Time Away Is Not Always Time Off

If workers feel obligated to work while on vacation, it’s not a vacation

By SHRM Online staff Jul 10, 2014

More than 62 percent of U.S. workers say they feel at least “pretty good” about taking time off from work. However, they’re not taking full advantage of their allotted paid time off (PTO), and many are concerned about being out of the office, according to a survey of 1,000 full-time employees by Virgin Pulse, a wellness program provider that is part of the Virgin Group.

The survey found that:

  • 44 percent of respondents say they take 76 to 100 percent of their allotted PTO each year.
  • 34 percent report taking 50 percent or less of their PTO.
  • 41 percent say they feel “guilty” or “stressed” about taking time off.

“As employers, it’s important to encourage people to take time off when they need it. In return, they’ll come back to work full of energy and better able to engage and be productive,” said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse.

Many people feel pre-vacation stress because the act of tying up loose ends is time-consuming, overwhelming or impossible. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed say they have to put in extra time at work before a vacation.

Moreover, many employees report that they are still working while on vacation, and the majority feel obligated to do so. Just 48 percent of those surveyed say their company expects them to be totally unavailable while on vacation. In addition:

  • More than 20 percent of respondents say they work during their vacations.
  • 48 percent say they typically use their mobile devices to “stay plugged in” while on vacation.

“Good employees are dedicated to their jobs, but if they’re stressed about being out of the office and constantly checking in, that does little to help them recharge their batteries,” added Boyce.

Unfortunately, relaxation isn’t always immediate—46 percent of people say it takes two to three days to begin to unwind on a vacation, and 29 percent say it takes four days or more, or that they don’t really manage to unwind at all.


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