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Want a Raise and More Vacation Time? Meet Your Employer Halfway.

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Q I am approaching my one-year review, at which time I am entitled to ask for a salary adjustment. I believe my job performance has been good, and I could ask for (and probably get) a reasonable raise. However, I would rather ask for more vacation days. I had been at my previous job long enough to earn three weeks per year; new employees at my current company get the standard two weeks, and they don't carry over year to year. I wish I had thought to make it a negotiating point when I took the job. Am I too late, or is it reasonable to ask for more leave instead of a raise? How would you recommend I ask?

-- Washington

AYou're correct that the best time to ask was when you first took the job. That's when your negotiating power is the strongest.

But that doesn't mean that you have to just accept what you have now -- nor does it mean you have to completely forgo your annual raise. The worst they can say is no. Before opening your mouth, though, you need to figure out how much that vacation week is worth to you and your employer. As a starting guide for your calculations, consider that one week's pay is about 2 percent of your salary.

Your approach in trying to beef up your time off will depend on how well (or poorly) your employer is doing. If profits are growing, ask for both a raise and extra vacation. Explain that you had three weeks at your old job and that you really benefited from the extra week of rest.

If things are shaky, you can offer to give back some of their proposed raise in exchange for a couple of extra days of paid vacation. A whole week might be stretching it, though. They may already be expecting employees to do more with less, and more paid time off for one employee wouldn't be good for morale.

One possible compromise is that you could take the raise but get permission to take some extra days off unpaid, which would be the same in terms of the bottom line for you and your employer without violating existing vacation policies.

Either way, you will need to show how your job will get done in your absence. If you just have to make up the work yourself, you will likely be approved. If your employer has to hire a temp to cover for you -- or bring in an already overworked colleague -- it's less likely.

What's the best way to prepare for an upcoming annual performance review? Any ways to stand out in the few months prior? And in the review, any tips on what to say and what not to say? Should you be wary of asking for money unless they mention it?

-- Virginia

A great performance review starts with a great performance, and recent achievements are more valuable than older ones. But as you clearly realize, it takes more than that.

Your job in the review is to summarize your job performance for the past year and make clear your contributions to your employer's bottom line -- whether it's to fulfill a mission statement or produce a profit. To make this task easier, keep good records of your achievements through the year, saving any important documents you produced, as well as positive e-mails from supervisors and -- even more important -- clients. If there are quantitative metrics available to measure your performance, analyze those as well.

Also, think about what goals you would like to set for yourself in the coming year, in terms of your performance in your current job and long-term aspirations at the company.

You should definitely be prepared to bring up money. After all, it's in your employer's interest to not give you any more of it than necessary. If you plan to ask for a significant raise, be sure you have done your homework on the industry norms for your position, as well as some sort of analysis that shows why you're worth that much or more.

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