Most workers acknowledge that there are plenty of good reasons to take a vacation, yet Americans are notorious for letting their time off go unused. And many who do go on vacations can’t resist the temptation to take their work with them. The bottom line is the vacation habits of Americans are pretty sad. According to the travel website Skift, nearly 42% of Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. Workers, on average, fail to use nearly five vacation days a year, based on the U.S. Travel Association’s findings.
Sure, some workers may be simply letting some of their vacation time roll over for next year, but it seems there are bigger forces at play here. The U.S. Travel Association covers America’s bad habit of foregoing vacation time with its Project: Time Off initiative. In a 2014 survey of 1,303 American workers who receive paid time off, Project: Time Off and GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications (GfK) teamed up to reveal the underlying reasons why people sacrifice their hard-earned vacation days.
About two-in-five workers (37%) said it was not easy to take time off at their jobs. Respondents provided several justifications for their behavior, pointing to problems ranging from issues at the workplace to the larger economic climate. In some cases, it appears that workers can be their own worst enemies, suffering from what Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, calls a “work martyr complex.”
So why do workers say they aren’t taking their hard-earned vacation days? The employees surveyed by GfK often responded with more than just one factor. Here are the top reasons workers claim they leave vacation time unused.
- Fear of returning to a mountain of work (40%)
- The belief that nobody else can do the job (35%)
- Inability to afford taking time off (33%)
- Fear of being seen as replaceable (22%)
- To show greater dedication to the company and the job (28%)
“Americans suffer from a work martyr complex,” Dow remarked in a press release. “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. Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”
The survey also revealed the insidious nature that a company culture can take on, leading many workers to feel discouraged from taking time off. Highlighting the problematic impact of America’s always-on work culture, GsK found 46% of bosses continue to stay connected to their job during time away, setting a bad example and a mixed message to their co-workers and direct reports. Two-thirds of employees hear nothing, negative, or mixed messages from their employers about using vacation time, and almost one-third of respondents said they don’t have control over their own paid time off.
In such a discouraging atmosphere, it’s no wonder workers often express fear as a driving force behind choosing to stay at work. Expedia’s 2014 Vacation Deprivation Study echoed this culture problem, finding that the most popular reason for not using vacation days was because the “work schedule does not allow for it.” This suggests more blame should be placed on the employees’ bosses than the employees themselves. In fact, the study showed that only 55% of the world’s bosses approve of workers taking vacation time.
Project: Time Off also published the following infographic, which breaks down the study’s key findings between issues of work martyrdom and failures of company culture.