When you’re cooped up in the office, it’s difficult not to have visions of crashing waves, or not to daydream about spending a summer Friday morning eating breakfast in bed.
Project: Time Off released The State of American Vacation 2017 today, which revealed some promising news about where employees are headed: each surveyed worker used an average of 16.8 days in 2016, versus 16.2 days in 2015.
It may sound modest, but that’s the greatest “upward movement” since 2000, when using vacation days quickly trended downward. The report’s “long-term average” of vacation days taken by Americans was 20.3 days, spread out between 1976 to 2000.
“For fifteen years, American vacation habits saw unrelenting decline. But results from the latest, most comprehensive survey of American workplace attitudes toward time off shows the tide may be turning—and the trendline headed in a positive direction,” the Project: Time Off researchers wrote.
Young women don’t take vacation because of ‘guilt, fear and work martyr habits’
The one exception: women, especially those of the millennial generation, who let their vacation days go unused because they’re worried they’ll be perceived badly if they take the time.
While 48% of men used all their time off, only 44% of women did — despite the fact that 58% of women said vacation would be extremely important to them.
Even worse, only 44% of millennial women take their vacation time, far less than millennial men, 51% of whom take their days off.
“This disconnect between belief and behavior only worsens among Millennial women who, despite being more fervent believers in the benefits of time off than their male counterparts, take less time off…due to an overwhelming amount of reported guilt, fear, and work martyr habits,” Project: Time Off wrote.
Far to go to improve
Even though workers had 22.6 vacation days in 2016 — nearly a full day’s increase — around 54% of workers left days unused in 2016, compared to 55% in 2015.
The study pointed out that American workers are using up more days off, but they are leaving a few more days on the table than in the past — mostly because they’ve gotten more time off that they’re not using.
The report also provided insight about who hears what about vacation at work, and work martyrdom.
“For the first time in many years, there is reason to believe that America’s bad vacation habits may be improving…Our workforce still has a long way to go to rewire its thinking that hours worked and busyness are equivalent to productivity. But make no mistake, the increase in vacation usage is a positive indicator for American work culture,” said Project: Time Off Senior Director and report author Katie Denis.
But whether your idea of a vacation is hitting the tropics or spending a relaxing “staycation” in your neighborhood, there are many reasons to take time off from work if you have the opportunity to make time for self-care and still get paid for it.
If you take a vacation, you’re more likely to get a raise
GfK surveyed 7,331 American employees online, ages 18 and older, who clock in more than 35 hours every week and work at places with paid time off policies. Oxford Economics drew on the survey findings and information from Current Population Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to come up with historical approximations of vacation practices.
You might want to reconsider giving up your vacation days. The survey found that workers who do so don’t always fare as well at work as people who use up all of them— 23% of people who reported forfeiting their days were promoted in the last year, compared to 27% of “non-forfeiters.”
78% of people who forfeited their days got raise or a bonus at some point in the last three years, compared to 84% of those who used all of them.
Why work martyrs hold themselves back
The survey added that workers in the forfeiters group lost a whopping $66.4 billion in benefits by giving up time last year. But 92% of workers in the forfeiting group still reported that vacation days are significant to them.
But listen up, work martyrs: not taking your time off is actually hurting your chances with the boss.
While 39% of workers said they want their supervisor to consider them a work martyr, the report found that 79% of “these self-proclaimed work martyrs” said they got a raise or bonus at some point in the last three years, compared to 84% of respondents “who do not subscribe to the work martyr myth.”
They were also just as likely to have gotten promoted over the past year than regular employees— both groups were 28%.
The people who wanted to be seen as work martyrs by their manager also were more stressed at home and work — possibly because they did not take enough vacation time to rest and reset.
Time off: Senior leaders vs. non-managers
The report also took a look at how leaders see vacation time. Around 50% of “senior leaders” reported that their employer promotes taking vacation time, versus 30% of “non-managers.”
But high-level leaders don’t seem to take the advice. A whopping 61% of senior leaders didn’t use up all of their vacation time, versus 52% of workers not at the management level.
The reality of unlimited time off
A 2014 CNN Money article highlighted the trouble some people have taking advantage of all their vacation days.
“Some people worry they’ll lose their job or miss out on a good raise or promotion if they use all their vacation days, especially when they have a bad boss or an employer that uses layoffs as a go-to management tool. So a take-all-you-want vacation policy may not mean you end up taking more time off than you used to. You might even end up taking less,” the article said.
There are a variety of reasons why using paid vacation days could be a plus in the workplace— just make sure you’re able manage your workload around time off as best you can.