Vacay-OK

[Bleep!] It's the end of the year and you still have vacation days left!

December 26, 2011|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Chicagoans who have procrastinated this year may end up with a worthless gift this holiday season: their unused vacation days.

American employees, on average, have about six paid vacation days left by the end of the year, according to a survey released last month by travel site hotwire.comhttp://hotwire.com.

These workers may have to scramble to use those days on a staycation or a simple road trip to Indiana or the like because of expensive holiday travel.

Even if employers do allow banking days for next year, employees should take their vacation now, said workplace experts, who stressed the importance of using vacation to alleviate stress, especially around the holidays.

"I think you should use [vacation days] for the classical reason you're given them. You come back refreshed," said Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, a Lakeview-based job search assistance company.

Some employees think it's best not to take vacation days to impress their boss or because they feel they don't need the time off, Karsh said.

But one upside to taking vacation time, he said, is that the employees can show their managers how much they're needed as work piles up during the break.

Karsh recommends that employees request vacation time as early as possible and, if it's for the holiday season, Sept. 1 is a good deadline.

Lorena Ornelas, who works at a Loop law firm, submitted her request in October for four days off this month. The Rogers Park resident got the days she wanted but said it's typically frowned upon at her workplace to take vacation during December because of end-of-the-year deadlines.

"End of the quarter, end of the year is always super, super busy," said Ornelas, a legal assistant. "It's just a general sense that December is not a good time to take time off."

Ornelas, 35, isn't even using her vacay to the United Arab Emirates (her dream trip). She's staying home and spending the time finishing assignments about eating disorders and feminist theory as she works toward a dual master's degree in social work and gender studies at Loyola.

Though she's not frolicking in the sun, Ornelas said she wasn't going to let her paid vacation days go to waste.

"I always find a use for them by the end of the year," Ornelas said. "I would never just let them lapse."

Illinois doesn't have a "use it or lose it" vacation policy, which can vary from state to state. The government says vacation time is determined in the contract between the employee and employer.

Workers who haven't yet used their vacation time that expires this year should sit down with their employer and discuss their options, said Emily Zorza, division director for Robert Half International, a staffing services firm that has an office in the Loop.

Zorza recommends these employees list their day-to-day tasks and figure out who can cover them so it will be easier to go on vacation and recharge.

"It's a great way to keep motivation for the position in the new year," Zorza said.

TO-DO LIST

So it's December and you've realized it's too late to use those three vacation days for that trip to Cancun you've been dreaming of (since spring break). Don't fret—RedEye has devised a few ways to imagine you're spending Christmas in July-like weather in Chicago.

>>Grab the sunscreen and hit the tanning bed. If you're against artificial rays, slather on some self-tanner and occupy tub.

>>Head for the couch for some channel surfing (the next best thing to actual surfing). "Hawaii Five-0" reruns should satisfy your urge for sightseeing.

>>Rock those mandals. (With socks of course—you don't want to catch pneumonia.)

>>Use the lovely winter slush Chicago is famous for in your margarita. Rock salt rim, anyone?

tswartz@tribune.com | @tracyswartz

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