Question: My company doesn't allow vacation days to rollover year-to-year nor do we get paid for time we don't use so it's either use 'em or lose 'em. My department is small so I worry taking days off will mean extra work for my coworkers — but at the same time, I don't want to watch my vacation days just disappear. Can you help me make sense of this dilemma?
Answer: It's great that you work in an environment where you are concerned about your colleagues' workload – that's a sign of a productive and considerate team setting. But it shouldn't mean that anyone has to lose out on vacation days, and in the bigger picture, workers who have a good life/work balance are more productive anyway.
If you're worried about this issue, chances are your coworkers are as well. Because it's a small department, it should be pretty easy to come up with a schedule that's agreeable to everyone. This is the type of issue that is usually best handled with a frank discussion among the people in the business unit.
Consider creating an unofficial department calendar that includes blacked-out periods for especially tight deadlines or big projects at work, as well as times that certain people will need to be out for scheduled events such as weddings or planned medical procedures. This can also be a good time to discuss vacation around major holidays – perhaps you have teammates who follow different religious traditions or aren't especially concerned with celebrating certain holidays, and they might be happy to work on days you would really like to take off. You can either use an old-fashioned "regular" calendar or a shared calendar app as long as everyone has access to the information.