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The Real Reasons Why People Don’t Take Paid Time Off

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Whether it’s anxiety around planning the logistics to care for kids and pets, fear of being replaceable at work, or concern about a massive workload upon return, all roads lead to unused PTO and a massive uptick in employee burnout.

Why People Don’t Take Time Off

Are you shocked by the number of unused vacation days your employees have left behind in 2020? You’re not alone. Even before COVID-19 hit, there’s always been a deep-rooted cultural hesitance to take time off in the United States. Perhaps it’s because the U.S. is the only developed country on the planet without one legally required paid vacation day or holiday.

No wonder there’s a stigma around using your Paid Time Off (PTO)...

Whether it’s anxiety around planning the logistics to care for kids and pets, fear of being replaceable at work, or concern about a massive workload upon return, all roads lead to unused PTO and a massive uptick in employee burnout.

Workers’ reluctance to take time off has been an issue for years. According to research from the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos, in 2018, 55% of employees didn’t use all of their time off, leading to 768 Million unused days nationwide.

COVID-19 has certainly deepend this cultural hesitance to take time off, making employee burnout a real risk. Even though many companies are encouraging their teams to take days off by enforcing “use it or lose it” policies, or mandating time off, people are still hesitating to use their vacation days.

In an effort to provide employers with some real insight as to why people won’t take time off, even if the time is there for the taking, we commissioned a survey to truly understand why people haven’t taken vacation days in recent months.

Here’s what professionals across various industries are saying.

“Now I’m worried that I’ll have to take off if I feel sick, so I’m saving my days in case that happens.” - Nina, Jersey City, Children’s Psychologist

“I don’t have enough support so planning in advance would require an extraordinary amount of work for me as well as put a lot of pressure on other people that already have a large workload to begin with!” - Shawn, Palo Alto, Product Manager

“It seems less necessary to take days off now when we can work from anywhere.” - Ozzie, Manhattan, Brand Manager

“My vacation days are set in advance so I have to take those but I am reluctant to ask for any other time off even if I felt like I really needed a day because it would put my co-workers in a stressful position having to cover for me.” - Elinor, Manhattan, Doctor in Residency

“It’s more work to have someone sub my class than to actually do the work myself.” - Marissa, Manhattan, School Teacher

“With a young toddler, oftentimes, I have to take unplanned time off work if her childcare falls through or she is sick, so I tend not to take days off unless I have a planned vacation like for the holidays or a special trip! As a lawyer, when I do take just a day here or there, depending on what’s going on at work it’s often not much of a day off anyway.” - Erica, Boston, Lawyer

“It’s hard for me to plan a vacation with nowhere to go. Taking a few days off right now doesn’t feel like it would be relaxing days off!” - Julie, San Francisco, Partnerships Manager

“I work for a small company and I’m a one woman ‘team’. There isn’t someone available to easily cover my workload.” - Jasmine, Austin, Brand Manager

“I own my own business so taking a day off without the typical PTO is harder than ever!” Marcel, San Francisco, Psychologist

“I typically save most of my days throughout the year and take a long vacation over the holidays.” - Jason, Brooklyn, Business Analyst

“It’s hard to get excited to take the days or time off right now when there’s not much to do or places to go. I find myself just falling back into work and less eager to take a true break!” - Julia, Seattle, Project Manager

These testimonials will hit close to home for anyone who reads them. Many people feel shame for taking time off. Company leadership has a responsibility to help teams unlearn this way of thinking. There’s nothing good about being a work martyr. In fact, studies show that workers who take 10+ vacation days are 30% more likely to get a raise, and those who take regular vacations greater job satisfaction.

When people started to work from home due to COVID-19, we never anticipated how long restrictions would actually last. Now more than ever, people are not taking time off from work which is detrimental to people’s mental health. And remote work makes it harder to set boundaries between work and personal life. This can result in the feeling that you should be working even when you’re “off” from work. Taking time off from work, even if it’s just a few hours here and there, is a matter of self-care. And it should be taken seriously, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

With the right collective leadership and approach towards mental health, your company can maintain a high-performing motivated team, instead of a burned out one. Consider introducing your team to a time optimization platform like Sorbet to encourage, legitimize, and incentivize taking time off. Schedule your demo with Sorbet here.


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