By Angela Murphy
Last week, a poignant reminder of the importance of paid time off (and its lack of use) went viral.
Madalyn Parker, a Michigan-based web developer, emailed her team to candidly tell them she’d be taking a few mental health days. Her boss was not only understanding of the request, but praised her for putting her well-being first and for helping to break through the stigma surrounding mental health days and time off as a whole.
Parker shared the exchange on Twitter, resulting in a whirlwind of publicity, with many dubbing her boss “CEO of the year material.”
Many employees aren’t taking paid time off because of underlying perceptions in the workplace. Whether they forgo days off at the expense of their mental health, as in this example, or simply their personal well-being and enrichment — the consequences can be rather serious.
The Sad State of Paid Time Off
A recent Glassdoor study reports the average American only uses 54 percent of their eligible paid time off. Of those that do, two-thirds of employees report working while on vacation. Approximately one in ten did not take any vacation days last year.
In total, Americans forfeited 206 million vacation days last year; valued at $66.5 billion in lost benefits.
With such a clear loss, why aren’t employees taking time off? They’ve already earned these days after all. And what is this stigma associated with the use of vacation days? Below I’ve outlined five reasons why employees don’t use their vacation days.
5 Reasons Why Employees Don’t Use Their Vacation Days
The U.S. Travel Association, as part of their Project Time Off initiative, uncovered key reasons employees avoid time off — with stigma-related fears being a primary driver.
1. Returning to a Mountain of Work
Deadlines don’t take days off, so it’s no wonder 43 percent of employees report the fear of a post-vacation pile of work causes them to avoid vacation days.
2. The Feeling No One Else Can Do Their Job
A third of employees feel that no one could fulfill their duties while away. On the other end of the spectrum, “being seen as replaceable” just missed the list — with 23 percent of employees citing this concern.
3. Time Off is Harder with Seniority
As cited by 33 percent of respondents; this notion is seen in action as senior leaders are less likely to use take time off than non-managers (61 percent vs. 52 percent).
4. Want to Show Complete Dedication
More than a quarter of employees avoided vacation days to appear more dedicated to their work. Millennials disproportionally cited this concern.
5. Fear of Missing Out on a Promotion or Raise
The study also found 21 percent feared they’d be easier to overlook for a promotion or raise. If only they knew, research finds quite the contrary.
Here’s What Science Has to Say
Extensive research has been devoted to the effects of vacation time on job performance. The bottom line? Time off improves mental and physical well-being while reducing burnout and turnover — making it critical to any thriving organization.
In fact, employees who take more time off are more likely to get promoted. They also experienced less reported problems at work than their vacation-less counterparts.
One study also showed the numerous positive health effects of taking time off. Those who didn’t take vacations were significantly more likely to experience a heart attack. Overall, vacationing even appeared to delay mortality in subjects of this long-term study.
Sparking Change Among Your Team
With summer at its peak, it’s the perfect time to step up your vacation advocacy efforts in the workplace. Encourage employees to use their time off and investigate any looming stigmas surrounding vacation time.
Tips for promoting a vacation-friendly culture:
Relay time off practices to your staff (i.e. accrual rates, rollover, etc.).
Encourage management to support and accommodate their team’s vacation use.
Introduce employee benefits that build a healthy work-life balance.
Communicate the benefits of personal care.
What is vacation use like among your team? What policies do you use to steer employees in the right direction? Share your stories in the comments section.