Americans have fought for paid vacation for more than 100 years. Why won’t we take the PTO we have?

May 26, 2024

Americans have fought for paid vacation for more than 100 years. Why won’t we take the PTO we have?

Loads of research support the mental and physical benefits of taking time off work, impacting everything from your heart to your ability to be emotionally resilient, not to mention happiness.

BY Lydia Dishman

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Ten years ago I reported on research that Americans were only taking about half of their paid time off (and there was a gender gap in that, too). This, even though U.S. workers have been fighting for paid time off (PTO) for more than a century. When they did take a vacation, many were prone to do some work (or at least check email). The downside of not unplugging: It could be hazardous to your health

Loads of research support the mental and physical benefits of taking PTO, impacting everything from your heart to your ability to be emotionally resilient, not to mention the happiness that comes from experiencing (and then reminiscing about) all the great times you had while away. And as my colleague Julia Herbst reported, “There’s a reason why so many people consider quitting their jobs while on vacation. The break from your typical grind may be just what you need to make a bold change.” 

Feeling guilty for taking time off

This week in the U.S., the Memorial Day weekend heralds the unofficial start of summer (and many people’s choice for time off). Unfortunately, a new report from Harris Poll, which surveyed 1,170 American employees, revealed that things haven’t changed much in the past decade. As Shalene Gupta noted in a new Fast Company article, many still struggle to ask for time off and feel guilty when they do. The workaround, Gupta reported, is playing hooky at work by doing things like scheduling emails to send after hours so people think they’re working longer.

Incidentally, the gender gap in leisure time seems to have remained unchanged. As Christos Makridis discovered in his analysis of the American Time Use Survey, “single males over the age of 45 in remote jobs experienced a nearly two-hour decline in time allocated to work in 2022, relative to 2019, and over an hour increase in time allocated to leisure.”

A “workcation?”

Jared Lindzon understood the guilt firsthand and how it could bleed into actual vacation time. “We used to spend a lot of time worrying about how to best use our limited vacation time and then spent too many of those vacation days thinking about work,” he wrote. The solution he landed on was a “workcation” where some time was allotted to get stuff done at the vacation destination. “Simply having the option to take a workcation removes that pressure, allowing us to use designated days to fully unplug without fear of getting stuck at home for extended periods simply because we ran out of time off.”

To ensure your vacation, or workcation, delivers optimum restoration to your mind and body, Sollis Health’s Brad Olson underscores the importance of communication: “Send an email . . . noting who is on point for what and when [you] want to be involved (if at all). Even if you’re an individual contributor, send an email to your boss and your peers. Memorializing these instructions in writing gives everyone a shared touchstone to refer to in your absence.”

Carson Tate suggests looking ahead to ensure your reentry is stress-free on any projects in process. “Write down the next action step you need to take when you return from vacation. If you do this step before you leave, it will make for a simpler post-vacation return.”

Americans have fought for paid vacation for more than 100 years. Why won’t we take the PTO we have?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lydia Dishman is the senior editor for Growth & Engagement for fastcompany.com. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others 

Fast Company

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