September’s coming, with summer winding down. In Seattle, our summer doesn’t “officially” begin until after July 4th, which can be rainy. Good for firework suppression but lousy for backyard barbeques. July and August tend to be high months for taking time off. A survey done by the market research firm AYTM a few years ago found around 6 in 10 people planned to take vacations during the summer. Of those, 46% of respondents took July vacations, 36% chose August, 7% chose May, and 11% chose June.[i]
Americans aren’t that good at taking time off. A recent CNNMoney article reported, “Most U.S. employees don’t use all of their vacation days and those who do take a break are increasingly likely to work while doing so, according to a report by job site Glassdoor. . . Two in three employees reported working while on vacation, and more than one in four said they were expected to know what was going on at work while out of the office and had to jump in as needed. One in four also said their boss contacted them about a work-related matter while using paid time off. All of these measures have increased since 2014, Glassdoor said.”[ii]
Project: Time Off,[iii] which tracks such data, says, from 1976 to 2000, Americans took 20.3 days off per year. In 2016, that number was 16.8, resulting in what they call a “lost week.”[iv] “In 2016, 662 million vacation days were left on the table, four million days more than 2015. The rise in unused days can largely be attributed to employees earning more time off.”[v] We earn but don’t use.
The U.S. Travel Association, with a vested interest in people taking their vacations, concludes, “’Americans are work martyrs. Tied to the office, they leave more and more paid time off unused each year, forfeiting their earned benefits and, in essence, work for free.”[vi]
A 2015 Fortune magazine article entitled, “Why don’t Americans take more time off?” answered that question with “being out of the office can be stressful, because they worry about the amount of work that will pile up while they’re away.”[vii] (I call this the no-vacation-goes-unpunished rule.) “People also worry that they may need to use time away from the office for, say, a family emergency or some other unforeseeable event.”[viii]
A Project: Time Off 2016 survey tracked the following reasons for not taking more time off: return to a mountain of work – 37%; no one else can do the job – 30%; I cannot financially afford a vacation – 30%; taking time off harder as you grow in the company – 28%; want to show complete dedication – 22%; don’t want to be seen as replaceable – 19%.[ix]
When the accumulated effects of stress and burnout become too great, individuals take weeks off to come to my practice for treatment. Some people feel they need to hide the reason. For a physical injury, there’d be no issue. But, to recover from a psychic injury? People aren’t as forthcoming.
That’s why I was gratified to read about Madalyn Parker, who “sent an email to her team at work saying she’d be out of office for a few days to focus on her mental health,” as reported in CNNHealth.[x] I was even more gratified to read about the positive support Madalyn received from her CEO, Ben Congleton, who wrote “Hey Madalyn, I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health . . . You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
As Americans, we’re so concerned about what could happen if we take time off; shouldn’t we be more concerned about what could happen if we don’t?