Is two weeks vacation standard?
August 28, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Is two weeks vacation standard? Help me decide if I should accept this job.

I'm likely to receive a job offer this week (yay!), but am hesitating about accepting due to the organization-wide vacation policy: a flat two weeks/year that does not increase with time. I've always thought that two weeks was a standard entry-level starting point, but this is a project director position at a small national nonprofit. Location is a major east coast U.S. city.

Currently I earn a fairly low salary, but my organization gives spectacular soft benefits, including several weeks PTO. This new position would be an excellent career step and my salary would increase dramatically...but I also need time to spend with out-of-state family and love to travel.

If I get the offer I'm considering negotiating for three weeks (perhaps in exchange for a lower salary), and/or asking if unpaid leave is a possibility. However, this question makes me think that inquiring along these lines would not be received well. I also suspect that I might not fit in well to the workplace culture anyway if I'm surrounded by people with different expectations about work/life balance.

My question is: how standard is this offer? Have I just lucked out so far? I can't advance where I am now, but I also want to know if I'm reaching for the impossible by expecting at least 3 weeks/year elsewhere. Likewise, I'd welcome any tips for negotiating the offer to my favor. Many thanks!
posted by susanvance to Work & Money (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At my entry-level job in a major east-coast U.S. city, I get 5 weeks of paid leave. This covers both vacation and sick time, and does not increase as you work your way up in the organization.

I don't think it could hurt to try to negotiate up to three weeks, especially since your old/current job offers more than your new one. I would definitely mention that detail when you're discussing it.
posted by coppermoss at 2:32 PM on August 28, 2013

...a flat two weeks/year that does not increase with time.

I've worked in a non-profit with a similar situation. The reason the that two weeks don't increase with time, is because I can almost guarantee you that it is the sort of shop where if you actually take the vacation time you're allotted -- and it sounds like you will and you damn well should -- you quickly get into deep shit with management for not giving 110% to the Vision Statement or somesuch nonsense. Your comments on expected work/life balance back that up.
posted by griphus at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2013 [18 favorites]

2 weeks to start doesn't seem so bad or unheard of but this:

that does not increase with time

would bother me quite a bit if I started at only two weeks.

I've only ever worked for small nonprofits, and I've almost always gotten at least a month per year, usually 5 weeks. The thing about nonprofits is that usually the salaries are low, so they make up for it in soft benefits like time off.

I would try to negotiate up to three. That seems completely reasonable.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I previously worked at a national nonprofit where employees started with 3-4 weeks paid vacation and received 5 weeks after 5 years of service. I'm at a different nonprofit now where employees start with about 2 weeks, get about 3 weeks after 2 years of service and 4 weeks after 5 years of service.

I think two weeks is standard but not great, and it's annoying that you never get more time-off. I'd be tempted to make a similar request, saying that your family doesn't live nearby. I will say from my experience switching organizations that it does seems like vacation time is related to employee culture. It's not a huge deal but at my last organization, it was almost assumed that people took serious vacations occasionally where they would travel and have a time. At my current organization, it's out of the ordinary when someone wants to travel. It kind of sucks.
posted by kat518 at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can browse the Bureau of Labor Statistics for hard data--like this table--but two weeks' vacation is pretty standard. That is, incidentally, what my wife got as a manager at a national nonprofit in a major East Coast city.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:34 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it vacation time or PTO? If it's vacation, what's the sick time policy and allowance? If they expect you to use vacation time for health issues, that's a bad deal. Of course, if you do decide to take the job, you don't have to stay there forever.
posted by quince at 2:36 PM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Two weeks vacation with no advance was standard in most of the jobs I've ever had, but those also came with sick time, and (sometimes) a floating personal holiday or two. (Where I work now, vacation time increases after 5 years; I now acquire 5 weeks a year but of course am too busy to ever take it, but that's another question.)
posted by scody at 2:39 PM on August 28, 2013

I would definitely attempt to negotiate up to 3 weeks. If that doesn't work though, does your national nonprofit have various offices? I used to work for a national organization, and I would often take trips and work from another office for days at a time. I could go explore NYC or Boston or San Francisco and work out of their office during the day, but still be able to explore the city in the evenings and over the weekends. I still got my trip, but I didn't have to use my precious vacation time. It wasn't ideal, but it's a potential alternative if they're strict on the 2 week limit.
posted by JannaK at 2:44 PM on August 28, 2013

Two weeks is not unusual and fairly standard for new employees. However, I have never ever worked someplace where the amount of vacation time did not increase with seniority. I hope that sick leave is considered separate!

If I were you, and this job is a big step up and opportunity for advancement, I would take the job and then leave for a position with a more rational vacation policy once you have enough experience. Vacation time might not increase if you stay at the organization, but you can treat it as a situation where it DOES increase for you as time goes on, because you will leave for someplace with better vacation policy.
posted by deanc at 2:45 PM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I don't know if this is kosher but when switching jobs, unless you're changing industries, I think it's reasonable to expect a bump in pay, or at least a similar salary. Likewise, I don't think it's unreasonable to say, look, I currently get x days PTO at my current organization, is that something that you have any flexibility with? However, proceed with caution - I'd weigh my interest in more days off against my desire for a new job. It's entirely possible that the employer could say, that's not going to work for us, and rescind the offer.
posted by kat518 at 2:46 PM on August 28, 2013

Perfectly normal for a starting position, but the idea that it doesn't increase over time seems like a bad idea.

On the other hand, once you are there for a few years, management might change and you can revisit the situation. If they still don't budge, find a new job and tell them why.
posted by gjc at 2:47 PM on August 28, 2013

I used to think my three weeks was awesome until I realised all my friends with two weeks were also getting 1-2 weeks off around Christmas/New Year when their office shut down, whereas I had to take a week of my three weeks to visit my out of state family. What is the holiday plan for this job? Do you have office shutdown times you can take advantage of?
posted by olinerd at 2:50 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two weeks to start is normal, although objectively terrible.

The fact that it doesn't increase would give me great pause, because I suspect it means that they don't want you to take those two weeks at all.

If I were you, I'd only take that job if you would only be there for a couple of years. If you're accustomed to having enough vacation time to visit your family and travel, this'll be a soul-crusher. I speak from experience.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:50 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I work in nonprofits on the East Coast and it sounds like we have similar views on work/life balance. The fact that the vacation doesn't increase over time would be a huge red flag for me unless the job came with a huge pay bump (and even then, I would personally still think long and hard.) I'd be concerned that was reflective of a nose-to-the-grindstone martyr culture where no one uses any vacation days regularly, much less the whole two weeks.

It could very well be that it's not as dire as that. In my experience, it could very well be that the policy is just a guideline and no one's a stickler about recording PTO provided the work is getting done. But without actually being immersed in the work culture, I think you have to go into it assuming that the policy is face value. Can you live with that? And remember that despite what the Puritan work ethic may guilt you into feeling, it is perfectly ok for your answer to be "no, I can't."
posted by superfluousm at 2:56 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quadruple-check that that's strictly vacation time, and not PTO days. Two weeks of PTO is horrible.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:04 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The moment you receive a job offer is about the only time in the entire recruitment process where you have the upper hand.

Negotiate for 6 weeks holiday. You may not get it, but at least you will be in a decent position to negotiate down.
posted by mr_silver at 3:09 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Keep in mind that if you negotiate for three weeks in exchange for a lower salary, that lower salary will follow you when you negotiate for the next next job and may compound over the course of your career.

Agreed that this doesn't sound like a good fit culture-wise for you.
posted by estlin at 3:12 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree that you should negotiate for more vacation time for the simple reason that refusing that request indicates your potential employer doesn't value work/life balance.

That said, a roundabout way to achieve increased time off is to simply buy it. I've never worked anywhere that doesn't allow taking unpaid leave. Getting paid for one more day a year and then working one fewer day is equivalent to getting one day paid time off. In other words, if for some reason the organization is inflexible about vacation (which is a warning sign to me), they might be more flexible about compensation and you could reach the same result.
posted by saeculorum at 3:12 PM on August 28, 2013

Best answer: Things to think/ask about

- what is the policy on unpaid leave?
- do the weeks accrue over time (i.e. you use none the first year and you get four in year two?)
- if so how many can you accrue?
- how do they accrue (by month? get them all at the first of the year?)
- what about personal days and/or sick days, same questions...
- do you have childcare or other similar concerns. how much would you have to take partial days if you had a sick kid or family member?
- do you get the standard vacation days? are they all fixed? are there floating holidays? (this can lead to about one three-day weekend per month so depending how far away your people are this may be workable.

Two weeks is bog standard for new hires. Never increasing is not, really not. It may be that this is an org that burns through employees, or that if you climb up to management there is some other different structure there and a lot of people do that. I'd be curious if the person running the place adheres to this policy. I guess I'd open a discussion about it when you're at the negotiating phase (phrased along the lines of wanting a similar situation to what you have now, not like "oh this package sucks") and see if they have anything else they can offer or if the whole thing makes them give you the raised eyebrow.
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with Jessamyn to find out more details. You might also want to find out how many holidays you get, and if there is comp time. At my last job there "unofficially" was no comp time, but my boss let me work a bunch of weekend days and then take a longer Christmas break because I was from out-of-state and had to visit a lot of family.
posted by radioamy at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2013

Best answer: I would do all of the following:

- Take the job, title and salary but negotiate a farther off start date. Take a nice vacation to before you start.
- Investigate unpaid leave options.
- Plan to leave in 2 years after establishing your new position and salary.
- Depart in 24 months and tell them that you loved the agency and mission, but could not envision staying someplace with such meagre vacation.

They are making a very short-term commitment to you. You should make a short-term commitment to them. Use them as a stepping stone and then move to the next gig.
posted by 26.2 at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2013 [20 favorites]

Do one of two things:
* Take the job and plan to leave in a couple of years
* Negotiate more vacation time. If they're difficult about it and you like to travel, you might not want the job because it's just going to make you increasingly angry over time.
posted by cnc at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

+1 to 26.2's advice above

- Take the job, title and salary but negotiate a farther off start date. Take a nice vacation to before you start.
- Investigate unpaid leave options.
- Plan to leave in 2 years after establishing your new position and salary.
- Depart in 24 months and tell them that you loved the agency and mission, but could not envision staying someplace with such meagre vacation.

I definitely would NOT trade salary for vacation officially. If you can take unpaid time off then look at that as the same result, except officially you have the higher salary for negotiations at future employers.

The culture issue may be too much though, if it's a "we're given two weeks, but only take one" kind of place you may find yourself butting heads with management so much you end up two steps back and a "troublemaker" label.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

2 weeks vacation is standard for everyone at the small, non-national, social services-type nonprofits in NYC I've worked at. Supervisors mostly had wide latitude to let people use sick days for vacation and allow comp time. You were all but required to use sick and personal days before they expired, sick or not.

This is truly not meant to come off as intra-nonprofit snark, but I have friends at larger, better-funded, less-direct-service-oriented places (think major museums) that get three weeks and up.

I am not saying that you should sacrifice your all! for the cause. No way. But I think it might be worth thinking about NOT as a work/life problem, but rather as an agency funding problem. Places with a ton of money, in heavily funded areas of work, with private donors, are going to pay better and have better benefits. Places in less well-funded areas won't. I am Jewish. Compare the Jewish agencies' salary and benefits to the same position at a secular agency. Is the difference because the secular agencies don't value work/life balance? No. It's because the Jewish agencies have more private donor support.
posted by skbw at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2013

For US private sector jobs two weeks is standard. For public sector or almost any other country, it's closer to four weeks.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:49 AM on August 29, 2013

Maybe my former employers were assholes, but it took me 8 years to get up to two weeks (technically ten days) off. I think I topped out at twelve vacation days after ten years. The only way to get more than that was to save them over into the next year, but they didn't roll over more than one year.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:36 AM on August 29, 2013

Currently ineligible for any PTO because company policy requires more hours than I could ever work... They do however have no problem with me taking as much unpaid time as i want, so this may be an option for you to explore.
posted by Gungho at 6:29 AM on August 29, 2013

Find out how the rest of your PTO is structured. At the company I used to work for (before my division was sold), new employees got two weeks of vacation, but also got two personal days, two floating holidays and ten sick days. It was pretty much an open secret that everyone would use the personal days and floating holidays as extra vacation time, and take sick days for personal days. So I had nearly three weeks of vacation, in reality.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2013

Also, you're right to be concerned about just two weeks, in my experience. I get three weeks' vacation now, and my SO gets a quite strictly-enforced two (no one gives her any flack for taking the two, but she can't really take unpaid time or use sick days for vacation) and that extra week makes a big difference. It's the difference between being able to take a nice long trip every year, and still have enough time left to take the odd long weekend and take a little time off around the holidays, and having to choose between those priorities. I wouldn't want to live with just two weeks' vacation for very long, if that's really all there is.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:04 AM on August 29, 2013

Let's say I work for a company that has a lot of 1950s style policies with regards to taking time off and dress and all that. I'm currently at 3 weeks vacation, 1 week personal, 1 week sick, a birthday, and the normal federal holidays. Vacation doesn't increase every year and when it does it goes in 2 or 3 day increments. To start at and then stay at 2 weeks, seems like a red flag to me.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:22 PM on September 2, 2013

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