Why Are Americans Taking Even Fewer of Their Vacation Days?

vacation daysOur friends at The Fiscal Times tipped us off to a worrying trend in work-life balance. Read all about it:

In a surprising reversal of fortunes, many workers are giving their employers an unexpected holiday gift: unused vacation time. According to Expedia’s recent Vacation Deprivation survey, Americans took only 10 days out of the 12 they were entitled to–two less than last year.

The survey looked at 22 countries, and it turns out Americans aren’t the only ones sacrificing valuable vacation time. Italian and Japanese workers left eight vacation days on the table this year, the most of any of the other countries surveyed. By contrast, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Danish, French, Norwegian, Singaporean, Spanish and Swedish workers take every single day they’re given – and since most European workers are eligible for 25-30 days of vacation time each year, that’s nearly six weeks off.

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For those who skipped vacations, the reasons cited included not being able to coordinate time off with family and friends, having bosses who were not supportive of vacation, and postponing vacations due to workloads.

“The simple answer is fear: fear of losing their jobs, fear of not looking committed, and fear of asking for what they need to succeed,” says Don Maruska, co-author of Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life.

In this economy, some can’t shake the feeling there’s someone waiting for their job, or that with staffing so lean, if they aren’t there the work won’t get done,” says Steve Langerud, an administrator at  DePauw University. Even while on vacation, many employees feel pressure to check in and contribute – 34 percent of respondents in the survey said they check email and/or voicemail while away.

While vacations and work-life balance programs are written into policies at many organizations, employees tend to follow the cultural cues of behavior more strictly than official policy statements. Joseph Santana, president of Joseph Santana LLC, a consulting company, says he knows of organizations that talk endlessly about “the value of rest and restoration,” but at those same companies, “none of the managers leave before 8 p.m., only a few ever take anything resembling vacations, and most are available on their days out.”

Then, too, it’s a mindset. Career coach Kathy Caprino of Ellia Communications has lived abroad and counseled thousands of professionals. “Many Americans often find it hard to detach completely from work for fear they’ll miss something critical or that the amount of work when they return will be unmanageable. Individuals from other cultures often prize their personal, family and social time more highly, and view vacation time as an inalienable right–not something in question.”

While employees may think sacrificing vacation days is a plus for their careers and their companies, the miscalculation is huge, says Santana. Instead, “they’re increasing costly errors, health costs and decline in overall valuable brain-capital as employees lose their sharpness due to exhaustion.”

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