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Why Americans Don’t Use Their Vacation Days (And How to Address It)

Why Americans Don’t Use Their Vacation Days (And How to Address It)
Ariana Arghandewal

America’s “work martyr complex” is often cited as the reason why Americans don’t take vacations. Things have improved over the last few years, with 2017 marking the highest vacation use among full-time employees in seven years. That’s great news! But what exactly are the reasons that Americans take fewer vacation days than their European counterparts? And how do we address these issues? Below is a breakdown of reasons Americans don’t use their vacation days, according to CheatSheet.

Fear of returning to a mountain of work (40%)

Falling behind at work is a legitimate reason for wanting to avoid taking a vacation. It certainly makes sense not to go away in the middle of a busy period, but taking time off afterwards can be a great way to relax and make your efforts feel worthwhile. Last year, I had a hugely stressful project that kept me in the office late and had me working through weekends. I turned down two free press trips to New York, which was gut-wrenching at the time.

At the end of it, my boss gave me an extra week of PTO and I ended up spending two weeks in Turkey, unwinding from the madness. I came back refreshed and ready to work. That would definitely not have been my mentality if I’d kept working. In fact, I think I handled my subsequent workload much better because I had that time off.

Burnout is real and not taking time off is a huge factor. A great way to avoid a huge mountain of work is by timing your vacation so you’re not leaving during a particularly busy period. And there’s nothing wrong with occasionally checking in via email – it’s much more manageable to do that once a day vs. trying to get to inbox zero on the first day back.

The belief that nobody else can do the job (35%)

We’ve all felt this way: We’re essential and no one else can do our job. Before I left for a 2-week vacation following a new website launch, I knew I had to train my co-workers on how to use the new system. The solution? I put together a 30-page guide outlining various tasks (i.e. how to create a new web page, job posting, etc.). Not only did this assist my co-workers, but it also impressed my boss. I went on my trip, everyone managed without me, and I still have a job.

Inability to afford taking time off (33%)

I’ve personally avoided taking vacations in the past for several financial reasons. Even when hotels and airfare are covered with points, there are other expenses that add up fast: Food, transportation, entertainment, and shopping can all add up. For someone who lived paycheck-to-paycheck while paying off student loans (at the start of the recession), it wasn’t feasible for me to spend upwards of $1,000 on a vacation.

Fear of being seen as replaceable (22%)

Because I was fresh out of college and earning nothing after taxes, cashing out my PTO seemed much more responsible than splurging on vacation. That annual PTO washout was essentially my annual bonus and went towards paying off my loans. Was it the best thing for my personal well being? I don’t know, because being in debt doesn’t lend itself towards being relaxing and I would have rather saved money than tried to relax and gone further into debt. That may not be the case for everyone, which is what Project Time Off suggests by citing that employees who take 10 or fewer days of vacation are less likely to receive a raise or bonus.

To show greater dedication to the company and the job (28%)

My philosophy is to be as dedicated to your company as your company is to you. Lots of Tesla employees were loyal to their jobs and guess what? When it was financially expedient, the company cut them lose without concern for that loyalty. Show how dedicated and valuable you are by valuing yourself first. Rewarding yourself by performing well and taking time when necessary show that.

Do you use your vacation days? What are some reasons you’ve used to avoid taking time off?

[Image Source: iStock]

View Comments (5)


  1. adenzin7

    March 29, 2019 at 9:35 am

    why always have to go “somewhere”? just stay home, do some hobbies or whatever, play with the kids, that can be relaxing as well no?

  2. ExplorerWannabe


    March 29, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Why do you presume that the European model is the correct one? Where is the evidence that Americans don’t use their vacation days (versus using them differently)? The bottom line is that vacations and time off are generally there to help moderate stress but many individuals find it easier and less stressful to take hours off sporadically than to take a week or two weeks off at a time. Sorry but the general thrust of this article sounds like typical uninformed and indoctrinated millenial garbage to me.

  3. Tailgater

    March 29, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Americans don’t know how to live! A society that is always working (like honey bees) shows that it’s a boring culture. It’s what Americans consider “life” and it’s work work work every day. Somebody who doesn’t know how to have fun or is so money driven that taking even a few days off is seen as not making money. Yeah, it’s all Americans know what to do. Outside of work, they’re boring, uninterested individuals.. Don’t talk philosophy, science, art, etc., with these uninteresting people.

  4. pointchaser

    March 29, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    @adenzin7 I hear you. Nowadays, there’s nowhere I love being more than home.

    @ExplorerWannabe Americans suffer far more burnout and depression than Europeans, so yes there is absolutely something to be learned from them. I don’t know what part of this you consider “garbage” when it’s a well-established fact. Are you arguing that taking time off is more stressful for American workers than a vacation? Then you’ve proven my point. Something needs to change in the workplace culture.

    @Tailgater Lol! Thanks for that perspective. I do think Americans have something to learn aout enjoying life – maybe from the Australians.

  5. Irpworks

    March 30, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Tailgated misses the point that in our ultra-free society the work of many is what they enjoy most. Self-employment is so common, more than half a century for me, many more Americans than others would believe are doing fun things as work. Plus, it’s arrogance to impose on others what you think is culture or enjoyment.

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