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Americans’ Reluctance to Take Time off from Work

We have a need for vacation time.

Are you fortunate to have a job that provides time off for vacation? Some employers even offer paid vacation time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, 90% of workers were given paid or unpaid leave at their jobs. Yet, only 21% took the time off during an average week. More recent statistics reveal that more than 50% of workers don’t use all of their time off. Clearly, American workers are not taking all their allotted leave—even those who have paid vacation days.

Why is that? Generally, workers believe

  • they have too much work to do now or they would return to a heavy workload that waited for them
  • no one can do their job
  • they cannot afford to take the time off or pay for a vacation
  • their employer/supervisor may not look favorably on taking time off
  • they enjoy their job
  • they want to get paid for their unused vacation time or have the time roll over to the next year

Despite the reasons arguing against taking vacation days off, there are economic, physical, and emotional costs for not doing so. The financial costs include an economic cost to the worker regarding their benefits. In addition, money that Americans would ordinarily spend on vacation in the United States could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars for the U.S. economy. Moreover, employers might incur more financial losses than savings when employees don’t take vacation days because of their lowered worker productivity and burnout.

Physical symptoms and conditions can develop when people are overworked and do not take time off to sleep, relax, and recharge. Fatigue can set in which may affect an employee’s ability to physically perform their job as well as impact their cognitive abilities (such as, concentration/attention, memory, and decision-making) and thus impair the quality of their work.

Working too many hours without respite is a breeding ground for developing stress that can harm the employee’s health and relationships. In addition, the more chronic the state of an employee’s stress and fatigue, the longer the recovery time: meaning—a few days off “won’t cut it.” In this regard, most employees need time when they are mentally disengaged from their job. Therefore, the practice that many people have of taking their work with them on vacation, as evidenced by the ease of using their laptop or cellular phone, can be defeating one of the primary goals of vacation—recovery.

Vacations can also enhance the employee’s relationship with significant others, family, and friends. There’s more time to talk to these individuals and doing so in a state of mind that is more relaxed. Vacations often help people reconnect and get to know one another better. For lovers, it can increase their intimacy and affection for one another.

Certainly, the beneficial effects of vacations are dependent on the quality of the vacation. For example, if the time spent away from work is unpleasant, stressful, or too short, the restorative nature (relaxing and energy promoting) is unlikely to occur.

How can you go on a vacation that will maximize its potential benefits for you?

  • The simple planning of a vacation and thinking about what you will be doing can have beneficial effects and begin the recovery process.
  • Take time off to do something you want to do. The vacation should be one that reduces your problem areas (e.g., fatigue, stress, worries, apathy) and increases your positivity (e.g., excitement, happiness, relaxation, exploration).
  • Although vacation days are often used for non-vacation types of activities (e.g., taking care of emergencies, caring for others, tasks that need to be done), save as many days as you can to spend on replenishing yourself.
  • Indulge yourself by being with people you want to be with and doing something you want to do.
  • Just as you plan for the vacation, plan ahead for the time you will be away from work.
    • If possible, make arrangements for others to fill in for you and complete some of your tasks while you are away. Do as much as you can before you leave (now, you’ll really need a vacation).
    • Try to have a lighter schedule when you return so that you can catch up with what is waiting for you.
  • Realize and accept that if you don’t allow yourself “down time,” you may do more damage to your loved ones, your employer, and yourself than if you didn’t spend time away from work.

There is a reason for vacations, just as there is a reason for the human body to need sleep. These are the times for the body and mind to recover and repair from the continuing demands of daily life.

We are a “working” nation—perhaps, too much. Although we have achieved greatness based on our work ethic, we have also experienced problems because of our reluctance to take time off. Whether you go away or stay at home, deviating from your routine and having the time and ability to revitalize yourself and your life will ultimately be as good, if not better, as “money in the bank.”


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Access to and use of leave—2011 data from the American time use survey summary.

de Bloom, J., Geurts, S. A. E., Kompier, M. A. J. (2012). Effects of short vacations, vacation activities and experiences on employee health and well-being. Stress & Health, 28, 305–31. DOI: 10.1002/smi.1434

Zillman, C. (2017). Americans are still terrible at taking vacations.

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