NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Dear Annie: One of my goals in the coming year is to spend more time with my wife and kids, whom I've badly neglected over the past few months because of work. My department was shrunk by more than half earlier this year, and I've been doing jobs formerly held by three other people, as well as my own job, without a raise or bonus.
So I feel justified in asking for another week of paid vacation, in addition to the two per year I now take. Still, I can't fight the nagging feeling that it's risky to ask for anything in this job market, so I'm hesitating to rock the boat. What do you and your readers think? -- Exhausted
Dear Exhausted: It seems to me that your timing is pretty good. Compared to 2009 when many companies froze pay, fewer employees will get no raise at all in 2010, says Ravin Jesuthasan, head of the global rewards practice at compensation-consulting giant Towers Perrin. "But there is still not enough money around to compensate people for the extra hours they've been putting in," he says.
You'll like this next part: "Our studies also show that 70% of employers now are getting back to worrying about retention," he adds. "So they are trying to keep people happy by giving them other rewards. The biggest one we see is more paid time off. It's a great form of recognition for employees who have been going the extra mile, because it's relatively easy and low-cost, and it's something that people really value."
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at job site CareerBuilders.com, has spotted the same trend. "Trying to get a raise right now is an uphill battle," she says, "but employers are really making an effort to give people things that are good for morale but don't cost much -- like a more casual dress code, the option to telecommute a couple of days a week, or more vacation time."
She adds: "We've also noticed that employees generally feel freer to ask for things. This has been an unusual year" -- now, there's an understatement -- "and it has led to more open communication between bosses and workers. There's a lot more transparency than before the downturn."
Nice to know something good has come of the economic mess.
The key to getting what you want, Haefner notes, is to point out how your employer will benefit from giving it to you. "It's fine to say why you want something, but don't forget to emphasize what's in it for the business," she advises. "If they grant your request, how will it improve productivity or otherwise serve the company's interests?"
In your case, if some extra time off will lower your stress level and prevent you from burning out, say that. It stands to reason that, if you're going to keep churning out the work four people used to do, you're going to need a bit more R & R than in the old days.
And bear in mind that your request is eminently more reasonable than some. CareerBuilders recently surveyed 2,924 managers at U.S. companies and asked them to recall the most memorable perks employees have asked for lately. A partial list:
Install a tanning bed in the break room.
Put beer in the vending machine.
Allow jail time to be covered under family medical leave policy.
Put in a special smoking area for medical marijuana.
Permit employee to work only during daylight hours because of fear of the dark.
Give employee more time off to pursue side business as a clown.
Let employee replace his desk with a futon so he can work lying down.
Hold the next team meeting in Hawaii.
And the oddest request of all:
Require the HR manager to wear nicer shoes.
Compared to these, your desire for another vacation week is pretty tame, don't you think?
For anyone planning to request a perk, whether it's tuition reimbursement, a bigger cubicle, or a better parking space, Haefner has one more tip: "If your boss says no, try to get him or her to be specific about why not. Then work on addressing that concern, and ask again. Even if the answer is no right now, it might be yes a few months from now, so don't just give up and forget about it." Hear, hear.
Talkback: What extra perk would you like to ask for? Think your company might grant it? If you're a manager, what unusual requests have you received lately? Tell us on Facebook, below.
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