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How to take a vacation as an investment banker when heads are rolling

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While right now the markets are eerily calm and the VIX is hovering near an all-time low, financial services professionals know all too well that volatility can spike at any minute. Whenever markets dive or investment banks make job cuts, people start cancelling their holidays. In a culture where never taking time off is seen as a badge of honor among senior management, and any vacation time you take must be spent glued to your smartphone, approaching your boss to ask for time on the beach can be intimidating.

With some banks considering or actually making cuts and everyone trying to prove their worth to their organization, it’s uncertain whether this year is likely to be much better than past years characterized by more market volatility.

In the U.S, workaholic tendencies are much prevalent. In 2015, across all industries, 55% of Americans didn’t use all of their vacation days. The effects of working 70-hour weeks without taking any time out can be devastating. Yes, investment banks are making efforts to cut working hours of their juniors, but sustained periods of crippling hours can take its toll, as a well-reported study into investment banker burnout by banker-turned-academic, Alexandra Mitchell, showed.

Finance professionals who want to remain in the field may be better off taking smaller, well-timed vacations, enough thoughtfully scheduled down time to stay charged up and return to work refreshed, but not disappearing onto the beach for weeks, especially if your employer had disappointing quarterly results or laid people off recently.

What if your boss is stressed out and often in a bad mood? How do you approach them to ask for time off? Here are tips for how to actually take time off without it impacting your relationship with your bank boss and team – and therefore your career longer-term.

1. Don’t assume your boss cares 

If your boss is stressed out, they’re never going to reveal the source of anxiety to you, so don’t try and empathize. Nor are they likely to particularly care about any personal reasons for you taking time off – it might be your sister’s wedding, but any business concerns will come first.

A mistimed request for time off can backfire, says Diane Baranello, a personal branding/career coach and the founder of Coaching for Distinction. You want to get your timing right.

“Are there specific times of day or days of the week when the boss is grumpy?” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach and the founder of SixFigureStart. “Avoid asking for vacation during these times.”

2. Show your contribution 

Baranello suggests opening the conversation on a positive note. For example: “Let me update you on the success I’ve had with a high-visibility project I’ve been working on” (or a challenging client you’ve been working with).

“Explain the hurdle – how high – or the obstacle – how complex – you had to overcome,” Baranello said. “What were the ramifications of not accomplishing the goal? What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you keep your boss out of the fray?”

“You’ve got a success story she or he can talk about. You’ve also created an amiable climate for your ask,” she says.

She suggests following up with something along the lines of: “I think this would be a good time to recharge my batteries (or take some time with the family). I’ve got back-up and I can spare a couple of weeks before my next project. Are you good with that?”

3. Stick to the facts 

Jane Cranston, the founder and president of Executive Career Coach, suggests simply stating exactly what you want without justifying your reasons for taking time off unless your boss asks for an explanation. Just reassure them you have back up.

“It’s very important to plan ahead for who will handle your work and how they will do so while you’re on vacation,” says Cranston. “Reassure the person you won’t leave things up in the air.”

Will you be available while you’re gone? “Don’t say yes if you mean no,” she says.

Bill Driscoll, the New England district president of Robert Half, says that you’ll need to clearly lay out how your responsibilities will be handled while you’re enjoying yourself by the pool.

4. Don’t take it personally

Some bank managers are grumpy and won’t be nice about your vacation regardless of how thoughtfully and carefully you ask, so steel yourself to not take it personally, says Ceniza-Levine.

“If you’re owed some vacation, let the boss know when you’re taking it and the game plan for coverage,” she says. “Then, stop paying attention if he or she adds a snide remark or guilt trip.

“If your boss tries to prevent you from taking vacation time that is owed you, then this is a problem that you may need to work out with help of a mentor or HR – which is the last resort,” she says. “But in many cases, you can work it out for yourself with a little planning and a positive but firm mindset that you’re taking a vacation.”

Photo: Getty Images

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