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Work From Home

How to Ask for Time Off in the Age of COVID-19 and Work From Home

COVID-19 has forced many of us into our homes, and remote work has been the new normal for companies all over the globe. And although a lot of us can use the time to set up productive work schedules that make room for our other priorities, there are yet some of us who are still struggling to adjust.


Maybe you're suddenly the primary educator of your young kids. Maybe you suddenly have to care for a sick relative. Or maybe neither apply but you just need time to realign and adjust to heal from your coronavirus-related anxieties.

Taking time off might seem like a difficult thing to ask for, especially when so many employers can reason that working from home means their employees are enjoying better work-life balance. But it's far from the case – and certainly a dangerous generalization.

So if you're currently itching for some much-needed time away from work, even when you're already working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips to help you get started.

How to Ask For Time Off in the Age of COVID-19

Re-evaluate your company's leave policies

Your company's leave policies might have changed since shifting to remote work. Aside from setting new remote work policies, your company might have adjusted their rules for asking for paid or unpaid leave.

If you aren't sure what these new policies might be, you may want to check with your boss or your HR team. As everyone navigates this new normal, it might not be surprising if this information isn't widely available yet. Should that be the case, by asking the people in charge, you're also able to help your company streamline any ongoing COVID-19 employee support efforts – including ironing out leave policies when working from home.

Justify your reason for needing time off

Once you know what leaves you're entitled to, you might need to think about how you'll justify some time off from work to your manager and HR department. By now, you might already know how much time you need, so be sure to justify the length of your leave as well.

If you're able, try to negotiate clocking in this leave time under any vacation days or sick leaves you might not have used up yet. If you're taking a break for your mental health, reason with your employer that it will be good for your productivity and job satisfactionin the long-term.

Decide on start and end dates

Before speaking with anybody about your leave, pick the exact dates you want to take time off. Needless to say, if your company is in the middle of big projects this season, then you can ask yourself if you're willing to wait until things calm down before taking time off or if filing for leave can't wait.

You may also want to be prepared for any negotiations from your manager. Have any backup dates in mind, or be prepared to reason why you need to take time off on the exact dates you specify.

Give your boss a heads-up via their preferred communication method

Because you're no longer in the same office working with your boss, it might be difficult for you to muster the courage to send a text or email about your plans to take time off. But acknowledge that, as the world and workplace has changed, so must our work habits.

One way to ease some of this anxiety is to choose a communication method you and your boss frequent. If you've been communicating mainly through Slack or text, use that. Or shoot an email if that's what you know they prefer.

This quick message should just be requesting – not demanding – that you take these specific dates off and for what purpose. This most likely won't be your official notice letter in case you end up adjusting your start or end date.

Offer to get on a call with them to explain your situation in more detail

In some cases, your reason for asking for time off won't need extra explanation. But in the chance that it might – say, you work in a company that currently has no mental health programs or policies – you'd do best to offer to get on a call to explain your situation.

This is where you can tell your manager exactly why you're needing a break, be it to focus on family matters or just adjusting emotionally and mentally to the new normal.

Put it in writing

Once you and your boss have both agreed on the details of your time off, it's time to put it in writing. Clearly state your start and end dates, your reason for filing a leave, and the action steps you'll take before taking the time away (more on this in the next few sections). Be sure to copy in your HR department too.

Over-communicate before taking time off

When you're preparing to go on leave, especially when working from home, over-communicating is the name of the game. This means being very verbal about new project updates leading up to your first day off, as well as copying in people who might be covering for you.

To keep the entire passing-the-baton process easier for you and your co-workers, organize your projects, reports, and other resources and be hyper-detailed about where each ongoing task stands. (Here's our checklist for what to do on your last day before going on vacation!)

Inform everyone who needs to know your schedule

Shoot a mass email to your other co-workers informing them about your scheduled time off. In this email, you can explain if you'll be accessing any email or texts during your break or if you'll be staying off work communication as much as possible.

Offer ways to get in touch with you in the event of urgent needs

Decide if and how often you'll be checking in. Ensure people know how they can contact you if urgent concerns arise, or who they should contact in your absence.

After all, everyone in your company is adjusting to this new mode of work – and things may come up.

Set up your vacation responders and statuses

The day before you take your break, set up autoresponders on your work emails and switch any statuses you might have on messaging applications. While your co-workers might know you're away, your accounts or clients might not.

Include information about who's covering for you and how to get in touch with them, and put in a short note about when you'll be going back to work so people know when to expect hearing back from you.

Ask for time off the right way

Asking for time off when you work remotely in the age of COVID-19 can seem intimidating – but if you need the break, you should take it. What's good for your mental health in the short-term will be better for you and the company in the long-term. Remember that as an employee you're still entitled to leaves and breaks; you just have to approach your managers and HR team the right way.

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