U.S. Markets closed

Work Guilt Leads Employees to Leave Vacation Days Unused

Tamara E. Holmes
Work Guilt Leads Employees to Leave Vacation Days Unused

While paid vacation time is a welcome benefit for many employees, some feel too guilty about taking time off to use it, a new survey shows.

Each year, travel deal website Priceline commissions a study that looks at how — and if — employees use the time off they are entitled to. This year’s study, conducted by market research company Savanta, explored responses from 1,000 working Americans about their vacation habits and perceptions about taking time off.

A majority of workers — 55% — report having more than 10 paid vacation days each year. However, not everyone is taking advantage of that time, as 53% of respondents said it’s customary for them to leave vacation days unused each year. A third of respondents said they typically leave at least half of their paid vacation days unused each year.

Of those who reported having seven or more paid vacation days left to use this year, 18% said they feel guilty about taking time off from work. Another 18% said they are too busy to take time off.

Younger workers were most likely to feel guilty about using their paid vacation days, and they were also more likely to work while on vacation. In fact, 47% of Gen Z workers said they feel pressured to check their email and voicemails when they are on vacation compared to 40% of millennials, 34% of Gen Xers and 24% of baby boomers who feel that way. (The Pew Research Center defines Gen Z as those who are 22 and under in 2019, millennials as those ages 23 to 38, Gen Xers as those ages 39 to 54 and baby boomers as those ages 55 to 73.)

Age isn’t the only factor that influences the likelihood of work-related guilt. Many employees reported feeling most guilty about taking time off when they first start a new job. In fact, more than 60% of workers said they would wait at least six months before they felt comfortable taking a substantial amount of time off work, and 21% of respondents said they would wait at least a year before taking a considerable amount of vacation time.

While guilt may be keeping some workers from using their paid vacation time, others are taking a different approach to getting their rest and relaxation. More than one in three survey respondents said they have “pretended to be sick” to get out of work. Also, 27% said they have “made up a random story” to get a day off. Young people are more likely to fake an illness in order to take time off, with 43% of Gen Zers admitting they’ve done so compared to 36% of millennials, 30% of Gen Xers and 22% of baby boomers.

It’s important to remember that your total work compensation includes not only your salary, but also your benefits. When you fail to use a particular work benefit, whether it’s your 401(k) plan or your paid time off, you’re leaving money on the table. If you feel guilty about taking off work for a long vacation, consider taking a few days off for a short getaway to see how your colleagues adjust to you being gone.