In a survey of 1,000 employed Americans, a chilling reality is revealed about our culture's work habits.

You wake up in your beach house. You feel excited to relax, drink mimosas, and do, well, nothing. It’s been a whole year since you could take those stacked-up vacation days, and you’re prepared to take full advantage of your time off.

But the phone rings, you receive a hundred Slacks and your email inbox is suddenly overflowing with “urgent” messages. With so many people reliant on you at work, it’s nearly impossible to stay away from your pending to-do list. You’re overwhelmed and annoyed. Your vacation has become more about work than about yourself.

This exact scenario is more common than we think. In fact, Qualtrics research shows that 49% of employed Americans work for an hour or more a day while on vacation. More than a quarter of the 1,000 surveyed employees feel pressure from work while taking time off, reporting they do not feel rejuvenated after taking a vacation. Why is this a common reality for many hard-working, contributing members of society?

According to Qualtrics, there are three reasons behind this:

  1. Employees fear they will fall behind in work and let down their team.
  2. Many get no or very little paid time off.
  3. One-third are expected to actively communicate during their time off.

Fear of falling behind

Due to obligations to their teams, employees feel pressure from their coworkers to stay behind—in other words, not take a vacation at all. This leads to people not feeling comfortable taking their full allotted vacation time, which ultimately drives burnout, overall unhappiness, and life dissatisfaction.

Rather than pressuring our fellow employees to stay and roll in the dirt with us a little longer, let’s be more considerate of how others might want to rejuvenate—including not being contacted during their time off.

No paid vacation

More than half (51%) of respondents reported that more paid vacation time would influence them to stay at a company for longer. Yet, much of that vacation time goes unused, with an average of 9.5 leftover days in 2021. 32% say that leftover vacation days do not rollover into the following year, and 28% say they do not get paid for the days they don’t use.

Communication expectations

In addition to the lack of peer support and lack of paid vacation days, about 31% say they are expected to answer phone calls or texts while on vacation. 27% are expected to respond to emails or messages, and 20% are expected to be online during their time off.

How can we expect our employees to stay at a company that does not ensure their employees are comfortable when they take time off? There is much that both the employer and coworkers can do to make time off a more pleasant experience for many. Encouraging full use of vacation days in a year, offering more paid time off, and preventing work-related communication are all part of the equation.

And it’s not just for the employees benefit, but for the employer as well. “This is not only healthy for people but essential for ensuring long-term productivity and retention,” says Qualtrics Head of Employee Experience Advisory Services Benjamin Granger, Ph.D.

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