The issue that Christopher Muy has when it comes to taking his vacation time from work is that he’s always busy.
Muy, 41, is a regional team manager at Amalgamated Bank in New York City, managing a team of nine account executives. Although his employer provides three weeks of paid time off each year, last year he left an entire week on the table. And so far this year he has only taken two days.
“My workflow is always very high, and I don't find time to be able to say, ‘I'm going to take these vacation days, let's do it,’” Muy told Yahoo Finance.
Like Muy, nearly half of workers (46%) don’t take all the paid time off their employer offers, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted in February of 5,188 U.S. adults working part or full time.
The problem is their reluctance to take those vacation days could undermine their overall health and make them less productive workers in the end.
“Not taking vacation days can have detrimental effects on mental health as it can lead to burnout, increased stress levels, and decreased productivity,” Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, told Yahoo Finance. “Taking time off from work can help individuals recharge, improve their overall wellbeing, and boost their creativity and problem-solving skills.”
‘I feel like I'll get too far behind’
What's interesting is that 62% of Pew survey respondents said it’s extremely important to them personally to have a job that offers paid time off for vacations. Given that vacation time is such a prize perk, why do so many workers let it slip away?
“There are a number of factors, including concerns about falling behind on work or being viewed as less dedicated than colleagues who work longer hours,” Schawbel said. “Some workers may not feel like they can truly disconnect from work, even when they are on vacation, due to the prevalence of technology and the expectation of always being available.”
The Pew report backs that up.
About half of the workers who typically take less time off than their employer offers say they don’t feel they need to take more time off (52%) or worry they might fall behind at work if they took more time off (49%). More than 1 in 4 (43%) say they feel badly about their co-workers taking on additional work.
“Some workers feel they are too busy to take the time off or that if they do so, they will be burdening someone else with their workload,” Amber Clayton, a senior director of knowledge center operations at the Society for Human Resource Management, told Yahoo Finance. “They might also refrain from taking a vacation knowing that they will return to a heavier workload.”
That’s what bedevils a chief of staff of a privately-owned manufacturing company in Connecticut. The 50-year-old executive doesn’t even know how many vacation days her employer provides, but guesses that it’s around three weeks. She does know that she wasn’t able to come close to using all of it last year.
“I feel like I'll get too far behind if I take vacation days,” she told Yahoo Finance. “Things just pile up and it's so hard to catch up if you miss days. And my boss knows I am always available.”
‘Afraid that if they're not perceived as working 110%’
Smaller shares of workers surveyed by Pew cited concerns that taking more time off might hurt their chances for job advancement (19%) or might risk losing their job (16%). A smaller share — 12% — say their manager or supervisor discourages them from taking time off.
For many vacation skippers, it really comes down to plain fear, Sharon Good, a career coach in New York City, told Yahoo Finance.
“They're afraid that if they're not perceived as working 110%, they could lose their job or not get the promotions they want. With technology, they never disconnect, so even on vacation, they could be getting emails and texts that they need to respond to immediately.”
With the shift to hybrid and remote work, some employees may be “taking ‘workcations,’ which means they are working from where they might typically go on vacation and use their free time to do their personal activities,” Clayton said.
‘No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease’
Skipping your vacation is not something to take lightly, though.
A 2019 study found that vacations lower the risk for metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease.
Similarly, a global analysis from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization estimated that between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42% and from stroke, by 19%.
“Many of my clients are super driven to the point of an ‘I’ll sleep when I die’ mentality,” Nancy Ancowitz, a New York City-based career advancement coach, told Yahoo Finance. “That carries to their skipping their vacation time, even if that means big sacrifices in their personal lives.”
The WHO analysis highlights the importance of managing working hours and noted that the pandemic accelerated the trend towards increased working time.
“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement. “In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease.”
For Muy, that deep drive to excel at his work has come at a price. He has noticed the first signals of burnout and is concerned.
“I started feeling fatigue and sometimes I couldn't concentrate,” he said. “I realized that my mind needed to take a break from work, and I needed to better manage my boundaries and priorities.”
Kerry is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.