutting/begging family members for stuff. My employer puts a limit on how much sick or vacation time can roll over and accrue, but for the sick time it’s enough to take 3 months off. Unlimited roll over or unlimited sick and/or vacation time is rare in the US.

    3. OP #1

      I am not planning on having kids for a few more years, but this did occur to me. If I were thinking about maternity leave I would want to bank as many vacation days as possible!

      1. Liane

        If your company is in the United States & is large enough, FMLA covers maternity leave, I believe, but that is usually unpaid.

        Disclaimer: Not an HR professional & it’s been 16 years since I used maternity leave, so AAM please correct me if necessary.

  19. Bea W

    Who gave #4 that horrible advice? Dismiss it from your mind and check out Alison’s other resume and jobsearch advice on top of ehat she just said. No fancy fonts, no colors, graphics, or goofy My Little Pony theme – just a nice cleanly formatted black on white resume highlighting your skills. Hiring managers everywhere will be eternally grateful.

  20. S

    Thanks Alison for responding to my question (#4). I have worked in HR for 10 years and during those years I only spent a brief time working as an internal recruiter. So yes, resume reviewing I have not dabbled in for ages. A recent job loss has forced me to find my way back into HR and the competition is stiff. At a recent job fair I witnessed many resumes/cover letters that were monogrammed and professionally designed, as if they were for a magazine layout. Beautiful art work that made it hard not to catch your eye. So the question came by honestly. Once candidate told me she dropped her resume off taped inside of a box of donuts from a local shop and called for an interview; they liked her creativeness and willingness to show up in person with her resume. I feel at ease that traditional is the safest route to go, but just had to ask.

  21. erin

    I have only ever worked at places with “use it or lose it” policies for vacation. Is it really common to have vacation time rollover? I’ve had sick time rollover policies, but not vacation.

  22. An Admin

    OP # 3
    Yes, I too have taken trips on Untied Airlines…. When I was in collage, I once gave my mom a phone number that didn’t exist to call me at my dorm. Proofreading, if you read it backwards, you can sometime catch things that would not be obvious. Unless you are reading it for content. When I work with numbers in Excel, I use the highlight feature to help me focus on the numbers I need to be looking at. On the upside, those with dyslexia tend to have higher IQ’s AND we have mad coping skills. Good luck!

  23. aninnymouse

    Once when I applied for a barista job at a coffee shop I saw somebody else’s resume with a picture of bags of coffee on the top of their resume.

    I had to LOL at it in my head when I saw it.

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