How to Negotiate for Vacation Time JD June 20, 2015 entrepreneurship 176 Marisa recently received a job offer from a major food service retailer to lead their continuous improvement group. Having previously worked for a small consulting company, where schedules were entirely self-directed, she’s unclear about how to negotiate benefits with a large company that seems to have only standard and rather rigid packages. Tom, the director of portfolio marketing in a financial services firm, was delighted when his boss offered him a promotion to group vice president. But he was equally disappointed to learn that, due to challenging business conditions, the company would not be able to increase his compensation accordingly. Jennifer, the VP of health policy and strategy at a major consulting firm, is tasked with rolling out a new service to three major clients. Since this will require her and her team to work pretty intensely for six weeks, she thinks everyone (including her) will need a respite after it’s complete. You and Your Team Vacation Make the most of your time away. Each of these leaders is poised to enter a negotiation about vacation. Marisa needs to let her potential employer know that she considers time off a key component of her compensation. Tom should consider whether his promotion could come with different perks, since a pay increase isn’t possible, and ask his boss about it. Jennifer has to create her own bargaining opportunity since there’s no clear structure for discussing rewards for work well done. Each situation is different. But here are a few negotiation principles that might help in any of them. Figure out what you want. You won’t be able to negotiate without being clear about this. All too often when people are offered new jobs or promotions, they focus only on salary, bonus and stock options instead of considering the entire package, including vacation. What is most important to you and where you are willing to make trades? Marisa thinks carefully about how much she values extra holiday and whether she’s willing to concede on any financial aspects of the retailer’s offer in order to get it. Tom considers what his raise should have been and how much holiday he desires in lieu of it. Jennifer weighs the amount and timing of days off that her team needs to relax and feel appreciated. Benchmark the norms. It is difficult to negotiate in an information vacuum. You need to learn — usually through your network — what is normal. What have people in similar situations negotiated for? What is standard at the organization and what special requests have colleagues made — and been granted or denied — in the past? Benchmarking can give you confidence by ensuring that you’re not demanding too little, or too much. Tom asks a few trusted colleagues at his company and learns that some people in his situation have just taken the title and nothing else but that others have negotiated for some form of deferred compensation or more vacation days. Jennifer’s network tells her that timing is important: she should broach the idea of compensatory time off with her boss at the start of the project so he’s prepared for a more formal request later. Have options to propose. You want to make it easy for your counterpart to agree to your request, and research consistently shows that negotiation outcomes are most successful when parties propose multiple equivalent options. Marisa proposes two packages — one with a higher salary and bonus than the retailer had initially offered plus a standard three-week vacation; another with the same higher salary but a phased-in bonus that would start accruing after six months and a four-week vacation. Tom asks his boss to either reconsider whether the company can offer a pay raise with his promotion or instead think about giving him extra time off immediately and a promise to revisit the pay issue when the company’s financial situation has improved. Jennifer also presents two options to her manager: first, a staggered vacation plan that would keep her team fully functional while members are out and, second, a new policy that would allow her reports (and possibly others) to tack vacation days on to the business trips they will take in the coming year. Appreciate your counterpart’s situation. When you ask for something atypical, you can create problems for the person with whom you’re negotiating. He or she is under constraints and it’s important for you to understand those. Your proposals may violate precedent, they may cost too much, they may require an uncomfortable conversation with a more senior leader. Sometimes it helps to address these issues directly — indicating that you appreciate the good reasons for saying “no” to your request. Jennifer designs both of her proposals to addresss her boss’s concern about how her team will cover its workload. Tom might acknowledge that his request is difficult to grant given the financial straits his company is in. Just mentioning these issues can lead to more fruitful, collaborative problem-solving. Be prepared for pushback. Because your counterpart does probably have at least one good reason to say “no,” you should expect pushback. But don’t let it put you on the defensive. Instead, use one of three approaches: question, correct, divert. When an HR director tells Marisa that the company’s policy on vacations is three weeks for someone at her level and that she’ll accrue more the longer she stays, she can ask, “Are there any circumstances under which you deviate from that for a person with my experience?” or “ Under what circumstances would you consider altering the policy given my situation?” When Tom’s boss tells him that he can’t allow extra time off because of financial constraints, he can correct the impression that an extra week would have any significant impact on the company’s profitability. When Jennifer’s manager worries that her request will open the floodgates — encouraging people to ask for extra holiday any time they work long hours — she can divert and focus on criteria they might create to prevent that from happening. Vacation is often an underutilized negotiating point. But it shouldn’t be. Just consider how Marisa, Tom, and Jennifer’s stories end. Marisa secures a higher salary and one-month vacation, with delayed bonus. Tom takes an extra week vacation in the year he’s promoted with an agreement to consider a salary increase the following year. And Jennifer scores a few days off for each of her team members on a staggered schedule.