Personal Day: What Is It? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 17, 2020
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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If you are an employee of a company, you will receive specific benefits available at all jobs. Personal days or personal time off is one of those benefits that all full-time employees typically receive when they begin employment with a company.

Sometimes these days take a while to accrue, but once you are with a company for a specific period of time, they become an option for you to take when you’re looking to take a vacation or simply a break from the work grind.

Some companies have different names for the types of time off you may request and use as an employee. They may be called personal days, sick days, or something else entirely. Regardless of how they are defined, these days are paid time off for illness, personal or private matters, or vacation.

Regardless of your position or seniority, every single person occasionally needs time off. Most companies only allow a certain amount of days for sick and personal days off. For example, a company may provide an employee with five sick days and five personal days in a given year. If those are not used in the calendar year, the company either will allow you to roll them over into the next year, or you’ll lose them if you don’t use them before the end of the year.

What Are Personal Days at Work?

Personal days for an employee are typically defined as an employee benefit that companies offer in addition to PTO and vacation days. Personal days are normally used for things such as doctor visits, child or dependent care and doctor visits, child or dependent illness, family emergencies, or obligations such as jury duty.

However, personal days can be used differently depending on the company. For example, you may be able to use a personal day as a sick day if you run out of your allotted sick days for the year.

Personal vs. Sick Days

Sick days and personal days can get confused pretty easily as their distinguishing features are not very different. However, there is a slight variation in how you should think about these types of paid time off days. Sick days are meant for you to combat common illnesses like a cold or virus, as well as more serious illnesses like a hospital visit for a treatable ailment, surgery, or pneumonia.

However, as stated above, personal days are used for a broader scope of things that may not require a doctor’s note. You can use these days if you or a loved one is sick, but you can also use it for a mental health break or to attend to other personal responsibilities you may have to take care of. This may include things like moving to a new house, attending a ceremony like a wedding or other celebration, or time for grieving a loss.

Personal Days vs. Vacation Days

Again, the distinction between personal days and vacation days is minor but important. Vacation days are exactly what they sound like, for vacation. The expectation with vacation days is that they are taken mostly together for a longer time to be away from your work responsibilities. Depending on your employer, the number of vacation days you receive to use will vary based on how long you have worked with the company. This could also be on an accrual basis, which means you will gain more vacation days for the hours you work.

Employers will typically allot a certain amount of days to employees that they can use throughout the year for the vacation of their choosing. Of course, this isn’t the case where you have to prove you’re actually taking a vacation. You could simply take time off for a staycation at home.

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You are entitled to be paid like a normal day of work for your vacation days, helping to leave you stress-free during your travels and time away from work. If you have questions about your specific company policy, it’s a good idea to check in with your human resources (HR) department.

Personal Days vs. PTO days

PTO stands for personal time off. PTO days has a much broader meaning than personal days and is typically used for vacations or sick leave. PTO days should typically be booked farther in advance as a planned notice of your leave. Personal days are meant to be on the fly days that don’t require much advanced notice and should be used for urgent events such as sudden illnesses or life events.

How to Ask for a Personal Day

Asking for a personal day might feel a little unnatural. You may feel some guilt for needing to miss a day of work. However, personal days are built into your company policy for a reason, and everyone should use them. Here are a few times for how to ask for a personal day.

  • Check-in with your team. Unless you have an urgent family emergency or unplanned event that you must be present for, it’s a good idea to check in on your team schedule. Look at the days you plan to be absent and check for deadlines, projects, and meetings that you may be a part of.

    Note any critical presentations that you are responsible for. If anything significant falls on the days you plan to take off, consider moving them. If you are unable to move the days, discuss your predicament with your manager and co-workers, and figure out a plan of action.

  • Ask for help. When you take a day off from work, the work and the meetings will still be there. If you need coverage during your time away from the office, be sure to discuss it with your co-workers. If you need certain responsibilities to be tended to, your co-workers should be able to step in for a few days to help you. For best results, consider offering to help your co-workers in return, should they ever need to take a day off themselves. It’s important to return the favor.

  • Tell your manager. Asking for a personal day over the phone or in-person is okay, but it’s best to also email your manager when you tell them this information. If you have an approval process, be sure to go through the correct channels to get approval. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to mark your time off on your calendar so that people don’t try to schedule meetings with you while you aren’t there.

  • Follow-up with your team and manager. Although you may have hit every single channel when needing to take a personal day, following up is vital to ensure your teammates and manager have seen your request and that you will be taking the day off. This is important, especially with PTO or vacation time off, as people may have forgotten unless you remind them before you are out.

  • Express gratitude. Once you make your return to work, be sure to thank you, co-workers and manager, for covering your responsibilities while you were out. If they needed to meet a deadline or finish a project for you, consider getting them a small thank you gift. It doesn’t have to be anything significant or fancy. You would be surprised how far a $5 Starbucks gift card can go.

Tips for Using Personal Days

If you’re afraid of losing your personal days or not sure when to take personal days, consider the following:

  • Save them to recharge. Personal days might be tempting to use to add to your vacation time or to go have a fun day with friends, but keep in mind that they are truly there for you when you’re feeling burned out.

    Mental health is an important consideration when you’re trying to be productive and efficient, and personal days are essential to maintain your sanity. Save your personal days for when you’re falling behind and need to recharge or when your personal responsibilities are piling up, and you need more time to accomplish them all.

  • Plan ahead. Although there are instances where you need to take personal days due to unexpected events or illness, in cases where you can plan ahead, you should. If you can plan your days around important work projects, meetings, and deadlines, it will make the entire process easier for your whole team.

    For example, if you’re looking to take a personal day to focus on yourself and mental health, consider scheduling it after an important project or presentation is due.

  • Give notice. Even if your personal day is unplanned, be sure to send an email or a message to everyone your absence will impact. By sending this message preemptively versus allowing them to figure it out themselves, tells them that you respect them, their time, and their work.

  • Refrain from checking in. Setting boundaries at work can be challenging, but when you take a personal day, it’s crucial to truly use that day for yourself. Avoid checking your work email or responding to messages during your day off. Be sure you put your channels on “Do Not Disturb” mode and have an out of office message with an individual people can contact in your absence. Make sure you let your co-workers know that you are unavailable unless there is a serious emergency to tend to.

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Chris Kolmar

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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