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How to Stop Getting Shortchanged By Your Employer and Make the Most of Your Annual Leave

how to make the most of your annual leave

Joanne Poh

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I once had a friend who, fresh out of engineering school, got a job with a 6-day work week and only 7 days of annual leave (true story). After two months he quit and decided to become a full-time tuition teacher.

The average Singaporean gets 16 days of annual leave a year, but uses only 14. Employees tell horror stories about their bosses throw hissy fits when they try to take leave or reject their leave applications outright. 64% of Singaporeans complain about not having enough vacation time.

All this gives the impression that annual leave is a big deal to Singaporeans. But many people end up sacrificing their annual leave year after year due to poor planning.

Someone earning $3,500 a month effectively earns $175 a day. Losing 2 days of leave in a year means that person is doing $350 worth of work free of charge,

Here’s how to make sure you never get shortchanged of your annual leave ever again.

1. Never EVER sacrifice leave that can’t be rolled over. EVER.

If your boss told you he was going to deduct $350 from your month’s salary for no good reason, would you let it go without putting up a fight? I certainly hope not, or else you’re beyond saving.

It never fails to amaze me how Singaporean aunties can get all violent at a supermarket sale, yet people shrug off losing their paid vacation days year after year.

Most companies have some sort of policy that prevents employees from rolling over a portion of their leave to the next year. They might tell you you’re only allowed to roll over a maximum of x days each year, or 50% of your total leave allotment.

That means any leave you fail to use up or roll over is dead and gone, sucked into the vortex of Raffles Place.

Why then does the average Singaporean sacrifice 2 days of annual leave a year, effectively worth $350 on a $3,500 salary?

Maybe it’s due to forgetfulness, of not being aware of how many days of leave remain. More often, people save up their leave until November or December and then discover that they’re not allowed to take leave because their bosses get first dibs on the end-of-year vacation period.

Whatever the reason, some clever planning can prevent any unnecessary forfeiture of leave. Keep tabs on how many days of leave you won’t be able to roll over to the next year and make sure you use every. Single. One.

By July or August, you should be taking stock of how many days of leave you have left and deciding what to do with them. Don’t wait until November or December, when you’ll have a hard time trying to take time off.

In an absolute worst case scenario, you might decide to go on leave only to end up working from home. Not exactly the best use of leave, but at least you get to sleep in and skip the arduous MRT ride to and from work.

In other words, if you have any leave you can’t roll over, “die die must take”.

2. Forecast your leave way in advance even if you haven’t planned your holidays

One mistake people often make is waiting until their fuzzy holiday plans materialise before doing anything about their leave.

If their vacation plans fall through or they end up not going anywhere, they do nothing until November or December, when they realise their bosses have all gone on leave, leaving them to man the fort in their absence.

One way to combat this is to forecast your leave way in advance at the beginning of the year, blocking off one or two weeks. If you’re forecasting your leave 6 months in advance, even the most ruthless of bosses will find it hard to refuse.

Then you can either deliberately plan for your holidays to fall during those periods or change the dates later. When your boss is mentally prepared that you’ll be gone for 10 days in August, it’s a lot easier to switch the dates around a little, as opposed to suddenly dropping the bomb one month before that you’ll be going on leave.

3. Sandwich public holidays in between block leave to save costs

When a public holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, everyone scrambles to go on one or two days of leave before or after the long weekend. By everyone, I mean 90% of the people in Singapore.

Trying to book a holiday out of Singapore during public holidays is like trying to escape a burning building. Everyone else is also trying desperately to get out of the country, meaning flight prices get driven up higher than the Burj Khalifa, and even trying to book a bus ride to Malaysia becomes a real pain.

In order to take advantage of the public holidays without getting stuck in a glut of fleeing Singaporeans, try planning your long vacations around them. This means if there’s a public holiday on Friday, you take the entire week before off and maybe a few days after, enabling you to take advantage of cheaper flights while still getting to add the public holiday to your overseas vacation.

4. Always have a plan

When all is said and done, one day of leave is just that—a day with no work. Which, come to think of it, is the same as any regular Saturday and Sunday. You’re not going to suddenly obtain magic powers or morph into a lady or gentleman of leisure.

This means any day of leave you take can be as awesome or as boring as you make it.

Even if you’re not going on an overseas vacation, a day of leave can mean you get to take your dog for an early morning watch on the beach, followed by a foot message and then a delectable brunch, enjoyed under palm fronds waved by Greek Gods feeding you with grapes and wine.

On the other hand, a day of leave can also result in your being passed out in bed all day until you haul yourself up to ingest some cup noodles at lunchtime and then discover there are only reruns on TV in the afternoon.

I’m all for being spontaneous blah blah, but when it comes to a day when everyone else is at work except you, the chances are almost nil that your kid is going to get a day off school so you can ride roller coasters at Universal Studios, or a mysterious stranger will call you up with an impromptu proposal to go on an exhilarating road trip.

Even if you refuse to do more than necessary at work, I think you’ll agree that your paid vacation days at least are worth the effort.

How do you usually spend your annual leave? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.