Do you love your job?
Of course you do.
Do you love your job so much that you feel lucky to also be contributing nonpaid volunteer hours?
Of course you do.
It’s true. If you’re one of a steadily growing contingent of sleepy, cranky “workplace martyrs,” you’re not just cheating yourself of a much-deserved physical and emotional break from the grind.
You’re donating to the company till — to the collective American tune of $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits annually.
That’s just one of many eye-opening findings about Americans’ stubborn reluctance to step away from our desks. The report, titled “The State of American Vacation: How Vacation Became a Casualty of Our Work Culture,” queried more than 5,600 American workers, including nearly 1,200 managers. It was conducted by Project: Time Off.
Make that Project: Time ON.
Among the findings:
• Fifty-five percent of us did not use all of our vacation in 2015. That’s the first time the study has ever reported a majority of workers not using vacation time.
• We left 658 million vacation days unused; 222 million of those days simply evaporated because they could not be rolled over, paid out or banked.
• We cheated the economy, too. Had we fully used our vacations, we would have pumped $223 billion into U.S. businesses, including restaurants, mom-and-pop B&Bs and travel agencies.
At least our diligence is paying off in respect and promotions, right? Nope.
The study also pointed out that employees who take 10 or fewer days of vacation time yearly are less likely to receive a bonus or a raise than those who take 11 days or more.
Ann Burnett has a theory about that.
“You do need to take time away for your brain to get refreshed and for you to become more productive,” said Burnett, a North Dakota State University professor who spoke on Minnesota Public Radio recently about overwork becoming a misplaced “badge of honor. At a certain point, you’re there, but you’re not functioning very well.”
Burnett said it’s “a sad commentary on our society that people are working so hard that they don’t think they can take a vacation.”
Lack of time off is contributing to stress-related illnesses, she added, including heart conditions, cancer “and what they used to call a nervous breakdown. We’re seeing depression and anxiety, and lots of people on medications.”
Burnett even suspects that the merciless work cycle is contributing to workplace bullying.
“When you’re tired, you don’t have a lot of patience. I don’t have evidence of this,” she noted, “but I have a sense.”
Twin Cities workplace consultant Kathy Kacher also sees damage done by our vacation-challenged populace. One of the first exercises she does with groups is ask them a question:
“Raise your hand if you took all your vacation last year.”
About half the group raises a hand, she said. Those more likely to do so are government employees and nonexempt workers paid hourly wages, she said, “who do what they get paid for.”
Those least likely to raise a hand are professional, white-collar exempt employees, “who fear out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”
When the latter workers do take time off, she said, they’ll couch it with, “I’ll give you my cellphone number. I’ll check in.”
That unfortunate stance is filtering down to our youngest workers, said Sarah Sladek, CEO of X Y Z University.
Millennials, said Sladek, whose company provides insight and guidance about Generations X, Y and Z, “really, really” want their vacation time, and value it over just about any other benefit. But they, too, are afraid to take it.
“There is sometimes pressure not to take vacation time, or to even ask for vacation time. They feel guilty because they see their older co-workers not taking it … and they’re trying to earn those colleagues’ respect.”
Some younger workers, she said, get around that predicament by borderline truancy, taking a day here or there.
“They’ll think, ‘I want a personal day and I feel guilty asking, so I’ll say I’m sick or have a family issue.’ ”
Reasons for reluctance
Reluctance to take vacation isn’t born out of nothing. Many workers surveyed bemoaned the universal challenge of returning to their cubicles piled high with unfinished projects and a thousand e-mails.
“It’s the feeling that I’ll just be under an avalanche if I take time off,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of the New York-based Families and Work Institute.
Some reported that no one else could do their job. Others decried a shortage of support from the top. Almost two-thirds of respondents reported that they heard “nothing, mixed messages or discouraging messages about taking time off” from above.
One in four said they were unsure whether, or agree that, their company expects them to work while on vacation. “In this 24/7 world,” Galinsky said, “it isn’t clear.”
Here’s the good news: Summer just started. We still have time to get it right.
And we really should try to get it right, for ourselves, our families and our co-workers.
Galinsky suggests that we think “dual-centric” instead of “work-centric.” Love your work, of course. But love your time away from work, too. “Dual-centric people are healthier and more satisfied with their jobs,” Galinsky said. They also tend to advance further.
Kacher added that it’s a good idea to plan ahead (we’re talking to you, summer 2017).
Most important, indulge in supportive self-talk.
“Tell yourself that work will still be there when you get back and you can only do so much,” NDSU’s Burnett suggested. “There are so many other wonderful things we miss out on.”
Kacher agreed. “Somebody, somewhere, is going to have to start to say no,” she said. “So what, you were a great worker? They’re not going to put a plaque on your headstone. Life is so much more than meeting those deadlines.”