Why American Workers Won’t Take Time Off

By: Keith Wagstaff · May 24, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

PT-Oh No

Americans don’t want more vacation days, they want an office culture that encourages them to use those days, according to a new Harris Poll survey of 1,170 US employees.

In general, most of these workers (83%) are happy with the amount of paid time off (PTO) they receive as a benefit. But a whopping 78% don’t use all of their annual PTO days even though they want to (73%).

So what’s stopping people from taking time off?

•   63% of workers said “the pressure to meet deadlines and maintain productivity often deters me from taking extended time away from work.”

•   49% said “I get nervous when requesting paid time off / vacation days from my employer.”

•   66% said “I dread the backlog of work awaiting my return from my time off.”

Having paid vacation days evidently isn’t the same as feeling comfortable taking them.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

These findings speak to the overall culture that doesn’t support workers’ needs to relax and recuperate. In lieu of the dreaded “face-time” in the office, such cultures have also given rise to behaviors intended to make workers look busy for appearances-sake. Millennials, who are especially afraid of taking time off, reported behaviors such as:

•   Moving their mouse to look active on Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other office messaging systems. (38%)

•   Taking time off without telling their employer. (37%)

•   Scheduling a message after work hours to make it seem like they’re working extra hard. (37%)

At the same time, studies have shown that taking breaks and vacations boosts productivity, not to mention personal fulfillment and time away with family, which may be experienced during travel. Ideally, employees wouldn’t feel the pressure to fake being productive, they’d feel empowered to take time off and actually become more productive.

The Path Forward

Part of this phenomenon is larger than any one PTO policy: 85% of workers said American work culture glorifies being busy. But that doesn’t mean companies can’t help employees have a better work-life balance.

More than three quarters of workers (76%) wished their employer put a “stronger emphasis
on the value of taking regular breaks and utilizing paid time off.”

As companies are increasingly turning to benefits to attract and retain workers, time will tell if culture surrounding time off will follow. For workers, it’s worth keeping in mind that paid vacation days are part of the terms of employment, just like a salary, and taking time off may make you more productive in the long-term.

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