The Importance of Using All Your Vacation Time

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By Gina Milonas

Account Executive

Many employers in today’s workforce are encouraging their employees to use all of their allotted vacation days each year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 73 percent of American workers had access to paid time off (PTO) in 2017 but around 50 percent of employees did not use their vacation days.

Americans are notorious for having difficulty balancing the relationship between their personal life and their job. Moreover, working from home in the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic has not made this relationship any less challenging to maneuver.

Many employers are aware of and recognize the benefits of having their employees take PTO. In fact, some companies even mandate that their employees take two consecutive weeks of PTO each year. A huge benefit to this is that businesses are alleviated from any single point of failure because each employee has a backup colleague to fill their role during their absence.

The main reasons workers don’t take their vacation days:

  • Employees—especially new hires or those eager to prove themselves worthy of a promotion— may fear that using their vacation days may cause them to be perceived as unfocused or having other, more important, priorities.
  • Some fear that they will either fall behind in their work or that their coworkers will not be able to survive their absence.
  • Many individuals hoard their vacation days in hopes of using them on an opportunity to travel that they just cannot pass up. The reality is that this opportunity rarely presents itself due to the workaholic nature of millennials. Not to mention the fact that since 2020, travel has become increasingly difficult due to the restrictions enforced by both national and state governments, and company policies due to the pandemic. The tactic of “saving” of vacation days that so many employees utilize typically results in days that are never used.

Yes, travel has been mostly halted due to the pandemic, but this is not to say that “staycations” did not exist before 2020. However, ever since employees’ living rooms, bedrooms, and home offices have doubled as their permanent offices, there is much less of an incentive to use PTO days because of the difficulty in separating the two.

When you don’t use all of your PTO days each year, it may have negative impacts:

  • Burnout: Pushing yourself too hard at work without rest may result in a strong dislike for your career or job. Individuals may find themselves with less patience for their projects, clients, and coworkers. They may become increasingly more irritable, which can strain relationships with colleagues and clients and hamper productivity.
  • Physical tolls: The mind and body are interconnected. Stress and burnout at work are likely to take a toll on your physical health, which is why it is so important to take those days allotted by your employer for yourself. A study conducted by PubMed Central found that significant consequences—such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal pain, and even respiration problems—can be linked to a lifestyle of chronic stress due to work. Additionally, the New York Times published an article citing shocking statistics regarding diagnoses of coronary heart disease in both male and female employees who took one vacation nearly every six years compared to those employees who took two vacations a year.
  • Psychological issues: The same PubMed Central study found that chronic exposure to high-intensity environments can alter your brain structure and put you at increased risk of being diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Moreover, a Danish study found that men with chronic levels of stress and a lack of rest had a 5.17 percent per year increase in the risk for entering levels of antidepressant treatment, and a 0.96 percent increase per year for women.

Why is it important to use all of your PTO each year?

  • PTO is part of your paycheck: In 2017, American employees forfeited $212 million in vacation days, sacrificing $62 million in benefits, according to CNN. Essentially, employees who do not use their already granted PTO days are “donating” free work to their employer.
  • Enhanced company culture: Maintaining a work-life balance creates a trusting and productive environment for all employees across the company. Employees who take time for themselves note feelings of increased creativity, innovation, teamwork, and communication within their teams. This, in turn, boosts overall company morale and leads to less employee turnover.
  • Improved personal health: Time spent away from work is a great way to relieve stress and focus on elements in your personal life, wants, and desires that are often overlooked or cluttered by intense thoughts from work. A change of scenery, no matter how large or small, is a great way to recharge your mental and physical batteries.

Here are a few ways to ensure you use your PTO wisely:

  • Break up your vacation days: While travel slowly becomes more accessible due to the lessening threat of the coronavirus, you may want to finally jet off on the trip that has been delayed nearly two years. That being said, if you chose to save all of your vacation days and use them on one long trip, you probably have the same ideas as your colleagues. The issue here is that you might be denied the time or the specific days you would like to travel and must wait until your coworkers return before you can go. This situation is more common than you may think today, and often is viewed as another obstacle that hinders employees from using their PTO. To avoid this, break up your vacation into several smaller trips, or present your employer with flexible options regarding when you would like to be out of the office. This way, you can ensure you’re satisfied with the use of your PTO days, and, that you are using them.
  • Learn the value of creative “staycations”: Psychologist Tricia Wolanin said that employees do not feel that a “staycation” is worthy of taking time off. The pandemic has increased the difficulty of separating “working from home” from “home.” Even if you are not traveling, it is important to make your home feel like a real vacation from work. You can do this by partaking in activities that you don’t typically have the time or convenience to do during the workday. This can help to ensure that there is truly a mental break in your day.

There are many working elements to PTO. You should be fully informed about how much vacation and pay you are entitled to, the rules regarding unused vacation time, and understand how to navigate requesting time off without your absence leading to challenges upon your return. This knowledge and planning can help ensure a smooth PTO process so you can enjoy your vacation days and any complications do not thwart you from requesting use of this time again in the future.

By Acara Account Executive Gina Milonas.