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Spring into Your Vacation

With spring just around the corner, many people are planning getaways and vacations. While “Spring Break” is considered a time to take a pause from work and spend time relaxing, actually using vacation days is not always a reality for many workers. Leaders may assume that whether or not an employee takes vacation time is entirely up to the individual, but there are many aspects of the organization and management that impact the way vacation time is viewed and utilized.

Are employees using vacation days? A common assumption is that if employees are given a certain number of vacation days, they will certainly take all of them. However, a recent survey has indicated that in 2016, 54% of Americans did not use their allotted vacation time, which equates to around 662 million unused vacation days (Project: Time Off, 2017). Further, while this study revealed that vacation time is viewed as extremely important to women, the data suggested that, in general, men were more likely to use all of their time off (i.e., even though women believe vacation is very important, their behavior does not always align with this ideal). The number of vacation days Americans have taken has been on a steady decline since the early 2000s, with only a small uptick of 16.8 days in 2016 from 16.2 days in 2015. Why are so many vacation days going to waste?

How company culture impacts decisions to take vacation. There are many ways a company’s culture can impact the way that vacation days are approached by employees. For example, a common worry about taking vacation days is that leaders will believe an employee is not as dedicated as those who do not take time off. Even though many leaders hold the belief that taking time off improves well-being and prevents burnout, the desire (and perhaps perceived pressure) to be seen as a “work martyr” still exists for many employees.

Related to this issue, many people believe that their job security is at risk when they take time off (i.e., they do not want to be viewed as replaceable or be passed up for a job promotion). When an organization’s culture sends mixed messages to employees (e.g., “take time off, but not too much”), it is difficult for employees to feel confident about scheduling time away. Leaders should not only communicate that vacation time is both encouraged and supported, but they should also practice what they preach and be role models of taking time off.

Why is vacation time important? While the data suggests workers are sacrificing a large number of their vacation days, this should not lead to the conclusion that time off is considered unimportant. Taking vacation time has been linked to many positive outcomes, such as increased happiness, relaxation, and work engagement (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006; Kuhenl & Sonnentag, 2011; Strauss-Blasche, Ekmekcioglu, & Marktl, 2000). Interestingly, the Project: Time Off data also revealed that employees who do not use all of their vacation days were slightly less likely to be promoted. This means the common assumption that sacrificing vacation time leads to being seen as more dedicated is not supported. So, not only will skipping vacation cause you to forfeit the opportunity to increase well-being, it may not even improve your reputation around the office, like many think it will.

Can’t take a Spring Break? Start making other 2018 plans! Even if you’re convinced that taking time off is important for your well-being, we know this doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically use all of your vacation days – plans must be made! One of the best ways to guarantee that vacation time will be utilized is to make your plans early, schedule the time off, and start planning what you will do during that time. If you can’t take time off this spring, what plans will you make for the rest of 2018 to take a break and recharge?


By: Sarah N. Palmer, M.S.


Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology91(4), 936-945.

Kühnel, J., & Sonnentag, S. (2011). How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade‐out of vacation effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior32(1), 125-143.

Project Time Off. (2017). The State of American Vacation. Available from:

Strauss-Blasche, G., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Marktl, W. (2000). Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occupational Medicine50(3), 167-172.