Millions of Americans are married to their jobs and believe that taking a vacation will negatively affect their employers’ perception of their commitment or productivity.
Many employees only take a handful of days off each year and work through the vacation days they do use. Comprehensive surveys have shown for the past fifteen years or so, America’s always-on work culture has created an unrelenting decrease in the average number of paid vacation days used.
Why exactly are people taking fewer vacations even though they are being offered more vacation days? Well, the answer may or may not surprise you, but it’s rather simple: fear.
According to the career website Glassdoor, the average American worker who does receive paid vacation days only takes about 54% of those days and instead, chooses to work. Of surveyed workers, 34% say they fear they’ll get behind on their work if they utilize all of their vacations days; 30% fear no one else at their company can do the work they do while they’re on vacation; 22% are simply dedicated to their company and 21% believe they can never be truly disconnected from work.
Most of these fears are closely associated with the overarching fear of not meeting company goals. Millions of American workers fear if they utilize all of their vacation days, it could ultimately lead to them being fired or laid off because almost all U.S. companies use an employment-at-will policy. This point leads to a larger point of wrongful termination.
Employees not using or working through vacations saves companies a significant portion of payroll per year. But employees failing to use vacation benefits may be imposing larger costs on individual companies’ productivity and the economy as a whole.
In 2016, Americans as a whole voluntarily gave up hundreds of millions of days of free work, which resulted in $61.4 BILLION in forfeited profits. According to Project Time Off, this leads to a loss of $223 Billion that could have been spent within the U.S. economy and could have potentially created 1.6 million jobs! So, it’s safe to say that saving your vacation days, in the long run, does more harm than good.
The honest truth is America’s work culture has created a vacuum of silence when it comes to addressing the issues that unused vacation days create. It’s the American workforce that has filled this vacuum with the pressure that we all place on ourselves to impress our bosses and exceed their expectations by any means.
Rewiring America’s Work Culture
In large part to increasing representation of millennials in the workforce, things may be changing for the better.
2017 has been the first year in the 21st century in which the downward spiral of utilized paid vacation days may see an uptick. Due to the fact we are all much more connected in and out of the office, there still much more to do to rewire America’s work culture and reverse America’s vacation deprivation era.
Here are some strategies that may work for you or your company:
1 – Flip “Use or Lose It” to Your Advantage
During onboarding, or in the handbook, your employer explained the importance of having time away from work to recharge – probably right before they explained why you can’t carry over your vacation benefit from year to year. Use those policies to your advantage when requesting a vacation. Help your employer keep its word by invoking those policies when requesting vacation.
2 – Plan Far in Advance
Advance planning gives your boss and co-workers time to prepare. When you plan out your vacations, and maybe, more importantly, look forward to it for months at a time, that vacation is much more likely to actually happen. For you, even the time looking forward to your vacation can increase your productivity and overall happiness in the office.
3 – Plan on Avoiding Check-ins, or at least Schedule Them
When you plan out your vacation in advance, you can also keep your colleagues on the same page with you so they can handle any issues that may come up while you’re on vacation. You can also let everyone who’s important to you know that you’ll be gone and when you’ll be back, and that you’ll be too busy living life to the fullest to check your emails.
If you can’t avoid the obligatory “check-in,” plan a specific time so people know when and how they can connect while you’re away. And, if at all possible, don’t check work email or voicemails except during those times.
4 – Lend a Helping Hand to End Vacation Shaming
Many American workers have indicated that they’ve experienced vacation shaming from colleagues who have to pick up the slack while they’re out of the office. If this happens where you work, don’t give in to the pressure to relax and get away from that environment. Instead, offer to help your colleague when they go on vacation, in hopes they’ll do the same for you.
This is a simple solution to a paradox in an American work culture that’s gotten way out of hand. If followed, helping colleagues and your boss while they recharge will go a long way towards changing the culture of fear over vacation use.