Vacationing Americans and the “Work Martyr Complex”

American workers on vacationI’ve blogged before about the propensity for Americans to forego using all of their allotted vacation time in a given year.

But that was back in 2012, in the waning months of the “Great Recession,” so perhaps one reason for those dynamics was leaner workforces and the need for “all hands on deck.”

A few years have gone by since then, and … very little has changed in these dynamics.

That’s the conclusion in a report released this week by the U.S. Travel Association.  Titled “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?”, the study included a survey of ~1,300 American workers and senior business leaders, conducted by GfK.

What the survey found was that 40% of workers fail to take all of their allotted paid time-off.

When asked why this was the case, look at the reasons that were cited:

  • Taking time off will cause my work to pile up: ~40% cited
  • Nobody else can do my job while I’m on vacation: ~35%
  • I can’t afford to take time off:  ~33%
  • I don’t want to be seen as “replaceable”: ~22%

The study characterizes the atmospherics surrounding the phemonemon as a “work martyr complex.”

As U.S. Travel’s chief executive puts it, “busyness” is something Americans wear as a “badge of honor.”

But there may be a bit more to it than that.

The survey also found that two-thirds of the respondents feel that their employer sends mixed messages about taking vacation … says nothing at all about it … or actually discourages people from taking paid time off.

What appears to motivate workers to take their full allotted vacation time is the implementation of “use it or lose it” policies.  When such policies are in place, ~84% of workers take all of their allotted time.

By contrast, for companies that offer the ability for workers to roll over vacation time, bank it, or be paid for time not taken, only about half of their employees (~48%) use all of their time.

The big question is whether most companies truly buy into the notion that taking vacation time is important for overall employee health, well-being and relationships – because the survey found that only a distinct minority of companies (one in four) maintain a “use it or lose it” PTO policy.

Of course, the members of the U.S. Travel Association would certainly benefit if more Americans took paid time off and used it to travel to vacation destinations.   Still, Roger Dow’s contention that “it’s time to start a conversation and reclaim the benefits we work so hard to earn” makes sense to me.  The full report can be viewed here.

At our company, we’ve a “use it or lose it” PTO policy in place for years.  What’s your own situation?

Vacation time? What’s that?

Americans not taking their vacation daysIf you’ve been wondering if you’re the only chump in the business world who never takes advantage of all the vacation days you’re due … it turns out you’ve got lots of company.

We have three separate surveys conducted within the past six months that point to the same conclusion: American workers are the great ones for skipping their vacation time.

In a survey conducted by Kelton Research for the Radisson hotel chain, American workers reported that they are granted an average of 18 vacation days per year. But in 2011, nearly half of the ~1,000 survey respondents took 50% or fewer of their allotted vacation days.

A startling finding for sure. But Harris Interactive discovered a similar result in its American Travel Behavior Survey conducted for Hotwire.com. That survey of ~2,000 adult workers fielded in late 2011 found that the average American employee left more than six days of paid vacation “on the table” at the end of the year.

Lastly, a survey conducted for JetBlue Airlines in September 2011 found that nearly 60% of the ~1,100 workers polled didn’t use all of their allotted paid vacation days.

The average number of days not taken? In this survey, it was a whopping 11 days.

Why are so many people taking so few vacation days? Especially when it’s something nearly every social psychologist says is important for a healthy balance between work and social life?

The survey findings give us tantalizing clues: It’s a combination of “taking one for the team” and just plain “fear”:

 Excessive workload raises the “guilt level” for taking vacation time.

Concern about asking for vacation days even when the time is due, because of lean office staffing and how the time off will affect work colleagues.

 Reluctance to play “catch-up” in the workplace following a vacation. Overstuffed e-mail inboxes are just the beginning.

 Concern about job security in a time of high unemployment.

Looking ahead, will workers will start taking more of the vacation days they’re due? If these surveys are a correct barometer, the answer is a firm “No.”