How to take a personal day

Personal days are for more than just a doctor’s appointment. Here’s why they’re so important, and how you can ask for them.

How to take a personal day

Taking a personal day can make you more productive.

When it comes to taking paid time off in America, the reality is stark. Over half of Americans don’t use all of the vacation days you’ve accrued each year, though disconnecting from work is one of the top ways to counteract burnout. Personal days—if you’re lucky enough to have them included in your benefits package—can feel even more nebulous and difficult to claim than vacation days. Personal days can be used for things like military duty, religious holidays, caring for a sick child, jury duty, or, well, for things that are truly personal. However, the lack of clarity of what falls under that umbrella can make asking for one difficult for many people.

“The reality is, there is often a lot of fear around taking personal days,” says Suzanne Brown, a career expert and TED talk presenter on work-life balance, who explains that many workers fear that a lack of face time will make them seem more replaceable to their bosses. “But the reality is,” Brown explains, “that we all need to have moments of self-care to perform at our best.” 

The benefits of taking time off

According to a report by employee-engagement firm O.C. Tanner, a whopping 79 percent of all U.S. workers feel overwhelmed, and burnout accounts for 50 percent of employee turnover. In fact, Monster’s recent State of the Candidate survey revealed that 41% of workers have experienced anxiety due to their jobs and that many workers have said this has a direct impact on their job performance.  

It’s important to know that taking a brief hiatus—even just for a day—helps improve job satisfaction and productivity. “Have you ever worked on a project for hours and you simply hit a plateau?” asks Brown. “Then you step away for a short time and you're able to re-engage and spot errors that were invisible to you previously? Our brains and bodies need the downtime to be our most productive. We’re not machines.”

If you're a work martyr who is still finding it difficult to justify asking for a personal day? Then just do the math. “If you’re lucky enough to have a job that includes paid time off, those days are part of your compensation package,” says Randi Braun, the founder of executive coaching firm Something Major. You would definitely speak up if your paycheck wasn’t for the full amount, so you should certainly speak up when you need to take the time off that was offered to you.

How to ask for a personal day

Of course, unless your personal day is a last-minute emergency, plan for your absence responsibly. Stan Kimer, career counselor and president of Total Engagement Consulting, says, “I am a strong advocate of taking a ‘mental-health day’ when needed. People need time off to recharge—and nearly 100 percent of us come back stronger than ever. Obviously, unless it can be avoided, don’t request a day off right before a huge presentation or a major deadline.”

Braun adds, “Make a good plan at the office before you leave it. One of the defining principles of paid time off is the off part. That means PTO is not spent constantly checking emails, joining calls, or touching base with the office!”

Finally, the key to the successful use of personal days is knowing how to ask for them. “It's reasonable to be able to say to your supervisor: ‘I really need a day off in order to come in and be my best, most creative person again,” says Brown. “It can be very intimidating to ask permission for self-care. Instead, posit it as a plus for your employer, because it truly is.” And, if your manager isn’t very understanding it may be time to find a better fit.

Managing your manager

Advocating for yourself whether that’s taking a personal day or asking for a promotion can be difficult to do at work. Need help navigating the ins and outs of workplace rules? Join Monster for free and get weekly updates with expert advice on career development, how to tackle a toxic workplace, and how to find a new job. Additionally, you can sign up for job alerts so you know when new openings get posted.