3 reasons to use all your vacation days

American workers are hesitant to use their allotted vacation time, and the number of days taken is in decline.
By Rebecca Machinga, CPA, CGMA

I don't want to return to a mountain of work.

No one else can do my job.

I can't afford a vacation.

I want to show I am dedicated.

I'm afraid to use all my vacation time for fear of pushback.

These are the main reasons people give for not taking all their vacation time.

Although Americans say they love their vacations, about 40% do not use their full allotment. This trend is relatively recent, according to Project: Time Off, a research organization funded by the travel industry. Before 2000, American workers took about 20 vacation days a year. The average has been dropping steadily since, down to 16 days, the least vacation taken at any point in the past 40 years.

All told, Americans leave more than 400 million paid vacation days unused each year. That's not good for them, nor is it good for their employers. Here are three reasons to use your vacation time this year:

Improve the company culture. Most people believe taking time off is important. This includes owners and managers of companies. Yet there seems to be a disconnect between what people believe and what is conveyed by an organization's culture. Owners and managers who do not take vacations indirectly tell employees that they may not appreciate workers exhausting their vacation time. Leading by example and letting people know that you are taking vacation time can go a long way toward establishing a vacation-taking culture.

Improve your productivity. Numerous studies show that taking a regular break from work, whether just for coffee or for a 10-day vacation, can improve productivity. A stressed-out worker is less motivated and more prone to mistakes. Yes, there will be work waiting for you upon return, but you can delegate tasks for co-workers to perform while you're away, and offer to fill in for them when they are on vacation.

Improve your mental health and well-being. Taking vacations is important for connecting with family, restoring creativity and energy levels, and preventing burnout. Although the thought of working long hours before you leave for a vacation and then returning to a mountain of work may make you say that it's not worth going on vacation, the time that you're able to unplug will make it worth it. Some employees suffer from work-martyr complex—the belief that no one else can do their jobs as well as they can. Taking a vacation is one step in trying to break that complex.

And if you think that you can't totally unplug or want to let your boss know that you will be available for questions or emergencies, set aside a specific time each day—maybe an hour or so—to check email messages or check in with the office. Setting a dedicated time and informing your boss, co-workers, and family should help alleviate any resistance you otherwise may have faced.

Rebecca Machinga, CPA, CGMA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, where she leads the firm's real estate services group.

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