Answer: This is the last of several questions that were raised in the seminar about Negotiating where it was clear that cultural factors were preventing highly educated and very smart women from speaking up and asking for what they felt they deserved.
The specific question was “I joined a new company which is much bigger and has stricter policies than where I worked before. I have family in Asia and I need extra vacation time to travel to see them. Can I and when should I ask for unpaid leave or extended vacation time?”
It is clear that, as companies hire employees from different and distant cultures, questions that are in conflict with normal policies arise for the first time. Eventually these situations will be addressed and solutions found but for the many organizations, it will be several years before adjustments are made and there is a “new normal” established. Global thinking is a difficult mindset.
There are compromises to be made when you leave a small flexible company to join a major corporation. The larger organizations simply are more regulated, and it takes more planning and discussion to find a way to accommodate family interests such as time-consuming international travel. Of course, the opportunity for career growth and mentoring can be greater in a major company so there are trade-offs.
Here is where advance planning at the very time when you accept the position can be helpful. For the specific question about extended vacation time, ask if there are employees with families living great distances away where international travel is involved and who need additional days away from work in order to visit their relatives. The answer may be simply it is considered by a supervisor on a case by case basis in conjunction with the workload at the time. The employee takes the additional days needed as unpaid leave.
I do think that if a major trip is involved, the timing should be after the review period, generally a year from your start date. That way, assuming you receive very good reports about your work, your supervisor would be inclined to arrange the schedule so you could leave for additional days, beyond your normal benefit. I think the key is to perform very well and when you have that track record, is the time to ask.
The exception to this approach is when you were hired and arranged in advance to take time, you could then ask at virtually any time, especially if it were for something important like a wedding, where you could give advance notice.