Worker is already bad about using vacation — and now, the firm has a new "unlimited" time-off policy.

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Q: I’ve never been very good about using all my vacation time. I feel guilty both about not maintaining work/life balance and for burdening my co-workers when I’m away.

We’re moving to an unlimited vacation policy where we don’t have a fixed number of days; instead, we’re free to take what we need. I fear I’m going to do even worse on taking time off with the new approach.

A: Even though there are no strict guidelines, give yourself a vacation budget to follow.

All reasonable people agree that time away makes employees more valuable. We come back refreshed, re-energized, and with renewed enthusiasm for our work. It’s not easy, perhaps, but invest some time internalizing that point. Consider your energy level when you’re burned out vs. rested, and also think about the positive effects you’ve seen among your colleagues. This will underpin your confidence in being away.

Also think about the reasons for the policy change. Some companies are looking for ways to broaden options for employees; for example, to take less time one year in favor of a longer break the next. What is your company’s goal, and what behavior does your leadership team model?

Give yourself a chance to dream. Do you imagine an ideal vacation life of many long weekends? Would you love a multiweek break? Setting aside thoughts of the work that needs to be done, just focus on your best vision for time away. Now, thinking about the upcoming year, use your past year’s allocation (i.e., two or three weeks) as a guideline. Get out a calendar and map it out. Maybe there are some fixed items: a family reunion or time around the holidays. Maybe there are certain days off from school that you like to take with your kids. Then expand a bit. If you were forced to use every one of those days, when would you use them? Combine practical and visionary, thinking where you’d fit it in among known work peak times. If you like spontaneity, build that assumption in for a certain number of days.

This is the start of your plan to keep from starving yourself of vacation. Take this map to your boss and ask for feedback. If you have a longer-term hope of a month off for a longer break in the next couple of years, start talking about that vision now, and understand your company’s expectations for that.

The biggest challenge will be personal barriers you put up in the moment. The “I’m too busy today” syndrome that derails the staycation is a common trap. Hard though it may be to believe, the world will keep turning and the company running if you don’t check your email on a day off.

If this is your pattern, focus on trusting that your team can handle your absence — and that they aren’t going to realize you’re not needed at all. It’s a big change, and you’ll need to believe you’re entitled to be recharged, and communicate your vision to make it work.

Submit questions to Liz Reyer at