how to ask for more vacation time — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

Because I have 15+ years’ tenure in government jobs in Finland, I have 38 paid weekdays (nearly 2 months) a year, and 7-11 paid holidays in addition, depending on whether holidays that always occur on a certain date (Christmas, Finnish Independence Day, New Year’s Day, etc.) fall on the weekend or not. If they fall on the weekend, we don’t get the following Monday off.

The way this works is that there’s more cross-training so that people can cover at least the most urgent tasks of other employees. It also means that we have peak seasons and slow seasons. During slow seasons it can be fun to be at work because you finally have time to focus on the non-urgent but important tasks. Generally the organization is just ticking over and any fires get put out, but no new projects are started and very little development work that requires the collaboration of large numbers of people gets done.

Our summer vacation season is from June to August, with July being the most popular month. I generally try to schedule my summer vacation from Midsummer (the Friday closest to the summer solstice) to the end of July if I possibly can, but I have to compromise because my close coworker who has the some job description as I do and I cover for each other and generally can’t be out at the same time for more than a few days.

The other big vacation season is at the end of the year. December 24-26 are paid holidays for everyone in goverment, as are New Year’s Day and Twelfth Night/Epiphany. Last time around, I took the last week of 2023 and the first week of this year off, and used 7 days of PTO to get 16 days off in a row including the weekends and holidays.

Finland has two state churches, Lutheran and Orthodox, even if our holidays follow the Western calendar and Orthodox Christians have to use PTO if they want to celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar. Although society in general is more or less secular in the sense that people generally don’t talk about their beliefs (or lack of) at work and that stating that you are a non-believer is generally accepted without comment, the public sector in particular shuts down for the major Christian holidays and some minor ones like Epiphany and Ascension. (My organization has a handful of visibly Muslim employees who wear a headscarf and a few Orthodox Christians that I know of, but I don’t know about any other minority religions.)

This system does work, but it also means that my salary is much lower than I suspect it would be in an equivalent job in the US (about 50k for a fairly senior IC job) and with a higher tax rate, although we aren’t dependent on being employed for health insurance and tuition is free up to and including a Master’s degree, so college graduates don’t need high salaries to pay off their student loans and I consider that tax money well spent. I wouldn’t mind a higher salary, but I wouldn’t be willing to give up my long vacations to get it.

Another difference is that the public sector is fully unionized and most private companies are also unionized, and that the collective agreements negotiated by the unions apply to all employees in the fields covered by the collective agreement, whether or not they are unionized themselves. This means that in general there’s very little room for negotiating perks, and in government salary bands are tight, but we are also legally required to mention the salary in job postings.

And what do people do on their vacations? It obviously varies. I like staycations and had no issues taking out all of my vacation days even during the pandemic (unlike my coworker who prefers to travel and was at a loss when he couldn’t). We live in a one-family house with a garden, so in the summer I do some gardening and other home projects that I don’t want to do when I’m also working. If my husband manages to schedule his vacation to overlap mine, I like to travel during the first week of my vacation because I need at least as much time off after the trip as the trip took to recover. I also like spending time with my extended family, and reading, watching Netflix, helping my aging parents, etc. Lots of people volunteer for at least a part of their vacation. I’ve also never had any issues with simply being rather than doing, doing, doing all the time. I tell people that I’m practicing for retirement (some 15+ years to go) on my vacations.

We don’t have a summer cottage because my husband and I think that the house we own is enough work and we don’t need any more, but there are some 500k privately owned summer cottages in a country with a population of about 5.6 million, so most people have access to one through their extended family. The standard varies greatly, some are little more than cabins that Laura Ingalls would feel right at home in with no running water or electricity, others are secondary homes that can be used year round with indoor bathrooms and showers and access to municipal utilities.

Granted, my then-coworker was more than a bit peeved when I returned to work after maternity leave and my son was sick literally every other week. I also had a temporary agreement to work 6-hour days, which meant that I was the one who nearly always took leave to care for the kidlet. It just meant that we had to outsource some of the work during my absences, and long days for my coworker. When my son’s immune system adjusted to being in daycare and I got to work for 6 months straight without any leave to care for him, I bought my coworker a box of her favorite chocolates with a note of appreciation for her forbearance.

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