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Nov 14, 2017 Eric Titner

The impact of 50% of American workers not taking vacation time

Have you heard what happens when you lead a life of “all work and no play?” Beyond becoming dull, a life without a healthy work-life balance can lead to a wide array of negative outcomes—both mental and physical. It’s true, the most effective employees aren’t the ones who work nonstop like robots; individuals who work hard but also make time for vacations away from their jobs are the ones who are able to maintain high levels of work efficiency and healthy well-being over the long haul. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73 percent of civilian workers have access to paid vacations. However, a concerning trend is being witnessed across industries in the American workforce—many employees are simply not taking vacations, believe it or not. Approximately 50% of American workers—half of the entire labor force—don't take vacations for one reason or another, and its having a big impact, both on employees and the companies they work for.

Why don't people take vacation?

Let’s take a closer look at why this is happening, and its impact.
No paid vacation benefits
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 73 percent of civilian workers have access to paid vacations, all industries are not created equal and some employers don’t offer their employees a full suite of benefits that include paid vacations. For example, only 55 percent of workers employed in service occupations have access to paid vacations. Workers who don’t receive paid vacation benefits are typically at the lower end of the wage spectrum, or have part-time, freelance, or contract-based employment arrangements, and often they either can’t afford to take time off of work or their work schedules aren’t flexible enough to take vacation time.
Juggling multiple jobs
A growing number of people have resorted to non-traditional work situations, either by choice or by circumstance, which can include having multiple part-time jobs—which often don’t include vacation benefits. It can be tricky enough to take time off from one full-time job; when you’re juggling multiple jobs with varying scheduling needs and demands, carving out time for a vacation can be a real challenge, one in which many workers can’t seem to make happen.
The funds just aren't there
The sad truth is that many people simply can’t afford to go on a proper vacation; they either don’t receive paid vacation benefits or live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to go anywhere even if they can take time off, and would rather just go to work than take time off and have nothing to do.
Other life obligations
Some people who work in inflexible work environments have to use their vacation time for non-vacation obligations. Life happens, and everything that comes up that needs to be taken care of—from dental appointments to a sick child or taking the dog to the vet and everything in between—may mean having to use vacation time, leaving no time to take an actual vacation. Although some of us are lucky enough to have understanding employers who are willing to work with us to handle life’s unexpected responsibilities, some of us don’t have that luxury.
People are afraid to go on vacation
Yes, this is a sad but true fact—some folks are simply too afraid to take a vacation from work. They may either be worried that if they take time away from work there’d be no one there to cover their responsibilities or afraid that taking time off could make them appear replaceable and put their jobs in jeopardy. In a world where job security is elusive and positions dangle precariously, some workers may not feel like a vacation is worth the risk.

The impact of not taking vacations

Although there are many reasons why individuals may not want to take time off from work for vacation, the impact of their decisions not to do so is clear. Research has shown that not taking a healthy break from work can lead to a wide range of unwelcome mental and physical effects on the average worker. Job burnout and decreased efficiency on the job are not uncommon phenomenon for folks who push themselves too hard without taking some time off for themselves; as a result, their perceived dedication to work may actually be working against them, resulting in their becoming less productive and valuable employees. Not taking vacation can also negatively affect employee’s moods at work; this includes increased irritability and decreased patience, which can really place a strain on relationships and communication with colleagues. Job focus and energy are also typically depleted at a more rapid rate without a “vacation recharge,” which ultimately benefits neither the exhausted employees or their frustrated employers. Not taking vacations has a measurable spillover effect outside of work as well. Think of all the detrimental on-the-job effects we just covered—you don’t think they just magically evaporate when workers go home, do you? Folks who work hard and don’t take vacations are much more likely to be unhappy overall, which follows them around whether they’re at work or at home. They typically dread going into work more than workers who take vacations, which likely means weekends full of unease or anxiety over the coming work week. As if negatively effecting coworker relationships wasn’t enough, carrying around all of this unwanted “no-vacation baggage” nonstop is sure to have an impact on personal relationships as well. Furthermore, it isn’t hard to imagine a cyclical effect coming into play: unhappiness at work leads to unhappiness outside of work, which feeds back into itself in a circular, downward-spiraling loop of disastrous negativity. All of these negative feelings and emotions tied up with working too hard and not taking vacations can really take a physical toll as well. The mind and body are interconnected, and job burnout and unhappiness due to not taking vacations can lead to lethargy, increased aches and pains, lower resistance to illness, and a host of other unwelcome symptoms. So, if your reasons for not taking a vacation are tied to financial frugality, consider the fact that what you’re saving on vacations might wind up costing you in sick days and medical bills.

Looking ahead

The bottom line is that most people need a healthy mix of productive activity and relaxing downtime to function at optimum levels, which makes intuitive sense—most people function at their best when they lead balanced lives. So, now that you’re aware of the impact of not taking a vacation from work, what can you do if you’re finding it tough to strike a balance? If you can’t seem to make time for a vacation, either because of your current work situation or because of everything in your life that you’re currently juggling, take a closer look at your routine and see if you can make some adjustments. If it’s a financial concern, consider creating a savings plan that will help you fund a vacation—even modest savings over time can really add up! Again, this is not a frivolous thing—taking a vacation is a responsible way to ensure that all the elements of your life are operating properly over the long haul. This might entail getting some help from friends, family members, or colleagues to help you carve out some quality “you” time, but it’s a worthwhile investment in your long-term functioning. And if you have a boss or work for a company that frowns on vacations from work, or doesn’t offer vacation benefits, then show them this article—hopefully they’ll quickly see that employee vacations benefit them as much as it does you.

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