Although most of us would agree that taking time off to recharge and relax is an essential part of living a balanced life, the reality of the American workforce does not reflect that value. In fact, Forbes reports that U.S. workers forfeited nearly 50% of their paid vacation days in 2017 and nearly 10% of employees took no vacation days whatsoever. While many feel internally motivated to succeed in their positions, new research suggests that the pressure to forgo a getaway may be external, too.
A staggering 96% of American employees say vacation time is important to them. So why aren’t they taking it?
There may be a multitude of reasons, but some may be based in fear and shame. A recent study from Glassdoor found that the number one reason workers fail to use vacation time is their fear of falling behind. But those fears may be underlined by behaviors of coworkers, managers, and/or employers. Alamo Rent A Car research from this year revealed that 41% of employees reported feeling like they were being “vacation shamed,” which the study defines as “being made to feel a sense of shame or guilt by coworkers, their supervisor, or their employer for taking time off to go on vacation.
According to the Alamo study, 27% of respondents said they were vacation shamed by their peers, and 17% of respondents said their vacation shaming experience could potentially stop them from planning a vacation or taking time off. In addition, 40% of respondents felt the need to justify their time off and 59% said they put pressure on themselves to work during their family vacations.
That last statistic could soon be curbed at least in New York City. There’s a proposed piece of legislation that, if passed, would make it illegal for employers to require workers to respond to emails or phone calls when off-the-clock. The bill, which was put forth by New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, would bar businesses with 10 or more employees from forcing their employees to utilize work-related communications when out for sick days, time off, or vacation days. If the bill is passed, employees will be able to utilize 311 to make a complaint, which would result in fines for the business — paid to both the city and the employee — if found to be in violation of the law.
But until that happens (or if you live outside NYC), what can be done? Project: Time Off, an organization whose aim is to encourage American workers to use their earned vacation days, suggests the onus lies with both employer and employee.
P:TO’s director of communications, Cait DeBaun, explained in an interview with Brit and Co: “Our research shows that if managers encouraged employees to take vacation, 80% would be more likely to use their time off. It’s not all on the manager, though. Employees have adopted a work martyr mentality — thinking that nobody else can do the job, that taking vacation will make them seem replaceable. We need to stop wearing the numbers of hours we put in as a badge of honor.”
P:TO launched a movement called the National Plan for Vacation Day, held on the fourth Tuesday of January, to encourage workers to plan for their days off for the entire rest of the year. Planning ahead for a vacation has been shown to make us happier in general, and being able to provide your employer with time off details well in advance may ease some of the shaming workers perceive.
Considering that 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem, it’s no surprise that many employers say they want their employees to take care of themselves. But the daily difficulties of running a business may get in the way of encouraging workers to use their paid time off. The reality is that a burned-out employee will produce a lower quality of work (and less of it), which makes it a lot smarter — fiscally speaking — for business owners to urge those in their employ to use those days off. Likewise, it’s a much better approach for workers to realize they’re at their best when they take a break. But whether America will embrace the idea of taking time off will be anyone’s guess.