America’s Vacation Problem Explained With J-Law GIFs

Jennifer Lawrence has become America’s sweetheart in recent years. Partially because of her on-screen performances, partially from her gif-worthy reactions. Leading up to the release of the fourth and final Hunger Games movie next week, Lawrence told a reporter, “I try to keep working so people can see other characters and other things I can do instead of taking vacation time, and now I’m aging like a president.”

Enter my reaction:

While I hope this is an exaggeration (the evidence points to the fact that Lawrence does, indeed, vacation), it sounds like J. Law isn’t exempt from America’s work martyr tendencies. Americans leave more than 600 million vacation days unused annually. Why?

We have become our own barriers to vacation. Top reasons workers say they leave vacation unused are fear of returning to a mountain of work (37%) and the belief that nobody else can do their job (30%). News flash: skipping vacation isn’t getting you anywhere.

In her comments, Lawrence skipped time off to put her all into her characters, “I want people to be able to lose themselves when they’re watching a movie and not see the same character.” What she may not realize is in skipping the opportunity to relax and recharge (and make human pyramids with Amy Schumer…#squadgoals) may actually be hurting her work. P:TO has found that skipping vacation doesn’t help anybody’s career. HR leaders believe employees who take vacation perform better and are more productive compared to employees who stay at their desk. Oh, did I mention you’re no more likely to receive a raise or promotion?

Generally, volunteering should do some good, maybe get you a free t-shirt, and, depending on the level of commitment, become a highlight for your LinkedIn profile. But Americans are becoming de facto volunteers for their employers by forfeiting time off. In 2016, American workers lost 222 million vacation days. These days could not be rolled over, could not be paid out, were not banked or used for any other benefit; they were purely lost. Add it all up and we’re forfeiting $61.4 Billion in time off benefits annually. Ouch.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that workplaces aren’t talking about vacation. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of employees report hearing nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages from their employers about vacation time. Employers often default to thinking, “We provide paid time off. Why do we have to do anything else about it?” Because policies that aren’t discussed or reinforced are worth the paper they’re printed on. The majority of employees (80%) would use more time off if their employers would encourage them to do so.

The thinking that’s led Jennifer Lawrence to skip vacations isn’t getting us anywhere. It’s time to make a change. Why not give time off a try? I, for one, volunteer as tribute.

Header Image via Lionsgate

Note: The data and statistics referenced in this post have been updated since we originally published this post. Learn more about the State of American Vacation 2017.

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