Why aren’t people using their vacation time?

Why aren’t people using their vacation time?

Do you have a large paid time off bank that is capped off and just filling up week after week? Well you are not alone. According to a recent survey from the U.S. Travel Association and market research company, GfK, nearly 40 percent of Americans won’t use all of their vacation time this year.

The research found that there were multiple reasons people chose to not use their vacation time, including: anxiety of being replaced, too much work and a deficiency in company support.

The survey entitled, “Overwhelmed America: Why don’t we use our paid time off?” looked at how Americans are surrendering their own health and wellness and giving in to the “work martyr complex.” The survey included more than 1,300 workers in the U.S., who are in full-time positions with approximately 235 of them serving in management roles.

“Americans suffer from a work martyr complex. In part, it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, in a press release. “Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”

Results showed that about 40 percent of people feared coming back to an overwhelming amount of work; while 35 percent said no one else can actually do their job while away; 33 percent said they don’t have the funds to use their time off; and 22 percent said they do not want to be perceived as a disposable employee.

One misconception for many workers was that the employer did not communicate the significance of using vacation time. Sixty-seven percent said their employer either doesn’t communicate this at all, discourages paid time off use or distributes varied communications.

Survey results also found that nearly 33 percent of leaders from companies either don’t talk about it or very rarely bring up the discussion on paid time off. Study leaders believe this inadvertently gives the wrong message to employees.

Another interesting outcome showed that 46 percent of workers still respond to emails while out and 29 percent are making calls. Only 37 percent of senior leaders said they actually completely unplugged from their job in comparison to 74 percent of non-management workers.

GfK’s vice president of research, Chris Moessner, said in the press release that, “while the survey revealed a number of barriers to taking time off, it may have also uncovered the silver bullet.” Moessner is referring to the ‘Use it or Lose it’ policy.

This policy may be one of the strongest encouragers for employees to use their time off, the study revealed. Nearly 84 percent of workers whose companies have this policy in place are planning to use their paid time off this year. For those who can roll over their paid time off to the next year or cash out their time, 48 percent said they won’t use all their time off.

Dow said that, “Companies and employees need to recognize the value of getting away from the office.  It’s time to start a conversation and reclaim the benefits we work so hard to earn.”

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  1. Ernst Lamothe Jr August 20, 2014 at 8:48 am · Reply

    I think taking vacation time is very healthy. Whether that is going out of town or just relaxing at home, this is something people need to do.

  2. Jessika Castillo August 20, 2014 at 10:48 am · Reply

    Hopefully these measures will encourage people to take their vacation time, burnout is a high price to pay for employees– and businesses.

    • Not if that employer would rather replace you with a younger, less expensive employee anyway — at least, the employer may not believe that you burning out would be a higher cost to the company than replacing you with someone who gets paid less, in which case the employer is rationalizing an inclination to downsize.

  3. Lynn Hutley

    I tend to be a saver so I will admit that I fall victim to this. Great article.

  4. It is also depends how this time off is categorized. Also, some employers are capping the vacation hours, which makes very difficult for people who are visiting relatives abroad (e.g. India or Europe). Also, going in vacation it might be a lost of wages (no differential or bonus) or hole in your budget (happy credit cards…).

  5. I know several people that save vacation/PTO days in order to prepare for a possible medical emergency. Our STD./leave benefits aren’t that great, PTO and vacation days help buffer the lost pay and wages.

    • Well, *that’s* just wrong — if you have to be hospitalized or take a longer time to recover from a medical emergency, you shouldn’t have to use vacation time for that: if your employer doesn’t grant you enough sick days (or if you can’t accumulate them from year to year), then your employer should at least offer disability coverage that kicks in once your sick days are exhausted.

  6. I think that this not only is happening in office environments. This happens at grocery stores also. I know that I myself am weary of taking time off but I do. I rather come back to extra work than to let my sanity run away.

  7. I suspect that what’s also happening is that people who earn three or more weeks of vacation (if anyone not in management does anymore, that is) are being told they can’t take it all at once. Even people who get only two weeks’ vacation are being told that … and that can really screw up your plans. I know that it takes me at least the first four days to finally relax, and if all I have is a week, then I only have three days left to do whatever and then get home. SO not long enough to really de-stress!

    And breaking up your vacation into several long weekends per year just isn’t the same: you’re always tempted to take them at home, and then you don’t relax because you end up doing things around the house, running errands, checking your office e-mail, etc. Forget it. That’s not a vacation. A vacation is when you go somewhere where nobody at work can reach you, you leave your office work, housework and errands behind without even a fleeting thought, and no family member can reach you except in case of dire emergency — and you do something completely different, even if that something is nothing more than sleeping late, not having a schedule, and lying around reading a book at the beach or the lake.

    Give us back the old two weeks off all at once, no questions asked, no boss’s protests, no interruptions! We can have that again — if we’re brave enough to point out to our bosses that we’ve earned that vacation and are entitled to take it, and that the boss must distribute our work among several someone elses while we’re gone, or else make it wait. But most people just aren’t brave enough to say that to their employers, not these days during a weak economy.

About the Author

Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.