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How to Get Time off in Shift Work

As a shift worker, you've probably noticed that time off — and your ability to schedule said time — depend on one thing, as far as your boss is concerned: Will someone cover the shift while you're gone? Shift work brings different challenges when an employee needs to step away for a while. If you ask far enough in advance and you follow the rules and protocols, your boss can usually staff your shift for you (otherwise, they aren't really doing their job as a boss). But if you can't follow the rules for one reason or another, you may need to find a replacement on your own. Here are a few tips that can help you navigate a tricky process.

Check the rules

If you don't know the policy or procedure for requesting time off, ask. Not all shift work goes by the same rules. Do this as far in advance as possible. If your boss sighs with exasperation because this is something you should already know, brush it off. You're making an effort to respect the company's rules, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Don't make things difficult

At the end of the day, keeping your job is more important than spontaneously attending a fun event. Making a last minute request for time off on one of the busiest days won't make you very popular with management. Even if your boss reluctantly says yes, she will need to scramble to cover your absence. Needless to say, she won't enjoy this. Plan your time off requests in advance. If you do a family camping trip every summer, for example, request time off immediately after you choose dates for the annual trip. On the other hand, sometimes we get exciting invitations with short notice. When this happens, it's okay to try to get time off. Just make it clear that you don't expect everyone else to accommodate your needs. Try saying something along the lines of this: "My friend invited me to a concert this Friday. It's last minute — I know the rules — but I just thought I'd ask." Your boss may direct you to someone who is eager for more hours. On the other hand, be prepared to accept the word "no" with grace.

Ask coworkers for support

If the policy requires you to find a replacement on your own, ask your coworkers politely. Start with those who you've supported or replaced in the past. When someone agrees to replace you, recognize that you'll now owe her the same consideration when she asks you for help later. Remember that shift work runs more smoothly when you operate as a team. 

Even if the policy doesn't require you to ask coworkers to cover your shift, it might not hurt to do just that. You can request the time off, then support your cause by naming a coworker who is happy to cover your shift.

Gain confirmation

Confirm and double confirm that your replacement will show up for work in your absence. Confirm the dates and times when you'll be gone.  Make sure you establish two-way communication and agreement regarding your expectations. The last thing you want is to get a call from your boss while you're enjoying your time off.

Submit your request in writing

Write down your request —b y email, text, or even a post-it-note — and make sure your boss can see it. Even if your replacement is guaranteed to show up, it's important to get written confirmation. This will allow everyone to get on the same page, and it strengthens your coworker's promise.

What if you can't find a replacement?

In shift work, it's technically the manager's job to make sure all shifts are covered. This is not an invitation to relinquish responsibility of your shift, however. It's a good idea to stay on friendly terms with your boss and prove that you are reliable. If you're hitting a wall, ask your boss for help. Ask what she'd like you to do. Chances are, the two of you can work together to find a solution. Showing that you're engaged and that you care about the outcome of this situation can only help you.

What if it's an emergency?

Sometimes things happen that we can't predict. If a serious issue arises and you need someone to cover your shift ASAP, first call your boss to explain the situation. Remember that your boss (no matter how strict she may be) is human too. She may be more understanding than you'd think. Next, if necessary, call your coworkers. Explain the situation. Prepare to make deals in order to get your shift covered.
For more on how to stay in your employer's good graces while taking time off (especially for shift work), turn to the resources and tools available on MyPerfectResume.

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