We know Americans be good at many things however vacationing isn’t one of them. Every year millions of American workers fail to take their allotted vacation days, according to workplace surveys. It seems that the overriding reason is fear but there are costs of not taking vacations.
Last year, approximately 54% of Americans ended the year with unused vacation days. When added together, that is 662 million paid days off. About a third of these days (206 million) cannot be rolled over or exchanged for money.
Fear of falling behind
The lead deterrent to taking time off is the fear of falling behind with work (43% of people cited this as their main reason). The number 2 reason for not leaving the workplace is that people fear that no one else can do the job in their place.
And, while many people fear their absence will be dearly missed, the fear that someone else will may do a better job while we’re away is a big concern. No one likes being replaceable.
The reluctance to sit on a beach somewhere is not all about fear though. Corporate culture in the USA is fixated on productivity, efficiency and constant connectedness. Technical advances have only made working around the clock, 365 days a year that much easier. Most of us are, harnessed to our smartphones, spanning the time zones where our jobs are relevant.
When one time zone is in ‘downtime’, it is peak time in another region leaving no time to pause.
The benefits of recharging
Americans essentially gave up $66.4 billion in benefits last year alone just by forfeiting those 206 million vacation days.
Some people may have experienced short-term benefits (by not taking those paid days off) in terms of their own performance or competitiveness. However, these short-term gains may be at the expense of long-term failures.
Everyone needs a break and vacations can help improve productivity, creativity, workplace accidents, job-related errors, stress, fatigue, even illnesses.
When someone is recharged they can look at old problems from new perspectives. During our time off we are more prone to make new connections and think of new ideas because we can take a step back and look at old problems with fresh eyes.
Managers should lead the way
Employees need to break through the fear and actually take the vacations and good managers can help encourage that. Managers should also lead by example and take the vacation days allotted to them.
Those leaders who remain connected to the office while on vacation, sending emails and participating in video conferences, relay a strong signal to their employees. This sets the expectation that if the boss is always connected, that they have to do the same.
Cultural influences at play
Over a quarter (26%) of Americans sacrifice vacation time to demonstrate their dedication to their employers. They see it as a badge of honour and it is particularly prevalent in the U.S. workforce.
There is quite a contrast with employees in other countries who tend not to hurry so much, and leave time to enjoy the process and life itself. However this can be difficult to do for some.
Taking vacations and mini-vacations throughout the year is the norm in Europe. It’s actually not uncommon to take a full month off of work and some countries or companies even mandate time off. This does not happen in the USA.
In a culture that values accomplishment and that rewards superstars, the temptation of trying to optimize every day is very real.