Maricarmen was desperate. It was December 5 and she had just realized that she had one week left of her vacation time at work. Worst of all? “If I don’t use them, I’ll lose them!” she told me nervously.

Her story is not unusual. Between the lack of funds to travel somewhere and the fear of losing our jobs if we take some time off, many people that I know have opted to lose those days that they’re entitled to.

In this situation what usually works is finding out what exactly is your company’s vacation policy. These are the three most common ones: a) You can roll over to the next year unused vacation time; b) if you don’t use it, you lose it; or c) you can exchange the days you don’t take for cash. Whatever the policy, if you have a good relationship with your supervisors, you can approach her and work something out. For example, negotiate an arrangement that will allow you to roll over some of the days to the following year and you’ll promise to take them during a specific time, or ask for some flexibility to work from home, or take some Fridays off for a certain number of weeks. Be creative and see how your boss reacts.

My other friend, Carolina, hasn’t taken a vacation in two years because she’s convinced that her boss looks down on the employees that take time off. “I don’t want to be singled out. I need my job,” she told me by phone.

But the reality is that it’s rare for a boss not to want his employees to take their vacation time. The key is asking for your vacation well ahead of the time you plan to take them–and take them, even if you stay home. That way, your colleagues can arrange and plan for the time that you’re off. Also, don’t ask for time off during busy time at your job. For example, if you work in sales, and 70 percent of your sales happen during Christmastime, you can’t take time off during this month. That’s a perfect reason for your supervisors to not like your vacation request!

If you have any doubts on how to approach this topic at work, your best bet is consulting with a mentor who knows the corporate culture of your workplace best so that he/she can explain the unwritten rules that often we don’t know about. They can tell you what would be the best strategy for taking the days to which you are entitled, which are so beneficial both to you and your employer. Because, how productive can you be to your company if you don’t take some time off every once in a while? Vacation time is great for renewing yourself, getting out of the routine, spending time with your loved ones, and just re-energizing. They’re a necessary part of finding balance between your job and your personal life. So, plan them well ahead of time so that you don’t lose them each year end!

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