Millennials say they’re more interested in work-life balance, as this survey from Deloitte shows. They want greater flexibility to take care of family responsibilities. Rather than always being in the office, they want to be able to work when and where they want. But they also want a life outside of work. They don’t want to be completely defined by their careers.
Yet when it comes to taking vacation, a study conducted by Enterprise Holdings found that they’re the least likely to do so. It’s no wonder that these surveys also demonstrated they’re the most-stressed generation.
The study found that a significant factor in whether employees choose to take time off is vacation shaming. Among millennials, 59% reported a sense of shame for taking a vacation, compared to 41% of all older employees. They also admitted to shaming their fellow employees for taking vacation at a higher rate, 42%, compared to older employees at 24%. With sluggish job growth and stagnant wages, employees often feel that they have to do everything they can to avoid being laid off or fired.
This dynamic is leading workers to take less vacation. According to Project Time-Off, American workers have consistently taken less vacation every year for the last 15 years. This has slowly whittled down the total number of vacation days to 16 per year. The majority of workers, 55%, say that they leave vacation days on the table every year, bypassing a valuable benefit of their jobs.
It’s easy to look at employee vacation as a zero-sum game. Any time an employee isn’t working is lost productivity. Employers begrudgingly offer vacation, but they’re happy when employees simply forgo taking it. Or they may actively discourage taking vacation.
But this is a short-sighted view. It’s no secret that burnout and stress are a primary contributor to turnover and that employers spend thousands of dollars replacing every employee who leaves. Vacation offers a simple, less expensive way to combat burnout. If employees are allowed to take vacation, they’re more likely to come back to work rested and recuperated. One study found that workers’ reaction times increased by 40% after returning from vacation.
Of course, this only works if employees are truly on vacation for a significant amount of time. U.S. News reported that about half of Americans said they checked their messages at least once a day on vacation. When employees take vacation time but don’t unhook from their jobs, it’s an exercise in futility.
Offering real work-life balance is a tough task, as often employees assume that they need to create the appearance of working hard all the time. But employers that provide vacation benefits and create a culture that values time off from work will be winners in the labor marketplace.