The Happiest Employees Take This Many Days Of PTO. But A Vast Majority Of Workers Still Feel Guilty Taking Vacation

Fortune Well December 16, 2023

Lifestyle

The Happiest Employees Take This Many Days Of PTO. But A Vast Majority Of Workers Still Feel Guilty Taking Vacation

More than 40% of workers are burned out—and yet only about half feel their company’s leadership cares about their well-being. It’s readily apparent that employee health and satisfaction are at a stark low. While taking time off to disconnect from work, rest, and engage with friends and family is important for mental and physical health, the prospect of taking paid time off tends to come with guilt that discourages workers from using their vacation. 

A new survey conducted by CalendarLabs examines global PTO trends over the last year. While there is an ideal number of days the happiest employees take off, a vast majority of workers say they feel guilty using their allotted time—with many working during their hiatus. 

Workers who are the happiest in their roles took an average of 15 days of paid time off last year, according to the survey of over 800 employees. It didn’t matter whether the 15 days were lumped together or spread out across the year. American workers most commonly used PTO in December, compared to July in the U.K. Across the globe, workers preferred to take off on Mondays. 

For those with allotted PTO, 38% of U.S. workers did not use their time off compared to 23% of U.K. workers. More than half of those who had days to spare had to forfeit them, the survey found. People can’t seem to agree on whether or not unlimited PTO incentivizes workers to take vacation, but the survey found 43% of workers believe unlimited vacation policies are a scam. 

 
Employee guilt 

Regardless of whether employers grant PTO in abundance, employees seldom feel encouraged or supported to take time off: Almost 80% of workers feel guilty about taking PTO. It may be why 66% do more work to prepare for their time off and 69% respond to work messages on vacation. The survey found many workers feel guilty because they fear a lack of job security, a heavier workload upon return, or colleagues having to shoulder the burden. 

“This guilt can negatively impact their well-being and work performance. To address this, employers should foster a workplace culture that encourages taking time off without guilt,” Hannah Workman, part of the creative team for CalendarLabs, tells Fortune. “Promoting breaks, recognizing the importance of mental health, and managing workloads effectively can boost employee satisfaction and productivity.”

In fact, companies are more confident in the ROI from employee well-being programs than in years prior, and 88% of employees agree that feeling a sense of belonging improves productivity—a feeling emulated when employees are respected and safe to log off as part of their benefits program. 

Luckily, some employers are taking employee guilt seriously, the survey found. Of the 56% of employers tackling the stigma for taking days off work for mental health, top actions include:

  • Encouraging regular check-ins with supervisors
  • Offering training sessions for leaders 
  • Creating open dialogue, forums, and meetings 
  • Providing resources like mental health days and counseling
  • Fostering a mentally healthy workforce

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