How Do America's Workers Prepare for Time Off?

Taking a vacation isn't as simple as just not going to work.

Daniel B. Kline
Daniel B. Kline
Jul 13, 2019 at 2:16PM
Investment Planning

Americans lag behind much of the world when it comes to taking time off. In many cases, companies don't offer much time off, and employees don't take all the time offered to them.

In fact, the average American gets 14 days of paid time off (PTO) per year but only takes 10, according to a new survey of just over 1,000 people conducted on behalf of Sleep Junkie, a website devoted to mattresses and bedding. More than two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed left time off on the table, and only 52% of those surveyed said those days roll over into the following year.

When workers do take time off, however, it's generally not as simple as just putting in the request then leaving on the agreed-upon dates. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those surveyed said they have been denied requested vacation days. And even when an employee is granted time off, he or she still has work to do most of the time.

A worker looks exasperated sitting behind a crowded desk.

It's important to take time off even if you have a lot of work to do. Image source: Getty Images.

What do workers do before vacation?

"As it turns out, Americans procrastinate on more than their work assignments. Sixty-three percent of respondents had to stay up late the night before they left for vacation, and the majority of the time, it was just to finish packing," according to the report. "Twenty-nine percent had to stay up late to finish planning the trip, 15.4% still had to confirm their reservations, and 10.5% had to find a place to stay during their trip."

That doesn't mean that work won't impact people before their vacation. Almost half (45.3%) said they worked harder before their vacation, while 38% said they worked longer hours in the days leading up to their vacation. Despite all that prep work, 29.5% said they felt stressed returning to work after their vacation, while 22.8% said that they fell behind on work while they were off.

What should you do?

It's important to use your vacation days even if you just spend the time at home not working. As an employee, you should do your best to make sure that you actually relax during your time off. It's not really a vacation if you spend your time worrying about work or, as happens in many cases, working.

Employers should also make sure that their employees can take time off free and clear. That means not only making it possible for people to take time off but also encouraging them to do so.

It's important for employers to make it possible for workers to take time off that's actually relaxing. That may involve taking tasks off their plate or providing added help before and after someone takes days off.

Vacation lets people recharge. It allows them to come back to the office ready to get back into the groove refreshed and relaxed.

It's easy for both employers and employees to lose sight of how valuable vacation can be. Both sides need to do better in order to make sure that people don't skip needed time off because that will likely hurt work performance in the long run.