A new study says four in 10 Americans won’t use up their earned time off this year. Why? Apparently, they’re scared.
You read that right. Fear of being replaced and work piling up coupled with a lack of employer support and communication is keeping Americans from using the time off they have earned, according to a new study entitled Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?
Despite a universal acceptance of the importance of paid time off (PTO), 40% of American workers will leave vacation days on the table, sacrificing their health and well-being and adopting a “work martyr complex” to demonstrate their value.
“Americans suffer from a work martyr complex. In part, it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which sponsored the study.
“Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”
Americans construct many of their own biggest barriers to using time off. Workers cite returning to a mountain of work (40%) and the feeling that nobody else can do their work (35%) as the top reasons they leave PTO unused.
The effects of a tough economy still linger, with one-third (33%) of respondents saying they cannot afford to use their PTO, and a fifth (22%) of workers expressing concern that they do not want to be seen as replaceable.
This “work martyr complex” is reinforced by company culture, chiefly poor communication around time off. Even though senior business leaders overwhelmingly recognize the importance of using time off (95%), two-thirds (67%) of American employees say their company says nothing, sends mixed messages about or discourages using their PTO. Further, one-third (33%) of senior business leaders state they never (19%) or rarely (14%) talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.
The survey suggests that management may be unintentionally sending employees mixed messages when they take their time off. Nearly half (46%) keep responding to emails, while roughly three-in-ten (29%) return calls from work during their PTO, sending the signal that it is not acceptable to be away from the job. Additionally, senior business leaders are dramatically more likely to do work while taking time off: just 37% of senior business leaders reported unplugging entirely from work, compared to 74% of employees.
‘Use it or lose it’ actually works
According to the study, company policy may most strongly influence employees’ decisions to use time off. Five of six workers (84%) with a “use it or lose it” policy plan to use all their PTO in 2014, while less than half (48%) of workers who can roll over, bank or be paid out for their unused PTO plan to use all of it.
But only one quarter (26%) of workers report that their employers have a “use it or lose it” policy.
The study was conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications for the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effect initiative.