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Leisure: Americans Don’t Take Enough Vacation Days

Aug 8, 2023

Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life – Dolly Parton

We live in a society where overworking is glorified and even encouraged—having a “no day off” mentality, the average American lives a life of all work and no play.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, while roughly 68% of Americans believe having a job that offers paid time off is extremely important to their livelihood, only 48% of Americans use all their vacation days. The study found that despite employers providing paid time off, the average American still does not take enough vacation days. Even worse, when we take time off, on average, 52% of Americans are not fully disconnecting, but instead continue working during their “time off”.

But why? Often, Americans shy away from taking time off because they feel that they don’t need the time off, feel that they are burdening their co-workers, will fall behind on their work due to heavy workloads, could potentially hurt their chances of advancing or even lose their jobs. Others report that while a company offers paid time, management frowns upon the use of this time.

There is a fine line between challenging yourself and overwhelming yourself – Brittany Burgunder

“I don’t need time off”

Whether we care to admit it or not, we all need to unplug sometimes. Continuously burning the candle at both ends is a sure way to burn ourselves out. We cannot underestimate the toll overworking takes on our minds and body. We are not designed to keep going and going without a break. We’re human, not the energizer bunny.

Contrary to popular belief, an all-work, no-play lifestyle is more harmful than beneficial to your life and can severely affect your physical and mental health. When we refuse to pull away from our professional duties and obligations, stress builds up in our bodies and, over time, begins wreaking havoc in our lives. Stress soon manifests itself physically in the form of sickness, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even stroke. Mentally you may experience increased anxiety, anger, irritability, restlessness, depression, and lack of focus. Stress due to overworking has even been linked to early death.

So I ask you, is all that work worth your life?

No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office. —Harold Kushner

“I don’t want to be a burden to my co-workers”

Keep this in mind, a successful team is more than just the individual players; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Taking time to slow things down and to take a breather from work should not be confused with being lazy or having idle hands. Nor should you feel guilty about taking time off. You deserve it! Your life is so much more than work; trust me, your co-workers will understand that you want to use your leave. You only become a burden when you let your team down by excessively taking off from work without regard for your team members or purposely neglect to complete your workload before departure. Sometimes life happens, and things outside your control may take you away from work, but plan your leave in advance and pull your weight before and after your scheduled vacation whenever possible.

One who possesses, stresses, and obsesses; and never progresses. One who surrenders, wonders, and ventures, and never falters.― L.A. Golding

“I am going to be replaced”

Anyone can be replaced, that is simply a fact in life, and the fear of losing a job or being replaced for taking time off is real. For some, the fear may result from insecurities brought on by low self-confidence or poor job performance. For others, it’s their work culture—a toxic work environment where every day feels like walking on eggshells that deters them from taking off. Still, in some workplaces, on the surface, management encourages work-life balance yet only rewards those who stay chained to their desks. Regardless of the reason, refusing to take your well-deserved time off will only make things worse down the line. Working yourself to the point of burnout or a complete meltdown will get you replaced quicker than taking time off for rejuvenation. Consider this; it’s not about how hard you work but how hard you are to replace. Any company that values what you bring to the table will not replace you for taking time off responsibly. Regularly taking time to detach yourself from work entirely and all the responsibilities that come with the job will more likely result in improved job security as the time away serves as a detox that allows you to return to work refreshed and ready to take on the world. Ultimately, taking time to reload is good for your company’s bottom line.

You can do anything, but not everything- David Allen

“It won’t get done if I don’t do it”

Maybe you fear things won’t get done, or if they do, they won’t be done to your standards. You may doubt the work of your back-ups or substitutes or feel they will put a different level of care than you put into your work and projects. You might be right; maybe no one can do what you do as well as you do it, but remember, you may be able to do anything, but not everything. Even if you’re the only one who can do the job perfectly, you can’t maintain perfection without recharging. You’re only taking a few days, at most, one or two weeks off; if you fear that the workplace will fall apart if you are not there, then that is a sign of another problem, especially if you are a leader or in management. If the ship cannot sail without you behind the helm, what does that say about you as a leader? Rather than focusing on how your back-ups will fail, set them up to succeed. Ensure they are cross-trained, have some knowledge about what you do, and can act as a stand-in in your absence. Remember that many hands make light work.

Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly… But merely to be lived. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically lived.

-Er Suraj Mottan

While sad but true, if you died today, the company that you work for would have someone in your place doing what you do before the close of business. The show must go on. It’s business; it’s nothing personal. We give more of ourselves to the places where we work than to ourselves and the people and things we love. If we are honest, we are slowly but surely working ourselves to death. We have been conditioned to believe that you’re lazy if you don’t work past your limits and that to get more, achieve more, or succeed, you must work more. But at what expense? This is your life; change the narrative.

According to the American Psychological Association, taking time off can increase life satisfaction, improve productivity, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve our mental health by reducing anxiety and depression. Life was meant to be lived, and when we choose not to live but merely exist to work, we’re left with the regret of the chances we didn’t take and the experiences that we let slip through our fingers. Now is the time to set boundaries and start putting yourself before work. Decide to start living your life as if each day was your last. Make it a point to maximize your paid leave. The sky is the limit. Use the time to get some much-needed rest, practice self-care, go on a retreat, take a trip you’ve been putting off, or even a stay-cation. You can simply spend some uninterrupted quality time with friends and family. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you choose to “never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”


2023. How Americans View Their Jobs. Pew Research Center.

 2017. Robinson, Andrea. Four reasons to take a vacation. American Psychological Association. Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse Newsletter.

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