This has been a really rough May for the whole damn world, and we could all use a break. The problem is, here in the United States at least, no one thinks they have time to take one.
More than half of American workers who get vacation days don’t use all of them, according to a survey by Project: Time Off.
The respondents got 22.6 paid vacation days in 2016, and only used 16.8. That’s more than one whole work week we’re working pro bono for the company.
Take this quick four-question survey to see how you stack up:
This leads to one simple question: What the holy hell is wrong with us?
Just among our small team at NED, which gets very generous personal time benefits, we took less than half the days we could have. I took most of mine when my daughter was born, and our fearless leader, editor Travis Hessman, took about a third of his.
Neither of us should be workaholics in our late thirties with wives and kids, not to mention by nature we’re creative writers, which is really just a euphemism for lazy people bad at math.
So how did we end up like this, the embodiment of the Smashing Pumpkins’ rat in a cage?
One possible reason is the Great Recession of 2008 and the collective financial PTSD it caused.
"During the recession and post-recession, there may have been more of a sense of, 'I need to be there, I need to make sure my job is secure,' and not go off and take vacations multiple times a year," says Evren Esen, the director of survey programs at the Society of Human Resource Management.
That was nearly a decade ago, and according to Project: Time Out, workers are starting to take a bit more. Paid vacation rose half a day from 2015 and an entire day from 2013.
But there’s one thing these stats don’t tell you: Taking a vacation day doesn’t mean you’re not working.
For example, Travis admits he worked during every single one of the vacation days he did take, and my during my paternity leave, I had trouble leaving my work at the office.
This is referred to as a “workation,” the saddest portmanteau in the English language. It’s when we make ourselves so indispensable that the business can’t possibly survive without us. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.
And these nefarious workations are on the rise. Staffing firm Accountemps did its own survey of office workers on the subject and found 54% of workers check in at least once or twice during a week’s vacation, an increase of 13% from the previous year.
There are positive signs, though.
About 15% check in once or twice a day, down from 21% in 2016, the firm says. And 41% of Millennials (18-34) plan on taking more time off this year, while a quarter of those ages 35-54 plan on doing the same. This could just be that younger people have more energy and inclination to enjoy vacations. When you have kids, working out the logistics of a long road trip ends up being more stressful than realigning an entire regional supply chain.
Only 16% of the most experienced workers, aged 55 and older, plan on indulging in more of the vacation time they earned this summer, but they are less likely to make it a workation. Six out of ten Baby Boomers plan on truly escaping the daily grind by not checking in at all. Only 38% of Millennials plan on doing the same. (Remember, kids. With experience comes wisdom.)
So what’s the big deal if you put out a few virtual fires via your tablet after 18 holes? You’re just being a good boss and/or team player, right? You’re in a position of great power, and with that comes great responsibility. Unless you were bitten by a radioactive spider, you need to check yourself.
|Relax this summer. Your plant isn't going to burn down because you take a few days off.|
You are probably doing more harm to the business by not taking full advantage of your time off.
“It’s important to take regular vacations to avoid burnout,” says Michael Steinitz, executive director for Accountemps. “Remember that you’re taking this time off to recharge and return to work with renewed energy. This won’t happen if you work through your vacation.”
So why does Steitz think it’s so tough to put the laptop down and put your feet up for a change?
“Some managers are so accustomed to working long hours, checking in and keeping tabs all the time that it may be difficult and more stressful for them to step away completely,” he says. “If possible, try to delegate projects to team members or allow others to make important decisions in your absence.”
Furthermore, Accountemps recommends that managers be proactive and encourage workers to take time off and stay disconnected during that time. This is made easier on all when supervisors know well in advance when you’re taking time off and who to appoint your daily tasks and projects while gone.
Now do yourself, and your job, a favor and enjoy yourself this long weekend. You earned it!