- Almost 70% of millennials polled had unused vacation time last year.
- While on vacation, 79% of respondents did some work and 67% answered emails.
- More than 45% worked harder leading up to vacation, and 83% said they felt productive when they came back.
The time for summer relaxation is here, but if you're in the U.S., you're more likely to be reading this surrounded by the din of co-workers chattering and typing on their keyboards than by the sound of waves crashing on a sun-drenched shore. Recent studies have shown that American workers either don't have or don't take their paid time off (PTO), but a newly released study suggests that Americans would actually rather work than use the free time available to them.
Conducted earlier this year by Sleep Junkie, the study surveyed 1,002 currently employed U.S. workers who had taken a vacation in the past year. The goal, according to researchers, was to find out how Americans viewed vacation time, how they used it and what keeps them from taking a break in the first place.
Leaving vacation time on the table
Americans do not get the same amount of PTO as their European counterparts. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Spanish workers have a statutory minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 14 public holidays, with more paid days off potentially added on by their employers. According to data from 2018, America is the only advanced economic power that does not guarantee paid vacation time for workers.
Despite the fact that getting any PTO from employers is a privilege in the U.S., 68% of American workers left unused vacation time on the table, according to Sleep Junkie’s latest findings. Blue-collar workers were 18% more likely to have unused vacation time by the end of the year than white-collar workers. Women were 11% more likely to let PTO go unused than men, and 69% of millennials reported having unused vacation days last year.
On average, American workers who received PTO generally had a yearly allowance of 14 days but only used 10. Researchers said the need to plan ahead for time off could be a major stumbling block for workers, as respondents asked for vacation time approximately 33 days in advance.
Some workers who tried to take time off saw their requests denied by their superiors. Researchers said this happened to nearly 72% of respondents in 2018.
Though many American workers have no PTO, a select few – approximately 1 in 10 – work for companies that offer unlimited vacation time. While this may sound like paradise, researchers found that employees with this benefit take even fewer days off than employees who have limited PTO. Researchers believe some respondents may have felt "pressured to take comparatively fewer vacation days than their co-workers to get ahead," while others "may respond to the lack of limit with a sense of guilt when asking to take time beyond the standard two weeks."
Vacationer's guilt and working while away
If you've ever found yourself stressing about your return from vacation, your mind constantly wandering to your surely overflowing inbox and the long list of tasks that await you back at the office, researchers say you're not alone.
According to the survey, just over 22% of respondents said they would rather work than go on vacation. Of that 22%, nearly 46% said they felt that way simply because they "preferred to work," while 44% said they "had too much work" to take off and 39% said they "needed the extra money." Among millennials, the number of individuals who prefer to work rather than go on vacation rises to approximately 25%.
According to researchers, 45% of respondents said they worked harder leading up to their vacation, while 38% said they worked longer hours leading up to it. The report said those percentages could be the result of people either not wanting to fall too far behind in their responsibilities or not wanting to feel guilty for leaving the office.
Speaking of guilt, which 20% of respondents said they felt for taking time away, that general feeling may also cause some people to work when they're supposed to be relaxing. According to researchers, 21% of people admitted that they spent some of their time off doing work. Furthermore, 33% of people who'd taken a vacation in the past year said they checked their work emails while they were away.
Returning to work refreshed
Despite the stress American workers feel about taking their PTO, people generally come back from vacation feeling reinvigorated. Nearly 53% of people said they returned to work feeling relaxed after taking some vacation time, while 37% said they felt energized and 31% said they were optimistic. In addition, 83% of respondents reported feeling productive once they came back.
Researchers believe those feelings of being energized and relaxed stem from getting better rest. Approximately 43% of respondents said their rest improved while they were on vacation. That could stem from the fact that the same percentage of respondents said they experienced more sleep, even though 35% said they went to bed later and woke up later.