Workaholic Americans Are Not Taking Vacation Days: Are You One of Them?

In 1971, American psychologist Wayne Oates wrote “Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts about Work Addiction,” adding a word to the American lexicon; the Oxford English Dictionary credits him with inventing the now-ubiquitous term. Over the passage of time, workaholism culture in America has become more socially respectable than daytime drinking. Sadly, this behavior is changing the way Americans take their vacation. Workaholic Americans no longer take vacation time due to fear of “looking replaceable.”

A recent study by market research firm GfK noted that workaholic Americans didn’t use 750million of their vacation days last year – collectively leaving $62.2bn in benefits on the table. The more than 700 million vacation days that go unused represent a $255 billion opportunity that the American economy is not capitalizing to its full potential. Had Americans used their vacation time, the activity could have generated 1.9 million jobs in tourism and hospitability industry.

Workaholic Americans don’t use all of their vacation due to concerns they will look “replaceable.”

The reason workaholic Americans don’t use paid time off generally revolve around job security. Workers are concerned they would appear less dedicated or even replaceable if they took a vacation. Employees who feel their workload is too heavy to get in the beach spirit are twice more likely to have unused vacation time. Most people feel there is a lack of coverage or that no one else could do their job.

The only number moving in a positive direction is the reduced barriers in the workplace on creating a positive vacation culture. According to Project: Time Off, nearly four in ten (38%) employees said their company culture encouraged vacation time. There has been an astonishing improvement in employees’ perception of their company’s level of support for vacation.

American employees taking all or most of their vacation days to travel report higher rates of happiness than those using little to no time off. Who might have guess that taking time off would make us happier? Henry Ford, probably. In 1914, when 10- to 12-hour work days were common, Ford Motor Co. reduced the factories’ workweek to a guaranteed 40 hours, and from six days to five, after discovering that productivity returns diminished after workers slogged eight hours a day, five days a week.

Yet, few Americans are using their paid-time off to head to the beach and drink piña colada in the name of work-life balance and greater happiness. As psychologist Bryan Robinson put it, workaholism is the “best dressed mental health problem.” While workaholism may result in high productivity, workaholics Americans are far more likely to suffer from ‘burn out.’ For what it’s worth, it comes down to company culture. Employers should acknowledge that their company culture is promoting workaholism, and they must strive to change it.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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