Why Using Your Vacation Time Is So Important

why using your vacation time is so important

Of the 21 wealthiest countries globally, 20 of them require companies to provide a certain amount of paid time off (PTO) to their employees. Similarly, some of these countries require employers to offer PTO. They also mandate that employees actually utilize the PTO within a certain period (usually anywhere from six months to one calendar year). This is incredible, right? But, it begs the question: why would a country feel the need to invest resources into creating and enforcing such laws? Well, because vacation is essential to workers’ health and well-being. 

Unfortunately, the United States is the one country out of the 21 wealthiest countries globally that does not mandate companies to offer any PTO to employees (earning our country the title of “The No Vacation Nation”). Since vacation time is not guaranteed, it’s considered a benefit, an “extra,” not a right. The problem with this is that when you view time off as a privilege, it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t deserve to take advantage of it if a significant project is happening at work or you’re carrying too heavy of a workload to break away. Unfortunately, 55% of people don’t utilize all of their PTO, and 70% of people still sneak in a little work even when they take a vacation. 

PTO shouldn’t be looked at as a privilege, though (otherwise, why would so many countries mandate it?) It should be viewed as and treated like a health benefit. 

Why is Using Vacation Time So Important?

It’s understood time and time again that being able to step away from the office (without having to worry about lost income) is suitable for your mental health, physical health, and work performance. Research has shown that people who take more than ten vacation days a year are 30% more likely to receive a pay raise. Not to mention, without a break, you are much more likely to experience burnout which can subsequently negatively impact everything from your job satisfaction to your overall happiness. 

Here are some other proven positive effects of taking a vacation:

In addition to all of the health benefits of taking a vacation from work, many companies have a “use it or lose it” policy when it comes to PTO. It means that if you don’t use your hours, you’re throwing away a lot of “free” money because the chances are high that your employer will simply erase your balance at the end of the year without paying it out.

Overcoming PTO Hesitancy 

One of the harmful impacts of treating PTO as a privilege instead of an essential part of health and wellness is that people are often discouraged from utilizing it. Toxic employers and cultures that reward workaholic behavior can leave employees feeling like they can’t or shouldn’t take advantage of their PTO. 

Some common reasons employees don’t feel comfortable taking PTO may include:

  • Feelings of guilt (“I’ve taken too much time off lately”)
  • Fear of retaliation or perception
  • The stress of the inevitable work pile up while you’re gone
  • Fear leadership will deny the request (and judge you for asking in the first place)
  • Workplace pressure that glorifies overtime and overwork
  • The concern of repercussions of missing out on something important 
  • Fear your absence will prove your job isn’t essential

In some cases, if you genuinely fear you will lose your job or face retaliation for using a benefit that’s available to you, it’s likely a sign of a toxic work culture that you’d benefit from leaving entirely by finding a new job. 

There are many reasons why someone working in a healthy company culture may still hesitate to use their PTO. Often, in these cases, this hesitancy comes from within based on your anxieties, not necessarily on facts. To overcome these feelings, ask yourself questions that will help you determine if your concern is rooted in evidence or assumptions. Here are some examples:

Has anyone said anything about all of my time off to date? Have I been issued a warning about absenteeism? 

Is there any proof that my co-workers perceive me as anything besides a hard worker? Why would my taking time off change their perspective? 

Are there people on my team who can/will step in to help cover my work while I’m away? Or, is my workload a problem my manager would be willing to help me solve?

What reason would my boss have for denying a vacation request? Have they ever done so in the past? 

Why do I worry my job isn’t essential? Are there any signs that indicate this should be a concern?

Many times, the best way to overcome negative feelings of worry is to take a step back and look at the concern from a logical perspective that’s free of emotions. Suppose you go through this process and find a valid reason why you may be declined PTO right now. Then it’s worth bringing it up to your leader to discuss finding a better time for you to take PTO. 

When You’ve Used Up All Of Your PTO

There are all kinds of reasons you may have run out of your PTO, especially if you’re a parent who has to take time off for maternity leave, school closures, and any time your child is sick (kids can eat up your PTO). Regardless of why you’re out of PTO, a zero-hour balance is problematic when you’re on the verge of burnout and need a break. 

In this case, it’s worth talking to your boss or HR to find out if you’re able to borrow from future PTO (which would leave you with a negative balance) or take time off without pay. Some companies offer some flexibility for situations like this. But you’ll need to be honest about what’s going on and advocate for yourself and your needs. 

In addition to talking to your manager and or HR, it’s also important to try to make the most of what days off you do get, such as holidays. If possible, have a sitter come play with the kids for a few hours so you can recharge, or tell your extended family that you’re skipping the holiday picnic this year because you need to rest. Don’t feel guilty for skipping events or letting your kids spend the day watching TV if it means you get to relax and avoid burnout. 

Keep Taking Vacations

Feeling empowered enough to use up some of your vacation time is excellent. However, the health benefits of taking time off don’t last forever, so you have to keep utilizing your PTO to maintain them. Remember, getting away from work now and then is essential to your health and wellbeing, so it’s time to reframe the narrative and start looking at PTO as an extension of your health benefits, not an “extra” benefit that you can opt-out of utilizing. 

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- June 1, 2022

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