Your time is valuable: Here is how to negotiate for more at work

Workers walk to work during the morning rush hour in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London
FILE PHOTO: Workers walk to work during the morning rush hour in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London, Britain, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

January 20, 2022

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Maryam Sabbagh was negotiating to join a new PR agency last fall, she was not just thinking about the money.

She considered something even more important: Time.

If the COVID era has taught us anything, it is the precious value of downtime. So Sabbagh negotiated another week of paid vacation, taking her to three weeks a year.

“Two weeks of vacation is standard in this country at most companies, and it’s just not enough,” says Sabbagh, who hopes to eventually use her time off to visit bucket-list destinations like Kenya or Brazil. “People are becoming much more thoughtful than they used to be about time, paid leave and mental health.”

This is where the so-called Great Resignation is working in your favor. Around four million Americans are leaving their jobs every month as people reshuffle their life and career priorities, and new opportunities flourish in such a tight job market.

That means your negotiating position is stronger – not just when it comes to salary but also in terms of time away from work.

“People are telling me, ‘What I need more than anything else this year is time off,’ ” says Alexandra Carter, a professor at Columbia Law School and author of “Ask For More.”

More companies are warming up to the idea. According to a Great Resignation survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 14% of firms are implementing new or additional paid-time-off opportunities for employees to help reduce turnover. And the percentage of companies extending “unlimited” time off is up from 12% to 17% in just one year, according to a study by total rewards firm WorldatWork.

Firms are doing so not just as an empathetic response, but because it makes business sense. The last thing any company needs right now is a burned-out employee – or a staffer who leaves and has to be replaced, which can be a lengthy and costly process.

“Numerous mental and physical health outcomes are tied to hours worked, time spent with family and friends, time spent doing recreation, and amount of sleep,” says Joe Sanok, a podcaster, productivity researcher, and author of the new book “Thursday is the New Friday.” “Strengthening these bonds and avoiding burnout can help employees value their positions, stay longer, and do more productive work.”

How can you negotiate a little more precious time for yourself? Here are four tips from the experts:

COME UP WITH A PLAN

In any time negotiation, there are typical push-back questions, such as who will handle your workload. Go into that conversation with ready-made answers, like having a deputy trained and ready to assume those projects.

And structure your proposed time off in a way that is most palatable to your employer: Perhaps having Fridays or a slower time of the month off is more acceptable than taking larger chunks.

“If you help solve any problems before they even come up, then it will be that much easier for them to say yes,” says Carter.

ASK UP FRONT

It might feel awkward to be asking for more time before you have even set foot in your new company. But that is exactly when your negotiating position is the most powerful, especially with labor so scarce.

“It is probably 80% easier to do this when you are first getting a job, versus when you already have one,” Sabbagh says. “It’s been my experience that it can be difficult to negotiate unless you have other offers on the table.”

TAKE VACATION DAYS

Negotiating for more time is just the first step; the next step is to actually take advantage of those extra days. But many Americans seem to have a problem with that: perhaps because of fears that we will fall behind, or be found to be expendable.

According to a survey by HR consultancy Mercer, only 42% of respondents report that most of their employees take all their allotted time off.

THINK BIGGER

Maybe you have been dreaming of a few more vacation days here and there. But why not think even bigger than that?

“You could also negotiate for a sabbatical, which is a longer period of time like a month or two,” says Carter.

Such extended pauses are standard in some areas like academia, but are popping up in other fields as well – and might be something to inquire about when weighing job offers.

“Companies that are generous in offering time off are going to see substantial bumps in both recruitment and retention,” Carter says.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum; Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance.)