This study proves #TakeYourDays is easier said than done for those who feel guilty taking time off.

By Maggie Seaver
October 28, 2019

As 2019 winds down and the holidays approach, you might be scrambling to book last-minute trips and request your remaining days off just for the sake of using them up—and you should! But if you’re not planning to take full advantage of your company’s vacation policy, you’d hardly be the first.

Taking vacation time is important for recharging our batteries, but Priceline’s 2019 Work-Life Balance Report revealed that a pretty alarming number of people don’t seize the opportunity to enjoy their PTO. This year, 44 million working Americans admitted to having seven or more paid vacation days left to spare.

American companies are notorious for offering less vacation time to employees than companies in European countries, some of which offer a minimum of 20 paid vacation days yearly to their employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (many American policies offer about 10 days of PTO). Even still, despite our relatively limited number of days off, many Americans still don't take what’s available to them.

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Per Priceline’s report, more than half (53 percent) of participants leave some available vacation days unused by the end of the year—meanwhile, one in three workers said at least half of their vacay time goes untouched. But why? 

One of the biggest reasons for sticking around the office instead of taking a deserved break is “work guilt.” It’s definitely disheartening to hear that so many employees feel guilty about going on vacation—about leaving their colleagues in a pinch, about how taking time off might make them look, about leaving work undone while they’re away—but it’s also extremely common and relatable. (Translation: While you shouldn’t feel this way, you’re not alone if you do). 

Plus, there’s also so much added pressure to stay plugged in—even when people are technically on PTO. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said their boss or company expects them to be online and available while away, and 38 percent feel pressure to answer emails, chats, and phone calls. In the end, 15 percent of workers end up working for at least some portion of their time off. 

“The respondents in this study report feeling pressure to work while they’re on break—they shouldn’t,” says Liz Dente, chief people officer at Priceline. “Instead, their company should feel pressure to show them they’re valued by making it clear that ‘out of office’ means fully disconnected.”

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It also seems that the younger the employee, the more worried they are about taking time off. Gen Z employees are the most likely to feel guilty taking days off and to feel pressure to check in or be online in some capacity while on vacation. Millennials, Gen X workers, and Baby Boomers do feel the tug of work while away, but not quite as strongly as the youngest working generation. With that in mind, it makes sense that one-third of American workers—especially Gen Z employees—admit to faking sick to escape from work for a day. They have to supplement those unused vacation days somehow, right? Without a periodic breather from work responsibilities, employees are more likely to experience workplace burnout.

But the good news is, Priceline’s report shows that 66 percent of respondents vowed to use up all of their allotted PTO in 2020—hopefully they follow through on this healthy goal.

Trying to use up your days—without a big trip planned? Here’s how to enjoy the ultimate staycation.

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