The United States is the only developed country that does not legally require paid vacation days or holidays off. By law, every single country in the European Union, for example, has at least four weeks of paid time off, while a quarter of Americans aren’t afforded a single day. That said, most Americans don’t even take days off when they are offered—though we should be taking the time to travel.
From 1978 to 2000, the average worker took 20.3 days off. In 2000, just as the oldest millennials—those born around 1980—began entering the workforce, burgeoning student loan debt coupled with the onset of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression turned millennials into self-prescribed “work martyrs.” We worry that no one could do our jobs while we’re away and, if that’s not the case, we’re thus replaceable.
More specifically, high stress, guilt and workload concerns are primarily keeping women from using their time off, according to Project: Time Off’s report, State of American Vacation 2017. Women report experiencing more stress than men at work (74 percent to 67 percent), and are more likely to say that guilt (25 percent to 20 percent) and the mountain of work to which they’d return (46 percent to 40 percent) hold them back from vacationing. They also worry more than men about vacation making them seem less committed to their jobs (28 percent to 25 percent).
The fallacy that “work ethic” and “work martyrdom” are synonymous is pervasive, though toxic. The fact is that employees who don’t use their allotted time off are not always more invested; instead, they’re no more likely to get promotions and actually less likely to receive raises or bonuses.
In 2016, the average US employee took 16.8 days of vacation, which is indeed up from 2015’s 16.2 days per year. But the percentage represents only an additional half day; workers still left 662 million vacation days unused. The more we take advantage of those days to travel, the better employees we are. Simply: The best of us are those donning beat-up backpacks carrying passports full of stamps. Here’s why.