Why workers aren't taking vacation time, and why they should
Posted July 26, 2016
Employees aren’t taking their vacation, according to recent polls and studies. And that impacts not just an employee’s health, but the country’s economic wellness.
A recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that close to half of U.S. employees with 50-plus hour work weeks don’t take most of their vacation days. And of those that do, 30 percent said they ”do a significant amount of work while on vacation” such as answering work-related emails, NPR added.
It’s a longstanding trend. The employee benefits blog zanebenefits.com noted that the number of vacation days taken by workers has been steadily dropping since 2000. For employees who don’t take that vacation time, it means they are at greater risk of burn-out, added stress and anxiety, compared to well-rested employees that are more likely to work harder, it added.
And not taking time off has negative economic fallout. Project: Time Off, which did an online survey in early 2016 of 5,641 U.S. employees working at least 35 hours per week, found that the unused vacation time meant a loss of $223 billion in spending, and that servicing the needs of those on vacation would have created 1.6 million jobs.
So why don’t people take time off? NPR reported some respondents said they don’t want to burden already busy co-workers with an additional workload, while some identify as workaholics who don’t want a vacation or who want to get ahead at work.
Similarly, Project: Time Off found that a fear of returning to a mountain of work was the most common reason (37 percent) for not taking a vacation. Following that fear is the belief that no one else can do the job and that the employee can’t afford a vacation, both at 30 percent (because there was more than one answer, the survey results did not add up to 100 percent.)
And according to Project: Time Off, 80 percent of workers said they would be more likely to take time off if they felt encouraged to do so by their boss.
Brian O’Connor at the Detroit News doesn’t believe that. “I’ve never felt my bosses supported me in filling out my time card each week, either, but somehow I still hand in the paperwork to get paid,” he wrote.
He instead suggests two reasons that employees don’t take vacations: One is that it’s easier to use work as an excuse to get out of a family trip “rather than explaining that you’re not all that excited about paying $12 for a stale corn dog during your nine-hour wait at the World of Smurfs.”
“The second,” he wrote, “is that many workers don’t want the boss to discover how completely not indispensable they are on the job.”
Still, he doesn’t deny that finances can keep a person from a well-deserved vacation.
“I can’t criticize anyone for skipping a vacation they can’t afford,” he wrote, “and it seems foolish to say that all people who are financially strapped need to do is save up for a vacation when they obviously can’t find the cash.”
For those who try to get out of vacation because they can’t afford it, Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor of Care.com, had some tips to share with Deseret News.
Aside from the obvious “save up until you can” bit of advice, she recommended preplanning simple activity days for the family and “staycationing” in style by spending the night at a nearby hotel, which may offer a discount to locals.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow her on Twitter at @Sarahsonofander.