You might joke that your office seems like a ghost town during the summer months, when many people take time off to go on vacation. In reality it should probably feel that way more often. American workers take only 51 percent of the paid time off they’re eligible for, MarketWatch reports.
People in other countries, especially in vacation-happy Europe, simply can’t understand why Americans don’t take their paid time off. Last summer, the BBC investigated the issue in an article entitled “America’s National Vacation Problem.” The U.K. news service noted pityingly that Americans aren’t even legally guaranteed paid vacation. The same story mentioned that, in 1910, President Taft proposed a three-month vacation for all Americans, a fact that seems jaw-dropping today.
All told, Americans are estimated to leave about 429 million paid vacation days on the table annually. Why? Here are a few reasons, and some ways to counter them.
“Work martyr syndrome”
MarketWatch blames much of our fear of leaving the office on “work martyr syndrome,” the need to show that you’re working harder than anyone else and that no one can do your job as well as you. This syndrome turned into an epidemic after the Great Recession, when jobs were scarce and showing that you were working hard seemed like a good way not to lose yours. But many workers still report a fear that if they take time off, they won’t have a job to come back to. To make sure your office doesn’t fall victim, workplace leaders need to set the tone. Not only do the higher-ups need to take some vacation, but they should praise employees who take it as well.
A workaholic culture
Working hard is part of our national heritage. After all, “The American Dream” is about working hard to achieve your goals. Many Americans take pride in spending all those hours at the office. But what if I told you that all that work doesn’t mean we’re working efficiently? Despite our pride in hard work, America ranked third globally in productivity in 2014, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Luxembourg and Norway beat us, and we barely edged out Belgium. The lesson here is that taking breaks can actually boost your efficiency. Remember this the next time you’re tempted to work on the weekend.
Fear of an overflowing inbox
Another reason often cited for not taking paid time off is the fear of coming back to an overflowing inbox and unfinished projects. Many employees feel they need to work twice as hard before going on vacation to get the work done ahead of time, and it’s common to answer emails and texts about work even when you’re in a far-off location. To avoid this happening to your staff, managers should organize teams efficiently and make sure that each employee has a designated back-up who can take care of the work while the person is out.
Are you planning to use all of your paid time off this year? Tell us why or why not in the comments.
Mia Mends is CEO, Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services, USA.