Careers advice

How to ask for time off (successfully)

Taking holiday in New Zealand is a legal right, but many of us still find asking awkward.

Asking for time off from work can feel awkward. This is despite the fact that paid leave is a legal right in New Zealand.

Whatever your reason for needing to take a break, in this article we’ll walk you through how to make it happen.

We’ll cover common reasons for asking for leave, the standard legal entitlements, tips for approaching the conversation with your manager, and a couple of common scenarios.

You need to know the right way to ask your manager for time off.

Reasons for taking time off work

Among the most common are:

  • Sickness – this can include mental as well as physical health problems.
  • Family emergencies – this includes bereavement leave when a loved one passes away.
  • Annual leave – going on holiday.
  • Parental leave – this includes maternity and paternity leave.

What are the minimum holiday entitlements in NZ?

According to the NZ government website, unless you’re a member of the Armed Forces, your employer must offer a minimum of:

  • Four paid weeks of annual leave, after 12 months of continuous employment.
  • Access to sick and bereavement leave. Either after six months of continuous employment with one employer or after working with the same employer for an average of 10 hours a week for six months, and at least one hour a week (or 40 hours in a month).
  • Up to 11 public holidays a year. If you have to work on a public holiday, you should be paid at least time and a half.

These entitlements are the same for full time, part time, fixed term and casual employees. Of course, your boss might choose to give you more, but this is the legal minimum.

How to ask for time off work

We’re going to focus on asking for annual leave, as this is the request you’re most likely to experience pushback on. Here’s how to approach it:

1. Check your contract

Before chatting to your manager, check the terms of your contract. Companies have different options for how they can allocate annual leave to their staff. The most common are:

  • Accruing time as you work – by the end of the year, you’ll have a total of four weeks.
  • Giving you four weeks in bulk on the anniversary of the day you started.

If your employer operates under the second option, and you haven’t worked a full year yet, don’t despair. Some businesses will let you borrow ahead from next year’s allowance – so check if this is an option.

Check the holiday allowance section of your contract before asking for time off in a new job.

2. Give as much notice as possible, and ask at a good time

Your boss is more likely to give you the green light if you ask well in advance. This gives them time to plan for your absence, and make sure business can operate as usual. Bonus tip: if you get the go ahead, take an active part in helping your manager make arrangements for your absence, it’ll score crucial brownie points.

Try to schedule breaks so they don’t clash with peak busy times. As well as improving your chances of a thumbs up, your colleagues will thank you for not dumping heaps of extra work on them.

Struggling to work out how many days you’ll have by a certain date? Lots of businesses use online payroll software that can calculate your projected balance by a certain date. Easy as.

3. Strike the right tone

Yes, annual leave is a right – but a leave request is exactly that, a request. If you just waltz up to your boss and tell them you’re taking 10 days off next month, you might find out that, in fact, you’re not.

Equally, there’s no need to make a big deal out of asking – most managers won’t even ask why. Provided you’ve got the days banked, and you’ve planned it well, you should be golden.

4. Get confirmation in writing

It’s a good idea to submit your request in writing – especially if your manager is snowed under. This way, there’ll be no confusion when the time comes for you to jet off.

Can an employer deny time off?

Yes, they can – you need to agree leave with your employer. With annual leave, the most likely reason for a ‘no’ is because you’ve asked during a busy period.

Note, your manager can also tell you when you do have to take time off, provided they give you at least two weeks’ notice.

Your manager generally has the final say on when you can take leave.

Two common scenarios

1. Taking time off from a new job

Requesting holiday is even more intimidating if you’re new. In this case, as well as checking the general leave rules in your contract, look for special requirements relating to your probationary period.

It’s common in NZ to have a timeframe, usually 90 days, where employers can test your skills and make sure they’re happy.

You still have a right to leave during this time, but we’d recommend keeping it to a minimum until your probationary period is up. Chances are you won’t have accrued holiday anyway, but immediately asking for a chunk of time off isn’t a great first impression.

2. Asking for a sabbatical

If you’re looking to take a longer period of time off, all the above advice is still relevant. However, you’ll also want to evidence some value for the company, this could include:

  • Courses you take: many employees take ‘adult gap years’ to develop new skills (as well as enjoy themselves!). If this is in your plan, make sure the company knows you’ll come back with even more to offer. Remember to add these new capabilities and experience to your Trade Me Jobs Profile!
  • They won’t have to pay you: all businesses love to save money. While you’re on an extended career break, the company won’t need to pay you, but also won’t have to make unpopular redundancies.
  • You’ll come back refreshed: time off is not only good for mental health, but gives you the chance to come back with fresh eyes and ideas to help the business improve.

Bonus tip: see if there’s a precedent for other employees taking sabbaticals. If so, ask the person how they made the arrangements, and if they received any pushback.