Make the Most of Your Vacation Time This Summer

As summer approaches, many employees start thinking about their vacation time and how to make the most of this employment benefit. Generous vacation time is one of the perks most appreciated by employees at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and employees are encouraged to use it.

“It’s good for well-being to take a day off when your schedule and workload allows,” says Neil McClure, chief human resources officer at CUIMC. “We all have work to do, but if you can weave in your vacation time and take a day off when you can, or take a long weekend around a holiday, it will help you stay refreshed. Even a one-day staycation can be very rejuvenating.”

The basics

At CUIMC, vacation time accrues monthly and can be used as it is earned, with supervisory approval. The amount of vacation time earned by non-union employees each month is determined by the employee’s length of tenure at the university and employment classification. Union employees should consult their collective bargaining agreement for guidance on their vacation time.


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In general, full-time, non-union employees with less than 20 years of tenure earn a maximum of 23 vacation days per year, and employees with more than 20 years of tenure earn a maximum of 28 days. Full-time, non-union employees also earn three personal days each fiscal year, between July 1 and June 30. (Vacation and personal days are essentially the same, and employees are allowed to request both at a moment’s notice when needed, although employees are encouraged to give as much notice as possible.)

In addition to vacation and personal time, employees also receive a set amount of university holidays, sick time, and other allowances each year. Learn more.

What’s new in 2024

Last fall, CUIMC instituted a new system for electronic timekeeping called Time and Labor Absence Management. Employees now log into People @ Columbia (PAC) via my.columbia to submit requests for vacation, personal days, sick time, New York State sick time, jury duty, bereavement leave, and more. All absence requests are routed to the employee’s manager for approval. The system offers numerous features to assist employees in managing their time, including an absence forecasting tool and additional absence balance views. A Manager WorkCenter allows managers to review and approve absences and timesheets and keep track of their unit’s absence calendar.

This year, the medical center and Columbia University aligned their holiday calendars. Medical center employees no longer receive Presidents Day in February as a university holiday and instead receive an extra personal day to use when they wish.

“Having a unified calendar is easier and puts our campuses on the same page so we’re all consistent,” McClure says. “It also enabled us to move forward much more quickly with implementing TLAM.”

Don’t lose your vacation time

With most employees receiving at least five weeks of time off including vacation and personal days, some may find it difficult to use all their days in a single year. One full year of vacation and personal days is rolled over into the next fiscal year, but unused days over that limit are lost.

“We offer a really robust vacation benefit that allows employees to take the time off they need, for whatever they need,” says McClure. “If you’re getting married or taking a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, you can take two or three weeks off, especially if you have carry-over days, and still have time left over. That would be unheard of at some companies.”

When there are staffing challenges in departments, it can feel difficult to take time off, and many employees worry that they may leave coworkers and managers with a high workload. McClure advises that to get the rest they need and ensure that work doesn’t intrude on time off, employees should plan their vacations in advance.

“Everyone’s situation is different, but it shouldn’t be too hard to take a vacation,” McClure says. “If you find it hard to take a vacation, I would advise you to plan it—put your vacation on the calendar for some time in the future, and then stick to it. Your colleagues and managers can plan accordingly to handle your absence. It ensures your colleagues can give you a well-deserved and needed break, and then when your colleagues go on vacation, you can do the same for them. It's also a good way to make sure that work doesn't follow you into your vacation.