One of the first things you consider when applying for a job is the benefits package offered, right? If a company is smart, they will offer a competitive benefits package that includes the staples - health insurance, vacation time, 401(k) contributions - but also recent popular additions such as flexible work hours, discounted lunch, reimbursement for childcare, and more. Companies are getting creative because they know benefits are important to job seekers.
Maybe the most important part of a benefits package is vacation days. But lumped in with vacation time is sick days and personal time, which can be confusing. What’s the difference between them and how do you use each?
Vacation time is just what it sounds like, time off of work to take a vacation! That doesn’t mean you have to actually go on a vacation. You can stay at home and watch TV all day, run errands, or remodel your kitchen. Your company doesn’t care what you do with the time - it’s yours! You’ll likely need to request your days off in advance so that your manager can ensure everyone on your team isn’t taking time off at the same time. Most companies give you a certain number of days or hours as vacation time, and it increases every year that you work. For example, you may start at 10 days per year, and every year you stay with the company, you accrue one additional day. After 5 years, you’ll have 15 vacation days.
Some progressive companies are experimenting with unlimited vacation time, which means you can take off as much as you’d like, as long as you are getting your work done. While this sounds amazing, you do need to be careful with this policy. Some research has shown that people won’t take off as much time if they don’t have a “bank” of days to use up. Make sure you actually take time off, but don’t take advantage and only work 5 days a month. You won’t keep your job long if you do that!
Again, sick days are what the name implies: time off because you are sick so that you can get better quickly and leave the germs at home. It’s common to be given a certain amount of sick days each year. If you have seven sick days and fly through them by June, you’ll likely have to use vacation or personal time for any additional days. You may also be asked to provide a doctor’s note to use sick days (just like in school).
I previously worked at a company where the policy stated, “If you are sick, stay home! Period.” It’s a great policy as you aren’t limited, but when someone was sick a lot at the company, you were contacted by HR for an assessment about what was going on. It’s never a good idea to take advantage of policies like this, but if you are truly sick frequently, then it’s a great workplace perk.
Personal time is the most confusing of the three. Personal time is usually considered to be reserved for time off for work for things other than vacation and sick days. If your company offers it, it’s nice to not have to use vacation time to remodel a kitchen or go to the dentist.
But what happens if you use all of your vacation time and still have personal time? Can you use personal time as vacation time? It’s best to talk to your HR representative for specifics since every company’s policy is different. That said, it’s common for people to lump vacation time and personal time together. After all, “personal” time is all about you, right? A word of caution: if you lump your time together, reserve at least 2-3 days to use in a pinch or at the end of the year. It’s awful when you use all of your time on vacation and then don’t have any days off at the end of the year. You never know what may come up that you need to handle during the workweek.
As you are considering a new position, great questions to ask during an interview are:
What does your benefits package include?
Do you offer personal time?
What is your company’s sick time policy?
What are the guidelines for using vacation time, personal time, and sick days?