America’s always-on attitude towards work has been an integral part of the country’s cultural identity for hundreds of years. But it has gotten to a point where most American workers these days report feeling stressed at work.
And it’s hardly surprising. Many working Americans leave their paid time off unused. Just in the last 15 years the average number of vacation days taken by American workers has shrunk by almost an entire week. The growing number of unused paid time off contributes to worker burnout, generates negative attitude towards work and in the end affects a company’s bottom line. Take a look at this video by Harvard Business Review to see just how bad the situation has become.
Americans today take almost a week less vacation time than they did in the 90s. And in 2014 roughly half of all working Americans had not taken a single day off. If that wasn’t alarming enough, workers in the U.S. today tend to put in almost 11 hours more per week than what they did in the 70s. It’s a true epidemic of workaholism that’s affecting not only workers themselves, but also their colleagues, friends and families.
What Keeps Us at Work
There are several reasons that keep workers behind their desks, and not laying in the sun sipping cocktails somewhere far away or spending extra time with their families and friends. On top of the prevalent workaholism culture that no doubt exerts a significant influence on their decisions, it turns out that workers themselves can be their own biggest barriers. Some cite fear of returning to a pile of work, others either believe that nobody else can do their job, or don’t want to be seen as replaceable. Almost a third of all employees don’t take advantage of their PTO because they’re convinced it will show their employer how dedicated they are to their job and their company.
These reasons are often further reinforced by poor communication on the part of the management. While most bosses recognize how absolutely crucial vacation time can be both for the workers and for the company as a whole, a large number of American employees still say that their employer either says nothing, sends mixed messages about, or discourages the use of PTO.
But not all is terrible. The vast majority of employed Americans still strongly believe that vacation time is important. The situation in general has been slowly improving in the recent years. But there’s still a long way to go before we can proclaim any major shifts in employees’ attitude towards actually taking vacation days.
What We Can Do about Unused Paid Time Off
Your PTO is not something you should fear. So here’s some quick tips to help you reduce your anxieties and reservations about taking your hard earned time off, and finally go on vacation:
- Plan for your vacation time in advance. That way your team and your manager will have plenty of time to make sure your duties are properly covered during your absence so your work still gets done. With that said –
- Get as much done as possible before you leave. By advancing your current tasks and project as much as you can before going on vacation, you make sure that your coworkers won’t get overwhelmed. So when you return you can get right back into it instead of having to deal with a stockpile of unfinished stuff.
- Be mindful of the busy season. In all areas of business there are certain times of the year when companies simply cannot afford to lose staff to vacation time. That doesn’t mean you can’t go on vacation though. It just means that you need to plan your vacation around these busy periods.
- Keep yourself motivated. Think about the places that you always wanted to visit but never quite got to. The people you haven’t seen in ages, because work hardly leaves you any free time to catch up with them. And all the cool hobbies you’ve been thinking about taking up… Well that’s what time off is for!
The summer is not over yet! And there is still plenty of 2016 left on the calendar. So go ahead, grab a marker and plan your vacation. You’ll only end up happier!