WASHINGTON—Fear of being replaced and work piling up coupled with a lack of employer support and communication is keeping Americans from using the time off they have earned, according to the new study, “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?” conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications (GfK) for Project: Time Off. Despite a universal acceptance of the importance of paid time off, 40% of American workers will leave vacation days on the table, sacrificing their health and well-being and adopting a “work martyr complex” to demonstrate their value.
The “Work Martyr Complex”
“Americans suffer from a work martyr complex. In part, it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”
Americans construct many of their own biggest barriers to using time off. Workers cite returning to a mountain of work (40%) and the feeling that nobody else can do their work (35%) as the top reasons they leave time off unused. The effects of a tough economy still linger, with one-third (33%) of respondents saying they cannot afford to use their time off, and a fifth (22%) of workers expressing concern that they do not want to be seen as replaceable.
Failure to Communicate
This “work martyr complex” is reinforced by company culture, chiefly poor communication around time off. Even though senior business leaders overwhelmingly recognize the importance of using time off (95%), two-thirds (67%) of American employees say their company says nothing, sends mixed messages about or discourages using their time off. Further, one-third (33%) of senior business leaders state they never (19%) or rarely (14%) talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.
The survey suggests that management may be unintentionally sending employees mixed messages when they take their time off. Nearly half (46%) keep responding to emails, while roughly three-in-ten (29%) return calls from work during their time off, sending the signal that it is not acceptable to be away from the job. Additionally, senior business leaders are dramatically more likely to do work while taking time off: just 37% of senior business leaders reported unplugging entirely from work, compared to 74% of employees.
“Use it or Lose it” Motivates Time Off
“While the survey revealed a number of barriers to taking time off, it may have also uncovered the silver bullet,” said Vice President of Research at GfK Chris Moessner. “‘Use it or Lose it’ policies are tremendously effective at getting employees to use the time off they have earned.”
According to the study, company policy may most strongly influence employees’ decisions to use time off. Five of six workers (84%) with a “Use it or Lose it” policy plan to use all their time off in 2014, while less than half (48%) of workers who can roll over, bank or be paid out for their unused time off plan to use all of it. But only one quarter (26%) of workers report that their employers have a “Use it or Lose it” policy.
“Companies and employees need to recognize the value of getting away from the office. It’s time to start a conversation and reclaim the benefits we work so hard to earn,” concluded Dow.
GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications conducted an online survey using the GfK KnowledgePanel® from June 20-30, 2014 with 1,303 American workers working at least 35 hours per week, including 235 managers, defined as those with managerial responsibilities for direct reports and involvement in the decision-making at their companies. GfK’s KnowledgePanel® is the only large-scale online panel based on a representative random sample of the U.S. population. The data were weighted and scaled to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of American adults working 35 hours a week or more. The margin of error for workers overall is +/-2.71% and for managers is +/-6.39%.
About Project: Time Off
Project: Time Off is an initiative to prove the personal, business, social, and economic benefits that taking earned time off can deliver. We aim to shift culture so that using personal time off is not considered frivolous, but essential to strengthening families and improving personal health; a business investment with proven returns and an economic necessity. Learn more at ProjectTimeOff.com.
About GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications
GfK is the trusted source of relevant market and consumer information that enables its clients to make smarter decisions. More than 13,000 market research experts combine their passion with GfK’s 80 years of data science experience. This allows GfK to deliver vital global insights matched with local market intelligence from more than 100 countries. By using innovative technologies and data sciences, GfK turns big data into smart data, enabling its clients to improve their competitive edge and enrich consumers’ experiences and choices. For more information, please visit GfK.com or follow @GfK_en on Twitter.