Americans are overwhelmed—but they aren’t taking the breaks they’ve earned. Nearly three-quarters of workers say they are stressed at work, with one-in-four reporting they are either “very” or “extremely” stressed.
It’s no surprise that Americans feel this way. Many workers leave their paid time off (PTO) unused, despite near-universal recognition of the importance and benefits of using PTO, from reducing stress to improving productivity when we return to work.
But when the U.S. Travel Association asked GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications to examine the attitudes and beliefs underlying America’s hard-charging work culture, GfK discovered that the benefits of PTO were no match for the fears that are keeping them at work.
In a survey of more than 1,300 employees and senior business leaders across the United States, it was revealed that workers construct many of their own biggest barriers to taking time off. Returning to a mountain of work and the feeling that nobody else could do their job were cited as the top reasons for not using PTO. The effects of a tough economy still linger with one-third of respondents, who said they cannot afford to use their time off, and roughly a fifth of workers expressed concern that they would be seen as replaceable if they used their PTO.
According to the survey, employees’ fears about using PTO are reinforced by their companies, where the silence can be deafening. While senior business leaders may support their employees in taking time off, they aren’t communicating it. In fact, two-thirds of employees are hearing nothing, negative or mixed messages from their employers about using PTO.
The Benefits of Paid Time Off are Universally Recognized.
- Nearly everyone surveyed (96%) recognizes the importance of using PTO, including 95 percent of senior business leaders.
- Huge majorities of American workers say PTO helps them relax and recharge (90%), offers the opportunity to do what they enjoy (88%) and makes them happier (85%). Nearly two-thirds (65%) say their concentration and productivity improve with PTO, and 61 percent report greater satisfaction at work.
- Senior business leaders agree that time off from work delivers benefits to their employees and companies: 91 percent believe employees return from PTO recharged and renewed—and ready to work more effectively.
Yet More Than Four in Ten of Us Will Leave PTO On the Table
- Still, 41 percent of American workers do not plan to use all their paid time off in 2014, even though it is part of their compensation.
What’s Holding Us Back?
Rise of the Work Martyr: A “Mountain of Work” That “Nobody Else Can Do”
When it comes to taking PTO, Americans themselves can be the biggest barriers. A variety of justifications lead about two-in-five workers (37%) to conclude it is not “easy” to take the PTO they have earned.
- Returning To A “Mountain Of Work”: Fully 40 percent of American workers cite the heavy workload awaiting their return as the top challenge in taking PTO.
- The Work Martyr Complex: More than one-third of employees (35%) won’t use their time off because they believe “nobody else can do the work while I’m away.”
- Face Time, All the Time: Roughly three-in-ten (28%) respondents do not use all their time off because they want to show complete dedication to the company and their job.
- Lingering Effects Of A Tough Economy: One in three respondents (33%) say they simply “cannot afford” to take PTO. More than one-fifth of respondents (22%) said they didn’t want others to see them as “replaceable.”
America’s Hard-Charging Work Culture
America’s always-on work culture exerts a powerful influence on our decisions about using paid time off. Some of the leading cultural barriers include:
- A Negative Vibe About PTO: Two-thirds of American workers (67%) say their company culture either says nothing about taking time off, sends mixed messages or discourages them from using PTO.
- No Control When it Comes to Earned Benefits: PTO is typically a defined employee benefit, just like salary and healthcare. Yet despite being a significant part of their total compensation, nearly one-third of workers (31%) say they do not control their own PTO—the company does. It’s like one-third of Americans refusing to see the doctor until their employer allows them to.
A Failure to Communicate
Senior business leaders know the company benefits when workers take time off. Yet our research shows that many are sending mixed messages to employees.
- Poor Communication From Above: One-third (33%) of senior business leaders state they never (19%) or rarely—just once a year (14%)—talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.
- Staying Connected 24/7/365: When taking time off from work, many senior business leaders have a hard time unplugging—just over a third (37%) reported being able to get away from work completely. Nearly half (46%) keep responding to emails, while roughly three-in-ten (29%) return calls from work during their PTO—all the while sending the signal that it’s never OK to be away from the job.
- Grudgingly Granting PTO: More than one-quarter (28%) do not find it “easy” to approve paid time off requests, and among those who do not find it easy, 32 percent worry it puts an extra burden on other employees.
A survey from the U.S. Travel Association finds that 41% of you who are lucky enough to have jobs that offer vacation days "do not plan to use" all your paid time off this year. Time for a new plan.
The new plan: use all of your paid time off.
Use every last day. Take a vacation. Travel somewhere fancy. Travel somewhere moderate. Travel somewhere cheap. Alternately, take a staycation. Stay at home. Just chilling. Not working. Whether you go somewhere, or don't go anywhere, you'll still want to use all of your vacation days.
Every last one.
Even though Americans say they enjoy their vacations, they also say that they worry about whether their job will get done correctly in their absence, and they worry about being seen as lazy or easily replaceable at work, and they worry that their boss is sending subtle signals that it would be better not to take time off.
You worry too much, Americans. Take some time off.
If your boss is an obstacle to taking vacation days to which you are contractually entitled, maybe you should poison him (non-fatally). Then both of you can take some off.
That job don't love you. That job is not your friend. That job is not looking out for you. That job is a machine in which you are a cog. That job has no human feelings. That job is interested only in sucking you for every last ounce of labor that you are physically capable of producing before you pass out. It is not the job's fault; it is in the job's nature. Therefore it is up to you to look out for yourself. You gotta love yourself in this world. Take that time off. Nobody else is going to take it for you. Take it. Take it all.
If you're lucky they will fire you and you can sue them.
American workers believe that taking paid time off (PTO) helps them relax and recharge, offers the opportunity to do what they enjoy, and makes them happier people. But despite almost universal recognition (96%) of the importance of using their paid time off (PTO), four in ten workers (41%) say they will not use some of their PTO in 2014. A closer examination of these findings reveals that companies that encourage their workers to take PTO have happier, healthier, and more productive employees.
ENCOURAGING WORKERS TO USE THEIR PTO MAKES THEM HAPPIER, HEALTHIER, AND MORE SUCCESSFUL
- Happier personal lives. Employees’ whose companies encourage the use of PTO have happier personal lives. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of employees whose companies encourage PTO use report being “extremely” or “very” happy with their personal relationships with family and friends.
- Happier at work. Workers who are “extremely” happy with their jobs work within corporate cultures that encourage PTO. Over half (55%) of extremely happy employees are encouraged to use PTO, versus only one-third (32%) of the total population.
- More successful and financially secure. Companies that encourage PTO employ more people who are “extremely”, “very”, or “somewhat” happy with their professional success and personal financial situation compared to those companies that discourage PTO, send mixed messages, or send no message on PTO (91% vs. 79% and 84% vs. 68%, respectively).
SENIOR BUSINESS LEADERS AGREE: PAID TIME OFF IS GOOD FOR THE COMPANY
- More productive employees. Senior business leaders agree that employees who use their PTO return recharged and renewed, ready to work more efficiently and productively (91%).
- Fewer sick days and improved morale. The vast majority of senior business leaders agree that using PTO cuts down on sick days and burnout, reduces turnover rates and improves morale, and boosts employee focus and creativity (90% for each).
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