Do you believe you are the only one that can do your job? Do you fear taking time off to avoid returning to a mountain of work? Are you afraid of being seen as replaceable if you take time off? Do you sacrifice your health and well-being to get the job done? If so, you might be a work martyr.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, about 40% of Americans don’t take the vacation they’ve earned, leaving about 430 million days of unused vacation. And that’s not saying much since Americans only get an average of 12 vacation days each year, compared with 20 days a year provided in Europe. Other sources also conclude we aren’t taking our allotted time off. A recent study by the Family and Work Institute reported that 36 percent of workers did not plan to use all their vacation days. Moreover, 37% said they have never taken more than a week off at a time.
In order to understand the attitudes and beliefs driving America’s work culture, the U.S. Travel Association enlisted GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications (GfK). GfK asked more than 1,300 business leaders across the country their top reasons for not taking time off. The most common survey responses included:
- not wanting to return to a pile of work
- feeling like no one else can do their job
- one-third reported they cannot financially afford to use their time off
- one in five were afraid they could be more easily replaced if they took time off
- only 32% say their employers encourage them to take time off
The trend to put our ‘nose to the grindstone’ and power through even though we’re stressed out is concerning, and often based on unfounded fears. Face time at work doesn’t always equal dedication. Seventy-five percent of HR professionals report that employees who take most or all of their vacation days tend to “perform better” compared with employees who take less vacation.
If Americans used more of their vacation, they could see improvements in their own physical and mental health and well-being, as well as the health of the economy. American’s unused vacation days could mean an additional $67 billion in travel spending as well as more jobs and earned income, according to estimates in a report by Oxford Economics.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health looked at how people feel before, during and after a vacation.
- During vacation, people felt healthier and had better moods. They also experienced less tension and higher levels of energy and life satisfaction.
- Interestingly, the positive effects of vacation were found to dissipate within a few days of returning to work. But “that doesn’t mean that one should discount the health benefits of a vacation,” says the article’s author, Jessica de Bloom . “It would be a bit like asking, ‘Why do we sleep despite the fact that we get tired again?’ “
To fend off the depression that can hit when you return from a vacation, author Robert Kriegel suggests you think about what motivates you and plan to have a few things that you love doing on your agenda when you return.
Perhaps we just need some encouragement to take some time off. If you have the sense that your boss doesn’t want you to take too much vacation time, ask what his or her concerns are. Finish your necessary tasks before leaving. Plan ahead for your duties to be covered and coordinate with co-workers. Then let your manager know how you can be reached if necessary. You may find the time off not only benefits you personally, but allows for new perspective and the chance for innovation to flow upon returning to work.
Research concludes that our health declines over time if we don’t take a break from work. Don’t be a work martyr, be a better worker.
Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County
Reviewed by: Kristen Corry, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Noble & Monroe Counties