Why Americans Don’t Take More Time Off: A Data-Driven Answer

When was the last time you took a vacation? If you are like me, it’s been a while. Many Americans don’t know how to take a vacation. When you work at a global company you notice colleagues based in Paris or Berlin take at least two week vacation. Sometimes they take a month off.

And when they say they’re on vacation, they are on vacation. They’re not checking emails. They’re not answering calls. They’re not fiddling in shared documents or attending meetings.

Meanwhile, if you’re a U.S. worker, did you really take vacation this summer? Meaning, did you tune out from work completely and reset your mind and body as much as possible during the days you had off? Probably not.

Toward the end of summer, we surveyed about 2,000 full-time working adults in the U.S. through Google Surveys. It turns out that a surprising 20% of those surveyed took no summer vacation, and perhaps more startling, 59% of those who did take time off did some form of work while on break.

We all know, in theory, that taking a break is important to recharge our batteries. So why don’t we do it?

Employees are afraid to take time off

I suspect a lot of it is because of self-created fears that taking vacation will be detrimental to an employee’s career. They may be worried that if not there the boss, or colleagues, will suddenly start thinking they are not needed. Or, if aiming for a promotion or some kind or raise – which many good workers often are – that taking a vacation will put them back in their goals.

Before seeing the survey results, my hunch would tell me that paranoia is making most people work on vacation, and that it’s an unnecessary fear. Not only is it fine for a good employee to take time off, but in fact, if they are unable to leave work alone it should be a red flag. A manager might wonder: why haven’t they learned to delegate? Why don’t they trust their colleagues to cover for them?

I was surprised, however, to see that 57% of respondents in our survey reported some degree of difficulty taking vacation due to work culture. That may be due to this same self-inflicted perception, but it does indicate some offices in the U.S. are not getting it right when it comes to time off. If employees don’t feel their workplaces encourage vacation, managers and HR leaders should take heed of the problem.

For one, it’s simply not acceptable to expect your employees to work nonstop all year round. We all want committed and loyal employees who believe in what they do. But we also want well-rounded people who have lives outside of work.

Second, employees who don’t get time off will burn out. In America, we thrive on the idea that we have incredible endurance and can tackle any task. This is not a bad thing. But we also need to realize that we need to recharge, and in fact, some solid rest and relaxation will help us be at our best when we return to the field.

HR divisions can foster this kind of culture in a few ways. Here are few ways companies can encourage environments that celebrate time-off:

  • Institute policies that make time off a priority. This year, we…

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