9 to 5 Culture

How to Ask for Time Off From Work

His door is slightly ajar. You can almost feel the hot coffee-laden breath and steely eyes of your boss bowling you over as you tip-toe gingerly into his office. 100 thoughts flash through your mind. “Maybe I don’t need the time off. What if he fired me for asking? No, that’s crazy. He wouldn’t do that. But he might accuse me of taking too much time off after I was out sick last month. What if he throws a stapler at me?”

Does this sound like you?

Asking for time off is one of the hardest things some of us must endure at work, next to asking for a raise and/or straight up getting fired. If this is you, don’t feel bad – it’s pretty normal. The good news is that it usually isn’t a big deal to your boss to ask. Just another blip in his day. The more you tell yourself this, the easier it will be for you.

Still, I’ve presented a nice little guide below on how to ask for time off.

Give a Reason

While it is often not helpful (and sometimes even counterproductive) to go into graphic detail when you are calling in sick to work, it’s actually almost required when you are asking for time away from work. Why is this? When asking for time off you’ll be doing it in person. When you call in sick, you are nothing but a disembodied voice on the other end of the line.

This is why it’s important to come prepared with a reason. Asking for time off without a reason is like going to the golf course with a bunch of tennis balls. You aren’t shooting par today.

What Should My Reason Be?

Here are some good reasons that are likely to get your time-off request granted:

  • I’m going to be on vacation in (insert cool-sounding location)
  • I am having surgery on my (insert body part)
  • I have a general doctor/dental appointment (Note: use this if you only need a few hours off)
  • I have an all-day business seminar to attend. (Note: if you use this reason, it had better be true – there is a chance the boss could look this one up)
  • My (family member) passed away and I’m attending the funeral (Note: this reason also needs to be true. You don’t want to say “my father passed away” more than once, or you’ll arouse suspicion, to say the least!)

And, here are some bad reasons that will likely get you sent back to your office with no time off and your tail between your legs:

  • I’m going to be sick
  • My (family pet) died
  • I’m stressed and need a day off
  • I have an interview with another company
  • I haven’t been sleeping well

You don’t need to tell the whole truth, but you should always explain why you are planning to take time off, and you should be completely prepared to answer questions your boss might ask. He may be curious!

When to Ask for Time Off

In general you should tell your boss as soon as you know you’ll need the time off. Don’t delay too long – the closer it gets to the date(s) you’ll be absent, the less cordial he is going to be. You are probably going to get the best results if you ask on a Thursday or a Friday, mostly because the week is winding to a close and your boss will have the bulk of the week (and stress) behind him.

Also, try to ask toward the end of the day. Psychologically, if your boss has the entire day of work in front of him, he’s not going to be feeling as good about losing one of his employees for x amount of time in the not-so-distant future. However, if you catch him on a Friday evening right as he is about to walk out the door, go home, and spend time baking cookies with his family and watching reruns of Miami Vice he might give you a breezy, “sure, no problem” when you ask.

One more thing: don’t ask for time off when he is very busy. If he looks agitated or has been on the phone with angry customers all day, it’s best to wait.

So, ask for time off Friday afternoon, right before he goes home to watch Miami Vice. I hope that helps.

You Have Nothing to Fear

Don’t worry! It is extremely unlikely that you would ever get fired or reprimanded just for asking.

While this may seem like a significant event to you, asking for time off isn’t really that big a deal. In the end, all your boss will really care about is how your time off will affect his day/the company (probably in that order.) If you try see things from his point of view, and you have a good idea what his workload is looking like on the day you will be skiing in the mountains, you’ll be able to successfully negotiate for your time off without too much trouble.

Good luck!



  • rita July 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    This gives me great relief. I am nervous about telling my boss that i need one particular time off per week to go to berievement therapy because my mom just passed away.

    *sigh* take a deep breath *breath*

    thanks again


  • Mike July 27, 2012 at 7:50 am


    Very sorry to hear about the passing of your mom. Certainly the last thing you need right now is any kind of work-related stress, so I hope that it goes smoothly for you. I would certainly think your boss would be more than understanding about this situation.

    Best of luck,


  • How To Ask For Time Off At Your First Job | TalentEgg Career Incubator December 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

    […] Kardashian’s marathon begins, timing is everything. When it comes to asking for vacation days, The Great Office Escape recommends telling your boss later in the day and later in the week, preferably Thursday or Friday, […]


  • CK December 28, 2012 at 8:21 am

    This is a terrible guide, it encourages lying to your boss. If you are requesting time off from your vacation days, always remember that you are entitled to them. You would not lie to your employer about needing to pay more rent just to get your paycheck, would you? Of course not. That Idea sounds absurd because you work hard and your paycheck is what the employers owes you for that work. It is the same with vacation days. I recommend asking at least two weeks in advance and in writing/e-mail. It is easy for an employer to forget a verbal request, but forgetting a written request will make them seem foolish so they will avoid it. Additionally, if your request for time off remains unanswered a week before you are planning on taking the days off, you now have the ability to reference the written request. When it is appropriate, speak to your boss personally and ask him about the status of the time off you requested a week ago. This puts the burden of acceptance or refusal squarely on your boss and not on you to make additional verbal requests. Generally, people dislike saying “no” to others. Once again, remember, your days off are just that: YOURS.


  • SL April 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Apparently you’ve never had a pet. For me and my spouse, our 13 year old dog was like our child (we don’t have any human kids so we became “dog people”). You can bet your behind that I didn’t go into work the morning we suddenly had to put him to sleep. Honestly, if my boss had given me any grief over it (and they didn’t because they aren’t evil!), I would have stuck to my guns. I was in no shape to be around anyone much less think about complicated work stuff.


  • Phil Beveridge September 24, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Don’t ask. Tell them your taking time off. Your time and life is just as important as the company you work for. It’s your time and life to…okay, enough said.


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