Remember the early days of the coronavirus, when we earnestly thought that, surely, this would all blow over in a couple of weeks? Since then, we’ve taken it day by day, constantly adjusting our expectations and waiting for the worst to pass — and that may be why so many of us have held onto our paid time off this year. A survey conducted by staffing agency Robert Half back in May revealed that 37% of workers were delaying taking time off until the second half of the year. A recent MassMutual survey of 1,500 people found that over two-thirds of people have cancelled a summer vacation or activity because of COVID-19. According to a LinkedIn study also from July, 70% of those surveyed said they didn’t plan on taking vacation days for the rest of the year.
In some ways, this pattern is understandable. We want to use precious time off from our jobs to travel somewhere beautiful or do something adventurous, and we’re way less thrilled about taking time off to just... stay home some more. Some of it is also rooted in financial worries, as taking a trip or vacation can cost a pretty penny and many have faced financial strain this year. Around 22% of respondents in the Robert Half survey said that they wanted to go on vacation, but are worried about the financial impact of doing so. In the MassMutual survey, about 30% of those who cancelled summer vacation said they planned on saving the money for a vacation later this year, but 32% said they put the money into their savings and another 26% spent it on necessities.
Even in non-pandemic times, Americans are pretty bad about taking all of their vacation time. While there are many reasons for this, some people count on unused PTO payout in the event that they get laid off. In the past few years, some employers have even started offering a policy where you can trade in PTO to pay your student loan debt.
Even when there aren’t financial reasons to sacrifice vacation time, the pressure that comes with asking for time off can feel heavy. The majority of those surveyed by Robert Half (66%) said that their employer hadn’t communicated anything about taking vacation days this year, and it’s possible that many workers are feeling guilty or uncomfortable with asking for time off, especially knowing that they aren’t booking flights and hotels for some far-off destination. With many companies running leaner teams with fewer employees this year — and the possibility of more cuts always looming overhead — the pressure to be a “good” employee may be even stronger right now. LinkedIn’s study found that about half of people said that they would continue to engage with work emails and calls while on vacation. And while a full three quarters of people said they rarely or never contact coworkers who are taking time off, 63% said they’ve been contacted by coworkers while off.
This balance has to shift, though, because we all know (and can feel) that it’s unhealthy. A recent survey by Monster reveals that over two-thirds of remote workers are experiencing burnout, and it’s become easier than ever to work longer hours. This clearly isn’t strictly an American problem, either. Recent research by economists has found that the majority of U.K. workers who’d been furloughed in April and May continued to do some work for their employers. Employers have to start being a lot more encouraging of taking time off — and fully logging off during that time — and all of us need to respect boundaries when a coworker is using their PTO. As we inch toward the end of August, it’s time to take a damn vacation.