Founder of Regenerate, a training firm focused on sustainable performance for high-pressure career professionals and fast-paced companies.
Unless you have unlimited PTO, all unused vacation days serve as a pay cut. The irony is that this particular “unlimited” benefit is mostly masked as a competitive recruiting strategy, yet in many cases can put employees at a disadvantage. Unlimited PTO policies can initiate “fear of use.” Thirty-three percent of Americans’ vacation time went unused in 2020, accounting for an estimated cost of $65.5 billion in lost benefits.
There has been a long-term downward trend of vacation time use since the turn of the century and it is unsurprising. It has coincided with the breakdown of work/life boundaries through the advent of enhanced technologies, a culture of overwork and increased expectations, along with a considerable amount of job stress and insecurity.
The untold story, however, is how much we are working while on vacation. Amid mounting demands and a fear of not falling behind, 66% of workers said they engaged in work activities while taking time off and the average employee reported taking just over half (54%) of their allotted vacation time. Reasons for working on vacation are varied and more easily justified in today’s remote work era:
• Workload growing while on vacation
• Not wanting to return to a mountain of emails
• Fear of missing out
• Lack of trust/fear in delegating important tasks
• Need to feel needed/valued
• Responsiveness reflex
• Dopamine rush of possible good news (accomplishment, a new deal, new client, etc.)
• Work is always an arm’s length away
While new ways of working are welcome in many ways, they also slowly bleed us dry until we have no separation between work and the necessary disconnection from work. Covid-19, of course, has even further blurred the lines between workdays and holidays.
The actual doing part of prepping and organizing around time off is quite simple. The mindset to unlock our ability to recover and replenish is the most difficult part. Our mind has a way of gnawing at