my coworkers keep pressuring me to take vacation — but I need to save up time for a chronic illness

A reader writes:

I have a problem that I’m sure other readers would love to have: I’m about six months into a new job, and almost everyone in my department has been pressuring me to take vacation. The pressure has been gentle, but persistent. Some examples: my supervisor brought it up in both my three-month and (early) first annual review, the associate director of the department brought it up at the tail end of one of our small department’s meetings, and someone I report to part-time told me she was so glad I was finally taking some days off when I let her know I had to be out (though I’m actually working those days – I’ll just be away at a conference).

I know it’s great to work at a place that encourages rest, but I still can’t take the days off. Unlike at my previous jobs, sick leave and vacation don’t accrue separately here – there’s just one bank of paid personal leave. As a chronically ill person who has had to miss a lot of work over the past few years (I’m currently in slightly better health, but I will inevitably get sick again), it seems foolish for me to miss a lot of work for something other than “can’t get out of bed.” I spend much of my personal time managing my illness to make sure it doesn’t encroach on work and I don’t want to undermine all that effort by messing with my routine or risking running out of leave time when it inevitably becomes necessary to take it.

For now, I just need to keep my head down and get to work every day. It’s frustrating to be chided (I am the youngest person in the department by decades, so there’s a flavor of kindly paternalism in the way some of coworkers talk to me) for doing something I don’t want to have to explain. I’m usually better at advocating for myself, but I can’t figure out what I can say that won’t sound defensive or frustrated with a policy my department doesn’t control. I just want to politely shut these well-intentioned comments down. Do you have any suggestions?

Ugh, I can see why you’re frustrated. You shouldn’t have to share medical issues with everyone, and they’re putting you in a position where it probably feels like you’re going to have to. At the same time, it’s great that they truly want people to take time off, and I can see where they’re coming from too — they’re probably used to people who have to be urged to take vacation before they really believe the culture encourages it.

I do think it would be useful to tell your manager what’s going on, so that she doesn’t keep nagging you. Otherwise she could reasonably see it as part of her job to ensure that you get regular time off. If you trust her to be a reasonable person who doesn’t freak out at the mention of illness, I’d say this: “I really appreciate that you’ve encouraged me to take time off. I have an well-controlled medical condition that occasionally flares up and requires time off, so I prefer to save up my time in case that happens. I wanted to let you know so that you didn’t worry about me not really believing it was okay to take vacation or anything like that.”

For everyone else, how about this: “Oh, I like to save it up and use it in larger chunks.” Or “I won’t hesitate to take it when I need it, but for now, I’m saving it up.” Or even “I’m planning to take some time off later this year — don’t worry” (followed by, if pressed, “no specific plans yet, but I’m on it”).

Or you could also use a version of the manager language with other people, depending on whether you’re willing to share that more broadly.

This is a good reminder, too, for the rest of us to be careful about not crossing the line between “making sure new person knows we support using benefit X” and “nagging new person into something they don’t owe us an explanation for.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. DCompliance*

    Since sick and vacation time are in one bank, I would just double check how much time you can carry over without losing it.

    1. Kate*

      Seconded. My company has a use it or lose it policy, so we are encouraged to take leave. Also, sometimes the money comes out of different pots (days at work are paid by a contract, leave days are paid by the company), so taking leave stretches the money to reduce gaps in funding. So it might be worth having the talk with your manager just to make sure your leave policy allows for banking it for when you need it.

    2. Emmie*

      Your boss might be concerned that you’ll be one of those employees with massive remaining time off at the end of the year. It creates pressure to approve it when time off does not roll over. When or if you discuss this with your manager, I also recommend that you have a plan of action in case you have a large bank of time off left towards the end of year – or request his / her advice on dealing with that possible outcome.

    3. The OP*

      I’ve checked the policy. There’s no “use it or lose” it, and they pay out any extra hours over something like 80 hours at the end of the fiscal year.

      1. JOTeepe*

        I can’t help but wonder if they want to avoid the pay out. 80 hours is only 10 days (on most work schedules) so if you had something like 4-5 weeks banked (i.e., 20-25 days), that’s an additional 2-3 weeks pay the company would have to give.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          My company does this as well, and they much prefer to pay out a set amount instead of allowing people to roll over lots of vacation. It’s a rare enough perk that they wouldn’t bother to offer it if they really wanted to avoid paying it.

        2. OhNo*

          If that’s the case, perhaps the OP could take the time in shorter increments so they appear to be using it without actually draining their bank much.

          Taking off an hour early or ducking out on a Friday afternoon might be a good way to appear to use the time without actually having to take a full-on vacation.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Half days are perfect for that. Also, taking a Why Not? Wednesday creates an appearance of using your time, without draining it in a big way, perhaps because a random day off just seems to incredibly indulgent.

        3. addiez*

          This is actually a huge issue at some companies – especially for people that are well paid, that if they leave they could really drain a company’s cash on hand. My boss started encouraging me to take vacation for this reason, though it wouldn’t particularly apply at the first six months.

    4. Chaordic One*

      The state of Wyoming recently passed a law stating that if someone quits or is fired, employers no longer have to pay out any unused vacation time.
      How wack is that?

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Texas-level wack!

        (Says the Californian who recently arrived in Texas only to find out employers here are not required to pay out vacation)

        1. One of the Annes*

          That’s really interesting, especially given that the State of Texas (state government) does pay out unused vacation when you leave state service. I got paid for a month’s worth of unused vacation when I left a couple years ago. It was really nice.

      2. Joseph*

        It’s wack, but it’s also more or less the standard. I don’t think it’s legally required in most states, though many employers will pay out just as a competitiveness thing.

        That said, needing to pay out unused vacation time can be a huge liability if you’re also allowed to roll it over – since you need to have enough cash available to handle multiple people leaving at once, big layoffs, etc.

        1. Natalie*

          You can easily limit that liability by limiting the total accrual allowed. I think even super labor friendly California allows employers to cap the total accrual.

          1. Callietwo*

            My company only allows 5 days to roll over per year, at least on paper, but I’ve never seen them enforce that. Instead they’ll hound you to start taking it about 2 months before your roll over date and if you don’t get below 5, they’ll continue hounding until you get back down and then it stops.

            I don’t have that problem myself because I also have (several) chronic illnesses and am also prone to bronchitis every time I get a cold. Last time I used up the 7 sick days and had to use several vacation days as well :/

      3. LawBee*

        doesn’t seem that odd to me – I don’t know if I’ve ever lived in a place where they were required to.

  2. Anna the Accounting Grad*

    Wait, wait, wait… you’re being pressured to take a vacation after only six months in your job? Is it just me, or is there something below the surface of this situation?

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Yeah, this seems really odd to me, but it might just be the company culture. They could be very generous with time off, and expect employees to take it regularly.

      1. The OP*

        Yes, it’s a pediatric hospital. I’m not on the clinical side, but the culture is that you need to take leave to make sure you don’t burn out. Since our job is caring for sick children, there’s even a bit of a moral imperative to do what is best for them. But I am not endangering anyone – a big part of why I chose my little specialist field!

        1. pomme de terre*

          That’s great that they encourage caretakers to recharge.

          Even factoring in your chronic illness, is there a chance they are nudging you to use the time because you seem a little burnt out? Might be worth asking if you have a workplace pal you can trust.

          1. OhBehave*

            I was wondering the same thing. If they are seeing something in you that makes them wonder if you need a day off then they are trying to head off a crash. I can totally understand why they encourage their employees to take time off given the fact that this is a peds hospital.
            A Why Not? Wednesday once in a while may be a great idea. You don’t have to go anywhere, check out your local grocery for cooking class (ours has some awesome classes), etc.
            I do think your manager should know what’s going on in case of a sudden flare up. Helping them understand your reasoning will go a long way to lessening the pressure.

        2. Cam*

          That makes it even sillier than normal to combine sick leave and vacation into one pot. You really, really don’t want hospital workers coming in sick to avoid losing out on vacation time. It’s really awful that a hospital would be so short sighted.

          1. Red*

            My hospital does the same thing, though for extended health-related absences we also have an ESB we can draw from, so you don’t need to have that much PTO set aside in case of an illness. There’s more than enough PTO to be sickly and take a vacation, as well. I believe the maximum PTO you can accrue in a year is just under 300 hours.

              1. Red*

                You’re welcome to apply; my department is even hiring! We desperately need staff!! But I looked it up, and it changes based on how long you’ve been with the company. For your first 5 years you can accrue a max of 232 hours. By your 25th year there, your max is 344 hours. Of course, the accrual rate also goes up throughout the years.

            1. Red Too*

              Wack! I have been posting here as Red for a couple months now and I seriously had to double take to make sure that I hadn’t posted this previously because my hospital does the same thing, up to the ESB and the max PTO per year. Resetting brain!

              1. Callietwo*

                I ended up changing my nick as I realized after the fact there was already a Calliope.. I thought I’d checked but I guess not very well!

                As for PTO.. to start my company gives 12 sick days and 12 vacation days (along with 13 paid holidays).. each year we get 12 more vacation days till the max of 5 weeks. Vaca & holiday time remains the same. I think it’s pretty generous.

          2. Former Hospital worker*

            I used to work at a pediatric hospital that switched to this model towards the end of my stay there. They used to offer 12 sick days, 3 weeks vacation, 2 personal days and 9 holidays. They threw all of the vacation, personal, holidays and half of the sick days into PTO, so 32 days. They threw the other 6 days into an extended illness bank, which you could only use after you had been out for 3 days. Depending on how often you were sick, you may have done better or worse in the new system.

              1. Former Hospital worker*

                That was definitely one of the perks of that job, although the pay wasn’t the greatest. This was right out of school too, and when I hit my 5 year mark I got another week of PTO. My current job is not quite as generous with PTO, but pays much better.

        3. LP*

          Wow I wish I worked at your hospital. The hospital I work at prefers the overwork and understaff your caregivers until they drop approach. They throw you a pathetic hand full of days off a year without getting disciplined and then get mad if you EVER call in or attempt to take any time off.

        4. Anion*

          I was wondering if it was a hospital or other medical facility! My Mom is an ER nurse and her vacation accrues according to hours worked (i.e. every twelve-hour shift earns an hour of vacation time; something like that). Not only are they big on avoiding burn-out but she loses the time if she doesn’t take it, so she’s always being reminded by the Nurse Manager that she has vacation time that she needs to take–and it’s been that way at every hospital she’s ever worked at, even the ones where she only moonlighted per diem.

          Hope your talk with your manager goes well!

      2. Jinx*

        My current job is adamant about people using all their vacation each year, new or not. We have a use it or lose it policy, so anything you don’t use is just gone. My manager encourages people to take longer vacations throughout the year to avoid the office becoming a ghost town in December.

    2. Not Karen*

      Maybe they’re a workplace that understands the value of a vacation and supplies plenty of PTO in order to take it? By the time I was six months into my job, I had accrued 3.5 weeks of PTO (minus a few holidays).

      1. Kate*

        My company was like this. I started in March, and rather than accruing leave, we are given a set number of hours at the start (prorated for partial years). We have a use it or lose it policy, so my coworkers were like, “No really, you need to take leave.” I’d like to think it’s purely altruistic, but honestly, I think there is a financial benefit for them. At least it’s mutually beneficial.

        1. Not Karen*

          Yes, a use it or lose it policy makes it even more important to take leave when you can. We accrue 7 weeks but can only rollover 6, so essentially you have to take at least 5 days off every year. I think it’s better than at OldJob where you could rollover up to 12.5 weeks; this undoubtedly encouraged people to never use their PTO because they could just save it for years.

          1. UnCivilServant*

            After you reach a certain amount of time, we accrue 4 weeks per year where I work, and can only roll over 8. I’ve been sitting there looking at the calendar going “nope, I can’t ask for X. Or the week after, or the week after…” before you know it I was well into the next fiscal year with no good time spans.

            We have a separate pool for sick leave and yet another non-bankable for personal that only goes to 5 days when it resets. In all we get far too much leave. A lot of people end up on ‘use it or lose it time’. (We get much less sick leave per year versus vacation that doesn’t go up with time of service, but it has a much higher rollerover cap and has a greater value at separation)

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yep, same here. I lost some this year because of a work transition that made me reluctant to take leave earlier on–our fiscal year ends in June and we only get so much rollover. I’m not gonna do that again!!

    3. zora.dee*

      Well, maybe they work a lot of long hours/weekends, etc, and they are encouraging her to balance that out. It’s not necessarily a weird thing.

      Also, it’s summer, a lot of places have an informal summer schedule with lighter hours. My current workplace does, and pretty much everyone is taking some long weekends or half-days over the summer, because there tend to be long hours required over the winter.

    4. La Skala*

      Nope, this was me, too. I started a job in April, took two weeks of (paid) vacation for a pre-planned trip abroad in July (which was negotiated during the offer stage of my interview–I didn’t spring it on them after I accepted), and STILL within three months of that I started getting constant reminders that even though I was in the hole in terms of vacation days, I shouldn’t let that stop me from taking some time off if I needed it! Really! Please! Don’t be afraid to ask! Unbelievable, but true–these employers exist.

    5. Ros*

      I work in an office where the owner is very, very keen on everyone having work-life balance – he’s the type where he actually doesn’t like it when people answer emails outside of office hours, because “that’s your time, you shouldn’t be working”. We’re well-paid and have excellent vacation/sick days/etc – he actually provides back-up to what he talks about.

      He would, and has, encouraged people who’ve been working for 4 months to take a week off in the summer and actually advanced the time off against future work so that they’d have a week off with his kids, because he thinks that’s important.

      Basically: it’s not always a sign of something bad. Sometimes, it’s just that you have a corporate culture that values people having time for family/friends/self in addition to work.

      (Incidentally: we’ve had to fire a few people in the past few years, and have had 1 full year of everyone being at 80% time/salary because of a tough industry time. You know how many people have quit in the past 5 years? 0. INCLUDING during the time where everyone’s pay got cut by 20%. Not that many companies can say the same, so clearly he’s got something going for him.)

      1. Ros*

        Augh, should read “so that they’d have time off with their kids”. I’m assuming people got that. :)

          1. Ros*

            He is. I seriously like this job.

            Like, no joke, I announced that I was pregnant, and he took me aside and was like “I know pregnancy can be tough, so let me know if you need a different chair or foot stool or something, ok? And if you’re tired, you can totally nap on the gurney in the back office on your lunch break, no one will mind.”

            Compared to my last job and last pregnancy, where I got yelled at for not wearing heels while 8 months pregnant… I will leave this place if the business folds over, and not one second sooner.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Hee hee! That might have been a contender for *weirdest* boss ever.

            The actual policy and boss sound awesome, tho.

      2. neverjaunty*

        The problem is that when it goes beyond setting an example and gentle reminders, it turns into that phenomenon where the one non-drinker in the group is pressured to “just have a beer” because everybody else is feeling uncomfortable that he’s drinking water while they’re doing body shots.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Or maybe there is no problem and he is just a decent human being and good boss. We don’t have to find the negative in everything and there’s nothing in the comment to lead to this assumption.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Speaking of not finding the negative in anything, you’re reading something in my comment that isn’t there. I know this is the Internet but does everything have to be deciding that the last person said something awful?

        2. Liane*

          And if he is so great about work/life balance, you’d be safe telling him, “I need to save my leave in case [condition] flares up.”

    6. DCompliance*

      I have worked at a place where the corporate culture was to encourage days off to avoid burnout. By 6 months I had accrued a lot of time. It would be odd that in a 6 month period someone would not have even taken at least take 1 day off. (Not sure how much PTO the OP has used if at all).

    7. Pwyll*

      Not all that strange. Within 6 months at my firm my boss and the admin manager both asked me repeatedly to take some time off. We’re in a high stress industry, and they want everyone to decompress where possible.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        I’m six months into my new job, and I’ve already taken three weeks off. And I have a week and three days left in my bank, and I’m still accruing PTO. I never felt like I could take off at my last job (oddly enough, in the same company), but this place doesn’t bat an eyelash at it. Hell, our Senior VP let a guy who’s leaving for grad school take vacation during his two week notice period and told the rest of us we could do the same if we had the PTO and were resigning.

    8. Rae*

      It’s not that unusual. My first job I only got 2.5 weeks vacation and I used a week in the summer and a week at Christmas. Vacation was hard to come by and a “you use it or loose it” proposition. It was never enough.

      My second job had 4 weeks vacation. You were allowed to carry over 5 days, the rest you didn’t use, you lost. The culture was such that managers really encouraged people to start using vacation after month 3 so, firstly, they didn’t loose it and secondly they didn’t all take it at the same time.

      My managers also really discouraged payout. They said if you were paying out for the cash, then talk to them about a position or promotion that would allow you to get more money and take vacation. Not taking vacation is unhealthy, and too many companies use no vacation in the first year as some kind of sick test of loyalty.

    9. Raichu*

      I also definitely thought that was weird. People started mentioning it at three months?? I would feel uncomfortable taking a long vacation so soon into the job, honestly.

    10. CE*

      When I was an intern a few years ago, the program lasted ten weeks and during that time we each accrued 3.4 days of annual leave. We were told at orientation that we should take at least some of it – most people did it over the Christmas-New Years period, I took a random Friday and Monday for a long weekend.

      It’s also worth noting that my company also strongly encourages (and for some employees, requires) “block leave” of at least ten consecutive business days each financial year with no contact.

      1. sstabeler*

        the “block leave” almost certainly isn’t altruistic- particularly for the ones who are mandated to take it. That policy is usually instituted because someone was covering up a problem and the mandatory time off is to allow them to check that their work doesn’t go pear shaped while they were gone.(basically, companies do worry that employees might be barely concealing a problem by never taking vacation, so the black time off is to give a time period when that won’t work.)

  3. NarrowDoorways*

    Sorry to hear about your illness.

    I JUST had a convo the other week with someone when I realized she hadn’t used any vacation time THIS YEAR. We have a very generous policy. She’s one of the positions that must have someone to cover for her absence. Yeah, she’s got at least 3 weeks she needs to use or lose by years’ end, not including the mandatory time the office is closed over the holidays and carryover time…

    She’s not someone I manage, but if people who cover for her, that limits the time everyone can take. Either the person covering then can’t take time or then someone else can’t take time because there’s no coverage. She’s worked here for a few years so she didn’t have a reason for not taking time beyond doesn’t have the money to travel. Staycation, baybee!

    1. Jennifer*

      I only have about 3-4 weeks of the year where I could actually take time off without having to get coverage somewhere. I used a week to move and other than that, I am just not going to have any time off until Christmas…plus I get to cover for other people’s sick leave and vacations.

  4. B*

    I do agree with Alison that you should try and bring your manager into what is happening. It would be a bit of a blindside if all of a sudden you do need extra time off for an illness they knew nothing about it. You could also add in that you wish to keep it private from your co-workers so as to not be treated any differently.

    1. The OP*

      My manager knows I deal with illness (I felt very strange bringing this up in my annual review, but I agree that it needed to happen), but I don’t think he has connected the dots between sick leave and vacation being in the same bank and my not being interested in taking a vacation. It’s that connection that I haven’t figured out how to explain to him.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I’d be tempted to go along the lines of (smiling), “I really do appreciate that you encourage me to take vacation, and want employees to have time to decompress. Unfortunately, if I have a flare of my illness, I may need to cover time out being sick – taking a vacation now could mean that I don’t have enough time banked in that eventuality. A vacation would be anything but relaxing, as I worried about the impact on my time off if I should need it for health reasons.”

        1. Newby*

          You can also add that you like to have X number of days banked in case of illness and after that you will consider taking a vacation.

      2. Newby*

        I’ve had that conversation before. I think that Alison’s response is perfect. Letting them know that it is generally well controlled but will occasionally need time off lets them know that you are on top of it and it shouldn’t cause any major disruptions at work.

  5. MoinMoin*

    To me, if a coworker said they were saving up, my first thought would be that they’re planning on using it all around the holidays, which depending on the job and coverage and PTO policies and everything else, could be a major flag for something/someone that will cause issues later on. I don’t want to derail the conversation about whether using PTO like that is valid, but it’s worth the OP keeping that in mind while they’re explaining if it’s the kind of environment where arrangement could cause assumptions and resentment.

    1. J.B.*

      My first thought would be maternity leave…the OP should loop her manager in. If her coworkers question things from there then the manager needs to tell them to stuff it. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t spend any effort worrying about it. If OP goes out for health reasons without everyone knowing they are health reasons, people who will resent will resent. It really shouldn’t be her problem.

      1. MoinMoin*

        Ooh, good point on maternity leave too. As for the resentment, I meant resenting someone who you think is trying to circumvent PTO rules around holidays (i.e. only so many people can be off and it’s use-it-or-lose-it at year end so you’re told not to save it but then someone still has like 3 weeks to use at the end of the year and makes a big stink about being denied the time and management rolls over). Agreed that you should still stuff it if you don’t know the whole story, but depending on the environment, it can be a sore point that makes people unfairly assume this is what’s happening. Or maybe I’m still just working through old wounds in dysfunctional workplaces….

  6. Jen*

    I’ve had this convo with people that report to me- we have a VERY generous PTO policy- I’ve never had anyone run out- and there are a few people on my team that don’t take it, preferring instead to take an hour off to do to a kids recital or dr’s appt and then come back to the office. It’s stressful for them and we really can function for 24 hours without them! Some people are hard wired to work as much as possible, so it was important for me to do things like say “we really won’t be busy- why not just take the day and take your kid out to lunch after? You have the time and I’ll call if something comes up.”

    Worth noting is that we do NOT pay out $ if you quit with banked PTO, so it really is mindset for my folks. They are getting better…

  7. Cafe au Lait*

    Alison, I confess but I really disagree with your advice on “I like to take my vacation in larger chunks.”

    My coworker had 500+ hours of vacation time saved up. Part of this was management’s fault: when she stopped accruing, they needed to figure out why. (Part of it was she liked work, the other part is that she never delegates so she *can’t* take time off because no one can manage the workload in her absence).

    This summer she’s working part-time while using up her vacation time. While my third coworker and I have handled the workload, it was a bit tricky to schedule our vacations around her part-time schedule. We got it done, but I’m going to confess to some less than charitable feelings.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      I think that comment was meant in more of a “I like to take my vacation time in 1-2 week stretches” way to indicate the LW would prefer to do that instead of taking occasional long weekends, which is true as the LW indicated she would need flexibility for longer periods of time occasionally.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, definitely — meant to combat the suggestions to take long weekends, etc., not to imply she’s going to spring a six-week mini-sabbatical on them or anything!

  8. AnonEMoose*

    I agree with the advice to, if you have a good relationship with your manager, give her as much of an explanation as you’re comfortable with.

    If your manager is a reasonable person, and responds well, it might even make sense to talk with her about accommodations that might help you when your illness is flaring up. So things like “I’m doing/feeling fine right now, and working with my doctor to keep things under control. If I do experience a flare-up, it helps if I can (work half days/work from home sometimes/work my schedule around medical appointments/whatever).” And then just re-emphasize that right now, you’re doing well, but you’ll be sure to let her know if that changes. That’s very much up to you, and very dependent on your situation, though.

  9. Jess*

    As someone who had to cancel a vacation (I’d be on it right now) because of an unexpected chronic illness earlier in the year — and as someone whose company also does not split sick/vacation time — I completely understand this frustration. I agree with others that it would be beneficial to everyone to be clear about your illness to your manager. Other than that, my sympathies. I’m still heartbroken at the loss of my trip. (It was a trip with extended family, so the saving grace was that at least I had not yet bought plane tickets and hadn’t needed to book a place to stay). Way easier to be able to plan ahead. I DO hope you get to take a nice weekend away or something sometime, though!

    1. Newby*

      I unexpectedly needed surgery recently and missed my grandmother’s 90th birthday party because they were too close together to justify the time off. Nobody except my boss and one coworker knew why I was out. Everyone asked me how my vacation was when I came back.

  10. INTP*

    Agree to explain it to your boss using the wording in the letter or given above. (I wouldn’t complain about the vacation/PTO coming out of the same pot btw, because that’s not really the problem – if they were separate, you wouldn’t have enough sick time and still would be saving your vacation time for illness, at least that’s what I had to do. Just explain that you need to save time for your illness.)

    But with random coworkers and such, maybe just say you’re planning something for the spring or next summer when your family will be available/you will have money saved up/whatever. They will probably forget. And if you can afford to use a little time, taking a day or half day here and there will probably take care of the impression that you never take time off. People will see your Out-of-Office emails and not really do the math to calculate that you aren’t using much of your leave.

    1. OhNo*

      This phrasing for coworkers really does work pretty well. I’ve used it before myself (although in my case I really was banking for a vacation – just didn’t want to share my plans with everybody).

      “Oh, I’m just saving a few days for a possible vacation next spring/later this year/whenever my family is able to come and visit” gives the vibe of having definite plans to use the time, without having to get into details of when/where/why.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      That point about not calculating is really key. Nine times out of ten, people are paying far less attention than it feels like, and you can absolutely use that to your advantage.

  11. MillersSpring*

    I’m curious if the boss and coworkers might be implying that they’ve noticed behaviors that could indicate the OP needs a vacation. Hope not, but for example, missed deadlines, mistakes and hot tempers can be signs that you need a real vacation if they’re unusual for you. OP, if you can think of anything like that in the past few weeks, you might oblige your boss and take at least one day off.

  12. NJ Anon*

    Not sure what the op’s exact job duties are but in some areas taking vacation is good for internal controls. It is encouraged.

    1. Anna the Accounting Grad*

      In English: willingness to disappear for a week or two demonstrates a reduced likelihood that you’re, er, fiscally misbehaving. It’s an auditing thing.

    2. Poppy*

      Yup, I’ve worked with some accountants who were required to take at least one 2-week vacation each year so it was easier to spot financial inconsistancies.

  13. Laura*

    I don’t think I saw anyone else mention that sometimes managers are under pressure to ensure that PTO is being used throughout the year for budgetary reasons. We have quarterly dept. meetings and when the VP goes over the financials, she frequently mentions that the salary line is running higher or lower than target due to PTO usage. I think corporate pays for PTO, but the dept. pays for salary, so of course the dept. wants you to use it all so they aren’t paying out more in salary than expected.

    That said, the headquarters pretty much shuts down the last two weeks of the year, and there isn’t any stigma attached to using up the rest of your PTO over Christmas.

  14. Benefits Admin.*

    My job is benefits, so I give those same paternalistic speeches occasionally, and yet I save the majority of my time for sick kids and my own migraines. I can definitely understand where you’re coming from – but are you saying that in 6 months, you haven’t taken at least one sick day? Or are your coworkers concerned because you haven’t taken a day at all that appears to be for personal enjoyment away from work?

    It might help to read up on your company’s leave policies regarding sick leave. Perhaps there is some short-term disability coverage that wouldn’t deplete your leave bank entirely.

    1. J.B.*

      My husband does not have a chronic illness but he gets sick a lot, and tends to drain the PTO pot. He was very upfront when hired that combined PTO could be a problem for that reason. His bosses said they could work with him if need be. Your manager may or may not have any flexibility when it comes to being out, but it’s worth asking to know what your options are.

  15. Chaordic One*

    At my last job, I was pretty burned out and really could have used a vacation.

    We had combined vacation/sick leave “Paid Time Off” (PTO) days and I ended up using most of them for some unexpected personal illnesses and then illnesses involving elderly family members and having to go to funerals out-of-state.

    The job certainly didn’t pay well enough that I could have afforded a real vacation. (I would have liked to have gone to a different city, stayed in a hotel for 5 or 6 days and done some shopping and gone to a couple of concerts and/or musicals or something like that. Maybe visit a museum or two.) I suppose I should have more seriously considered a “staycation.”

  16. Tammy*

    Something else to consider, which may be part of this: Accrued but unused PTO is represented as a liability (money owed by the company) on the balance sheet, and they have to hang onto enough cash to be able to satisfy their combined PTO liability. For a large company with a generous time-off accrual policy – especially in states like CA where accumulated PTO must be carried over from year to year – this can represent an awful lot of money. My company encourages people to use their time off, both from a work/life balance standpoint and because if everyone was at the maximum time off accrual the company would have to keep a lot of money in the bank to cover it.

  17. Marmalade*

    Wow, not having separate pools of annual leave and sick leave would SUCK. I’ve never heard of this before (I don’t think it’s a thing in my country) but I have to say that it might be a dealbreaker for me if this was a job I was interviewing for. How much annual leave I accrue has NOTHING to do with how often I get sick.
    Also, wouldn’t people be incentivised to come to work sick because they wanted (or needed, if something was planned and upcoming) to save their leave for their holiday?
    Just a horrible policy IMO.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      Just goes to show that one person’s nightmare is another’s dream. I very rarely get sick, but I absolutely love to travel so I’m frequently in a place where I have lots of sick leave left over and little vacation time. I would much prefer my PTO and sick time to be in one bank that I could draw from so that I don’t have to resort to my current odd tricks like scheduling doctor’s appointments on Friday mornings or Monday evenings to qualify days I want to travel as sick time.

      1. Marmalade*

        It’s the same for me – travel as much as possible, rarely get sick – so it possibly would benefit me too … but the idea of lumping the two together just stresses me out. Annual leave is accrued as you work, sick leave is granted at 15 days/year, loaded on Jan 1st each year.

        Ah, at my work you don’t need to take leave for a medical appointment, if it’s 2h or less off your workday then you don’t have to make it up.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          Sick leave and vacation time are both accrued at my current employer with sick time accruing slightly faster for non-exempt employees so I would rather accrue an entire bucket of time off than be left with a bunch of sick time that continually rolls over and can’t be paid out when I leave.

    2. Rae*

      It’s an adjustment. However, in reality if you go over the allotted sick time, you’re going to use vacation time at some point anyway. Our company changed from 4 weeks vacation and 3 sick days and 10 holidays to 5 weeks PTO and 9 holidays. For most people, they were ecstatic, especially those without children. Unless you have unlimited sick time or overly-generous sick time it makes sense. Absences are absences. It’s important to be an adult and think ahead, saving time for when you may not be able to come in. With a cap on sick days people often come in sick anyway.

    3. Laura*

      It does suck. I took a job last year that had a combined pool. They also refuse to negotiate PTO as part of hiring. Stupid me didn’t realize how bad it would be to suddenly have less than half the available PTO than I was used to, especially after I got pregnant and had lots of issues in the first trimester. I really missed the essentially bottomless pool of sick time that I had at my old job. And I’m not the sickly type, I just like that the safety net is there and I don’t have to sweat taking a vacation day in case I might need it for a sick day later.

      I actually returned to my old job at least in part because of the benefits, because once I had the kid I could see that those benefits really mattered to me. (Like a pension! I used to scoff at the pension. Not anymore).

    4. baseballfan*

      I don’t understand how anyone could be against a combined PTO pool. Assuming the number of days off is the same, all it does is provide additional flexibility.

      1. baseballfan*

        It also removes the issue of people lying about being sick because they want a day off. A big personal pet peeve of mine.

        1. Anna*

          I see nothing wrong with calling in sick for a mental health day. I can be sick and tired [of work]. I rarely get sick and accrue 10 days of Personal/Sick Time during the year. If I need a mental health day, that’s still for my health.

          1. JOTeepe*

            There is a big difference between that and, say, calling in and then going to the beach, or to an amusement park, or [insert fun activity that should be used with vacation leave here]. If I take an MH day, it involves my couch, my sweats, my dog and cat, and a Netflix binge.

        2. JOTeepe*

          It’s more about reducing unscheduled absences. The theory is not a lot of incentive to take unscheduled leave if there is one PTO bucket, so you’ll only do it if you “really” need to.

          What it does in reality: Stresses out employees who are not time abusers if they get sick, because they may already have (scheduled) plans for their leave, and time abusers still abuse their time.

          Personally, I would rather see an unlimited paid sick leave policy where you take time if you truly need it but the culture discourages time abuse by having a rigorous progressive discipline policy. This would also be great for those with chronic illness, major health problems, maternity/paternity leave, as they wouldn’t have to worry about going off the payroll. And those who don’t get sick often won’t feel like they are “losing out” on days that might disappear at the end of the year.

      2. Judy*

        Well, some of us have Vacation time and “unlimited” sick time. Sick time is on a case by case basis, but short term disability kicks in after 1 week of a single absence. At my former company, we had sick leave that didn’t have an accrual limit, so you could stockpile it for serious illnesses and pregnancy. Because I could accrue sick time over several years, I didn’t get short term disability pay (60% pay) during the first 6 weeks of either of my maternity leaves. In fact, all of my previous companies had unlimited accrual of sick time, along with allowing donation of sick time to seriously ill colleagues.

        I would be concerned about having a combined PTO pool, speaking as someone who might take 2 sick days a year. I’m sure one day I’ll need to take more, but I’m currently pretty healthy for someone closer to 50 than 40.

      3. Anna*

        I think it depends on what your current situation is. I’d be really annoyed if my job switched to that, because right now, they allow an unlimited amount of sick time to acrue, but at some point, there is a cap on how much vacation you can save up. So right now I have twelve weeks’ worth of sick time saved up, but I’m not allowed to have nearly that much time saved up as vacation.

        So this has the effect that I’m never incentivized to call in sick if I don’t need to (because my sick days will always be there for me kater), but I AM incentivized to take my vacation, because there is a cap. So taking vacation doesn’t come with the added guilt of “What if I need this day in the future?!” with it, as it does in OP’s case. You end up routinely taking time off.

        If you currently work in situation where you lose your sick days in the same way you lose your vacation, it’s probably just as well to not make the distinction.

      4. KM*

        Conversely, the only way I can see it as “providing additional flexibility” is if you’re someone who doesn’t get sick. My last job gave us 15 days of sick/vacation days, so there where several occasions that required me “working” but barely functional, because otherwise I’d have to skip a planned trip to stay home sick. It was a major nuisance.

    5. CMT*

      There are pros and cons to each system, and there isn’t one way that is universally better than the other. Individual preferences can certainly vary, especially depending on health and family.

    6. Fluffer Nutter*

      My last job had separate sick and vacation and I just have PTO now, which I hate esp. as we’re only allowed to carry over 1 week to the new year. I had a major injury at my old job and had enough sick leave banked to cover it. Now, if I got injured in Jan/Feb I’d have to go on short term disability, at a 33% pay cut, and then on to unpaid leave. If I lived alone that’s bankruptcy territory. And no vacation left. And this in non-profit, where time off is supposed to compensate for low wages. Never again.

    7. Marmalade*

      Thanks for the responses, I’ve read them with interest. But I just can’t Shake the feeling that this penalises people who drew the short straw and have poorer health, since they won’t be able to take as many holidays. :-(

      1. Marcela*

        Yup yup. I just took a new job where I will have 15 days of vacation and sick time. In the last year, I haven’t had any issues with my endo, so those days could be 15 vacation only days. But in the past, before my current medication, I would have used between 8 and 12 of those days, leaving me with about a week of vacation days… not enough at all to travel to the sound end of South America.

      2. LawBee*

        It does, I’m not going to disagree. But like someone upthread said, every system helps some people and doesn’t help others.

        I will also note that 15 days paid sick time is really generous in the US. I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a place that had more than five. I’ve also never been able to roll over or “save up” days over years, so there are all kinds of plans out there. Different countries, different cultures, etc., but man – I never ever want to go back to a divided PTO bank.

    8. LawBee*

      I love having all my paid time off in one bucket. I VERY rarely get sick, so sick days are wasted on me. At OldJob, I would take “mental health days” where I would call in sick when I wasn’t, just to use those days. And the one time in my twenties (so long ago) when I was actually very ill, it sucked that I had to use vacation time because I’d used two sick days earlier in the year (legitimately – I’d sprained an ankle and couldn’t walk.)

      With a solid bank of time off to use as I see fit, I’m much more relaxed about scheduling my time. I honestly don’t ever want to go back to “you can only be sick five days out of the year”.

  18. Anna*

    If I were in your position, I might say “I’m so glad we’re encouraged to take time off when we need it, but right now, I don’t feel like I need to take time off. I’m sure I’ll feel differently sometime in the future, so I’ll save my PTO for then.”

    This is a 100% true statement. At some point in the future, you will feel like you need to take time off (if you have a flare of your illness). And you are saving it for that time.

  19. Pen*

    I have a chronic illness with flares also, and I’ve sometimes framed it as as “family thing” – as in “I’m saving it up for a couple of family things I have coming up” which is true in that when I’m sick it impacts my family who needs to care for me and, occasionally, I need days off to support them too. Eventually they’ll figure it out if you start using all your PTO as sick time but it sometimes saves the unecessary medical conversation.

  20. mikeiam*

    I’ve had Crohn’s Disease for 25 years – since I was 13. I’ve worked in places with one PTO bank and separate pools. I totally get wanting to bank time in case you have a flareup of your illness, but please don’t forget taking a day off – when you aren’t running to doctor’s appointment or labs for tests – can be just as important. If it helps, think of them as mental health days to help keep stress down and so that every day off isn’t a day of errands. I usually set an amount of days accrued as a mental “okay, once I get this many saved up I can take a day or two off and still have my cushion if I get sick.”

    But definitely talk to your manager. And, hell, even your coworkers if you feel comfortable (that could take way more than 6 months). Generally people are pretty supportive when they know what you’re dealing with. And while you don’t have to disclose anything the issue with “invisible disabilities” is that people won’t know if you don’t tell them and can form bad opinions just as easily if you do suddenly need to take a week off and don’t know what’s up (and are stuck covering for you with no explanation).

    Glad you’re in an environment where they encourage you to take time!

    1. jm*

      I also have Crohn’s and was thinking the same thing — taking mental health days to relieve stress is so important (for me) to reduce the chance of having a flare-up of the disease — since stress is proven to cause flares.

      Also, that feeling of relief that comes from looking forward to having a day off to do fun things helps me handle workplace stress/demands more easily.

  21. Nobody Here By That Name*

    Fellow chronic illness person here with sympathy. I regularly go through my sick days and have to dip into vacation when issues flare up. I miss the days when I could take weeks off just for fun.

  22. fellow spoonie*

    I have never related with a post on this site more than this one! I, too, am constantly trying to save up time for when I get sick again and I always get sick again. And telling people about it is always weird because it’s none of their business and also it changes the way they interact with you. Looks of pity and constant remarks of “glad to see you’re better” except for you’re never better, you’re just not as bad. ANYWAY, I think Alison’s advice is good advice – tell your manager, hope they understand, and politely tell coworkers that you’re handling it.

    1. Jeanne*

      Sorry. I have a chronic illness too and it ALWAYS changes the way people treat you. I hate it.

  23. Pam Adams*

    I’ve also got chronic health issues. One way to get bang for your buck in using vacation is to take a day at the beginning of a three-day weekend. You look like you’re using time, but it only costs you one day of leave.

  24. De Minimis*

    We don’t have “use or lose” or a mandatory buyout [though we do have occasional buyouts where you have to specify that you don’t want your excess vacation paid out.

    But we do track people that have a lot of hours and they have to show a plan to use any carryover hours after fiscal year end. Our sick leave is calculated separately from vacation time, though.

    I was going to mention the accounting liability issue, but someone already beat me to it! It seems like the highest paid people are the ones who have the most accrued vacation, so it can add up to a lot of money.

  25. stevenz*

    Depending on how much time off you get, and whether you have a use it or lose it policy… An “explanation” I use for not taking vacation time is that I’m planning an overseas trip and want to be able to take a few weeks off if I can. Makes it worth all that travel, jet lag, blah blah. Of course, down here it is customary for people to take very long vacations. Six weeks isn’t unusual so accumulating time is normal. Not so much in the US, if that’s where you are.

    In these situations you don’t have to tell the truth.

  26. employee referral program*

    My last job had separate sick and vacation and I just have Software now, which I hate esp. We have a use it or lose it policy, so anything you don’t use is just gone. My manager encourages people to take longer vacations throughout the year to avoid the office becoming a ghost town in November.

  27. DanaScully*

    I also have a chronic illness and also “save” my days wherever I can. I whittle away at them gently by taking long weekends occasionally, but for the past two years I have carried days over (up to 5). I save mine both in case of a bad period with my illness, or just in case I burn out and need to stay in bed for a few days.

    You have my sympathy, I know how difficult it can be to work with a chronic illness, and it definitely makes more sense to take a paid day to have a duvet day than it does to call in sick. Especially when the excuse is only that you physically won’t make it out of bed that day.

  28. Christine*

    Dear OP, I would be leery of informing a supervisor in a new job about a chronic illness if you are still on probation. My employer has a year probation period for new employees. I recommend taking a 1/2 a day on a Friday, give yourself a longer weekend. Let’s them know you are listening to them. You can tell them that you are reserving your vacation time in case of an emergency. I always keep 5 days on the books in case of an emergency. But we have two separate pools for leave & illness.

  29. mdv*

    It is posts like these that make me super grateful for my state government job benefits:
    a. sick and vacation time accrued separately, and roll over from year to year
    b. no limit on rolled over sick time! (18 years and counting, I am at 966 hours = 24 weeks…) … with a policy to pay out a percentage of it at retirement.

    I am very sorry that you have to worry about this, OP, I wish you could just deal with your chronic illness AND take vacations when it is not flaring up!

  30. PolarBear*

    How does it work in the USA? Can you take unpaid leave? What about if you are sick and have no time left?

    In the UK, annual leave is set by law -I think full time employees have 20 paid days and 8 bank holidays.

    I currently have 23 days plus 8 bank holidays but my last job was 27 days! Sick leave – currently one month full pay, one month half pay – I’ve had as much as 6 months full and 6 month half. Leave tends to increase with length of service.

    I have a chronic disease too. My GP has written me a fit note telling my employers to let me work from home! So on a bad day they have no problems with it.

    It’s such a shame that it’s 2016 and people have to chose between jobs and health.

Comments are closed.