Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Take More Time Off?

by / 0 Comments / 458 View / June 1, 2015

Americans are overwhelmed—but they aren’t taking the breaks they’ve earned. Nearly three-quarters of workers say they are stressed at work, with one in four reporting they are either “very” or “extremely” stressed.

It’s no surprise that Americans feel this way. Many workers leave their paid time off (PTO) unused, despite near-universal recognition of the importance and benefits of using PTO, from reducing stress to improving productivity when we return to work.

But when Project: Time Off asked GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications to examine the attitudes and beliefs underlying America’s hard-charging work culture, GfK discovered that the benefits of PTO were no match for the fears that are keeping them at work.

Key Findings

  • Nearly everyone surveyed (96 percent) recognizes the importance of using PTO, including 95 percent of senior business leaders.
  • Huge majorities of American workers say PTO helps them relax and recharge (90 percent), offers the opportunity to do what they enjoy (88 percent), and makes them happier (85 percent).
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say their concentration and productivity improve with PTO, and 61 percent report greater satisfaction at work.
  • Senior business leaders agree that time off from work delivers benefits to their employees and companies: 91 percent believe employees return from PTO recharged and renewed—and ready to work more effectively.

In a survey of more than 1,300 employees and senior business leaders across the United States, it was revealed that workers construct many of their own biggest barriers to taking time off. More than four in 10 of us will leave PTO on the table, even though it is part of their compensation.

What’s Holding Us Back?
A variety of justifications lead about two in five workers (37 percent) to conclude it is not “easy” to take the PTO they have earned.

  • Returning to a “Mountain of Work” – Fully 40 percent of American workers cite the heavy workload awaiting their return as the top challenge in taking PTO.
  • The Work Martyr Complex – More than one-third of employees (35 percent) won’t use their time off because they believe “nobody else can do the work while I’m away.”
  • Face Time, All the Time – Roughly three in 10 (28 percent) respondents do not use all their time off because they want to show complete dedication to the company and their job.
  • Lingering Effects of a Tough Economy – One in three respondents (33 percent) say they simply “cannot afford” to take PTO. More than one-fifth of respondents (22 percent) said they didn’t want others to see them as “replaceable.”

America’s Hard-Charging Work Culture
America’s always-on work culture exerts a powerful influence on our decisions about using paid time off. Some of the leading cultural barriers include:

  • A Negative Vibe About PTO – Two-thirds of American workers (67 percent) say their company culture either says nothing about taking time off, sends mixed messages, or discourages them from using PTO.
  • No Control When it Comes to Earned Benefits – PTO is typically a defined employee benefit, just like salary and healthcare. Yet despite being a significant part of their total compensation, nearly one-third of workers (31 percent) say they do not control their own PTO—the company does. It’s like one-third of Americans refusing to see the doctor until their employer allows them to.

A Failure to Communicate
Senior business leaders know the company benefits when workers take time off. Yet our research shows that many are sending mixed messages to employees.

  • Poor Communication from Above: One-third (33 percent) of senior business leaders state they never (19 percent) or rarely—just once a year (14 percent)—talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.
  • Staying Connected 24/7/365: When taking time off from work, many senior business leaders have a hard time unplugging—just over a third (37 percent) reported being able to get away from work completely. Nearly half (46 percent) keep responding to emails, while roughly three in 10 (29 percent) return calls from work during their PTO—all the while sending the signal that it’s never OK to be away from the job.
  • Grudgingly Granting PTO: More than one-quarter (28 percent) do not find it “easy” to approve paid time off requests, and among those who do not find it easy, 32 percent worry it puts an extra burden on other employees.

The Full Effect
A closer examination of these findings reveals that companies that encourage their workers to take PTO have happier, healthier, and more productive employees.

  • Happier personal lives. Employees whose companies encourage the use of PTO have happier personal lives. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of employees whose companies encourage PTO use report being “extremely” or “very” happy with their personal relationships with family and friends.
  • Happier at work. Workers who are “extremely” happy with their jobs work within corporate cultures that encourage PTO. Over half (55 percent) of extremely happy employees are encouraged to use PTO, versus only one-third (32 percent) of the total population.
  • More successful and financially secure. Companies that encourage PTO employ more people who are “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” happy with their professional success and personal financial situation compared to those companies that discourage PTO, send mixed messages, or send no message on PTO (91 vs. 79 percent and 84 vs. 68 percent, respectively).

Senior Business Leaders Agree: Paid Time Off is Good for the Company

  • Senior business leaders agree that employees who use their PTO return recharged and renewed, ready to work more efficiently and productively (91 percent).
  • The vast majority of senior business leaders agree that using PTO cuts down on sick days and burnout, reduces turnover rates and improves morale, and boosts employee focus and creativity (90 percent for each). BW
  • Project: Time Off is an initiative to prove the personal, business, social and economic benefits that taking earned time off can deliver. We aim to shift culture so that using personal time off is not considered frivolous, but essential to strengthening families and improving personal health; a business investment with proven returns and an economic necessity. Visit www.ProjectTimeOff.com for more information.

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