Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
For many Americans, working without vacation time has become routine. However, even when workers have paid time off, they often find it difficult to pull the trigger and step away from work. Why the guilt?
A decision to not use vacation days could end up being one that a worker majorly regrets. Depending on their career, American workers often receive zero compensation for unused PTO days should they change jobs. Instead of using up paid time off that was granted to them as a benefit upon hire, workers often end up having to relinquish those unused days without anything to show for it.
In 2018, Americans left a reported 768 million days of paid vacation days unused, with 55% percent of Americans failing to use all of their paid vacation time, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Related: A Work-Life Balance Will Help You Keep Employees
The economic cost of not taking vacation days
There’s an economic cost to people not taking their vacation time, too. When workers don’t use their vacation days to take a trip, for example, that’s money that’s not being spent in the economy (hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc.). Instead of spending money to invigorate economic growth elsewhere (or in their community), workers who do not use their vacation time are essentially handing that money back to their employers by way of unused leave time.
A lack of vacation time can lead to serious health risks
Taking a vacation isn’t just a break from work — it’s a chance for workers to invest in their well-being. The health benefits of taking time for self-care, personal and family vacations or just a chance to step away from the daily grind to freshen up the mind and body cannot be overlooked.
Some of the health side effects of not taking a vacation can be startling. Working too hard without vacation can lead to sleep deprivation — a common cause of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, reduced immunity and more. Most alarmingly, overworking can lead to stroke, according to a 2015 study.
Related: 3 Ways Employee Vacationing Increases a Company’s Productivity
A worker’s reluctance to take vacation starts young
So why do people not take their vacation days from work? Corporate pressure often makes workers believe that taking time away from the job will show their employers that they’re replaceable. Guilt also seems to play into this as well, with an overwhelming societal perception that not coming into the office means someone is lazy or not working as hard as they could be. From a personal perspective, there’s also the fear that some kind of opportunity could be missed out on if one is not at the office (or working remotely).
Some of this stems from societal pressures that start very young in the United States — many kids went to school with the goal of earning a perfect attendance award, and that mindset has moved on with them to the workplace.
Younger generations appear to be feeling the burden the most. According to a report published earlier this year, millennials and Gen Z were the least likely groups to use vacation time, with this cohort appearing to be much more vacation-deprived than those 50 and older. Further, women are more burned out on work and vacation-deprived than their male counterparts.
Ironically, Americans’ obsession with work and lack of vacations comes at a time when workers are experiencing the possibility of more freedom by working remotely. However, U.S. workers report that this shift to remote work has made it harder to unplug from their careers and truly step away from the job. Hence, the cycle continues.
The next time you’re thinking of stepping away from the office and using that well-earned vacation, do it. It will benefit your health, your community, the economy and your family.