How Far Should You Expect an Employer to Bend When Hiring?

bend over backwards

A conversation recently came up amongst several people in my book group. One of the members has been looking for a job for about six months with little success. A couple of weeks ago, she was offered a job at a company that she was excited about. During the negotiations, she mentioned that, since she’d been out of work for quite a while, she had gone ahead and planned a week-long vacation for May. The employer told her that she would need to cancel/reschedule that vacation or else they could not offer her the job. She argued that the vacation was planned and paid for, but the employer stated that it was non-negotiable. Even though the time would have been taken unpaid, their stance was, “Take it or leave it, but vacations during the probationary period are not allowed. We have a lot of qualified applicants should you decide we’re not the right fit for you.”

My acquaintance chose not to take the job, despite the fact that she could have rescheduled the trip without losing any money. She felt that if an employer wasn’t willing to compromise on this issue that they weren’t likely to be family friendly in their other policies and that she wouldn’t be happy there long-term, anyway. That may be, but this employer was offering six weeks of vacation per year (after the probationary period is over), two weeks of sick leave, a generous salary, plus a host of other “family friendly” benefits such as on-site daycare and full health coverage. It doesn’t get much friendlier than that.

Other members of the group agreed that a refusal to let this woman take her vacation threw up red flags all over the place that this employer would be trouble to work for and that they, too, would have declined the job. It surprised me that so many people were so attached to their vacation plans that they wouldn’t give them up for a great job, especially after a long period of unemployment. Personally, if I’d ever experienced this problem, I would have taken the job, not the vacation. If nothing else about the employer or the job or benefits package concerned me, then I would take the job. I think it’s silly to toss away a great job offer (especially in a tight job market) just to go on a vacation. That’s short-term thinking and short-term thinking almost never gets you ahead financially.

After book club, I went home thinking about this issue. I’ve worked for employers on both sides. Some of them wouldn’t have hesitated to let the woman go on her vacation and others would have prohibited it. Others might have allowed it, but done so so grudgingly that the employee would feel the chill in the room and probably would have opted out just to avoid the frosty glare of a supervisor upon her return. Some would have made exceptions for life events like weddings or births, but not for a simple vacation.

From an employers’ perspective, they are hiring to fill an immediate vacancy in most cases. They need someone to come in and work, not to come in and work for two weeks and then go on vacation. They’re also training you during those first weeks and they need you present so you can learn everything quickly. Also, as a new hire you’re going to be the last to get your vacation preference. If others in the department have already asked off, you’re not going to come in and bump them off the schedule.

And, from a less tangible perspective, as a new hire you’re supposed to come in and prove your worth to the company. For those first few months you should be a standout employee who never misses a day. That’s what many employers want to see. In a tight job market, and even in a good one, there are enough qualified applicants that they can find someone who will come in and work without the “baggage” of a vacation. It’s not that the employer has no feeling for the potential employee, but they are running a business and they have to do what’s right for that business. They may be terribly compassionate toward employees that have worked there for a while and earned that compassion, but not toward those who haven’t earned it yet.

From the employees’ perspective, it’s hard to put your life completely on hold while you’re looking for work. If your husband and/or kids’ schedules align and you can take a vacation, you go ahead and plan one and hope for the best. It is also nice to see that a company has some compassion for someone who’s happened to find the right job at the wrong time. Or the right vacation at the wrong time. Whichever. It gives you hope that they will be flexible when you need them to be. And, it’s hard to let go of a planned vacation, even if you reschedule and lose only a minimal deposit (or nothing at all). It’s easier to get worked up about the unfairness and inflexibility of the employer.

The bottom line, though, is that the employer is the one calling the shots. You, as a prospective employee, have to play their game. Every employer and every job situation are going to be different, but there are going to be companies that are great otherwise, but which, for whatever reason, will not honor a planned vacation at the beginning of your employment. It may not be fair, but it is true that there are plenty of people who can fill that slot. You aren’t the only applicant who can do the work. As a prospective employee you have to decide which is more important: The job, or the vacation. If you can live with your decision, whichever you choose, then that’s the right decision for you. If you want to avoid the problem altogether, the best approach is to refrain from planning a vacation while you’re looking for work.

(Photo courtesy of quinn.anya)

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7 Responses to How Far Should You Expect an Employer to Bend When Hiring?

  1. baselle says:

    “My acquaintance chose not to take the job, despite the fact that she could have rescheduled the trip without losing any money.”

    Sounds like the couple might have purchased trip insurance … so its confusing to me because it looks they thought of that very possibility. Unless she really, really didn’t need the cash and it was a good way to rationalize the decision.

    IMO, a job is more valuable than just the paycheck. Even if its a crappy job, sitting tight in it for a few months allows you UE to reset, which re-inflates your economic lifeboat. It also makes your resume a little fresher because you can show a willingness to be an employee. And you know that in a small field/small city employers talk to each other. Quietly, but they do. Wouldn’t affect a lower to mid level employee, but if she is reaching upper management her decision might have broader effects with other employers.

    I’m reading that both sides dodged a bullet, I guess.

  2. Nika says:

    “Take it or leave it, but vacations during the probationary period are not allowed. We have a lot of qualified applicants should you decide we’re not the right fit for you.”

    If that is how they came off, she was right to decline the job.

    It translates as “We have a manual and we don’t really care about employees to look at things on a case by case basis, our employees are expendable, and we feel they should be grateful to have a job”.

    If they are quoting a regulation instead of an actual need, it is a red flag. Especially if this is a vacancy that is new, or the one that has been empty for a while and there is no pressing need to start immediately. On the other hand, if they have a crazy crunch and they just really need someone to be at work at that time, that is a valid reason.

    “We have a lot of qualified applicants should you decide we’re not the right fit for you.” I would feel that to take an offer after this was said to my face at the recruitment process would be humiliating, and unless my child would go hungry otherwise I would not do it.

  3. Asmom says:

    As a hiring manager, I can tell you that an employee who walked in the door telling me about her vacation needs (especially after having been off for so long) would have been a red flag for me. She sounds like she has a sense of entitlement and lacks priorities. I’m all in favor of work life balance but walking in the door saying I need a day off? No, you are not hired.

  4. OfeliaTConejo says:

    You are absolutely right. The woman sounds like a spoiled brat who really did not want the job.

  5. Julie says:

    I agree also. I have H/R responsibilities and this would have been a warning sign to me too.

  6. ceejay74 says:

    I’ve had several new jobs where I’d already purchased nonrefundable tickets for a vacation, and they’ve never given me any trouble about taking it soon into my job. This seems a bit unreasonable of the new employer.

    That said, I’d kill for 8 weeks of PTO! If I was able to reschedule the vacation without losing money, I’d have done it for a package that generous. To me, that balances out the strictness of no travel during the probationary period.

  7. Gail says:

    Why does someone who has been off work for 6 months NEED a vacation or does she not need a job? I would have taken the job in a heartbeat and forget the vacation. Sounds like this was a great job opportunity and I too would have been leary of someone coming in wanting to go on vacation within two weeks of arriving. I’ve seen things similar to this and it leaves other employees in a very grumpy mood especially if they have been having to hold off taking a vacation until the opening is filled and the person trained.

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