Don’t Be a Work Martyr—Use Your Vacation Time

Sunglasses on the beach

Who in their right mind would give up their vacation time? I sure wouldn’t. But apparently, lots of people who get paid vacation days don’t take them.

That’s unfortunate, because few people can work nonstop without a decrease in productivity, an increase in errors, or a grouchy attitude that demoralizes coworkers. Plus, failing to take time off takes a toll on personal commitments and relationships.

Still, people who don’t take vacation time often have good reasons. For example, people who have carryover vacation days sometimes forgo a vacation for a year or two so as to save up their days for a big trip. Similarly, some people save their vacation time in case a situation arises that would require an extended absence. Furthermore, some people fear that if they take time off, they’ll fall behind in their work, upset their manager, create a hardship for coworkers, or return to a mile-high pile of work.

And then there are work martyrs: people who believe only they can do the work they do, and without them, the project (or team or company) will fail. One symptom of work martyrdom is pressuring yourself to be available; after all, if no one can do the work you do, you can’t risk taking time off. Another symptom is intense stress, potentially resulting in poor health, diminished decision-making, and burnout. A third is distrust of coworkers’ ability to do their jobs, so you have to do their work as well as your own. No wonder these people can’t get away! 

As a result of these reasons for not taking vacation time, close to half of American workers who are entitled to paid vacation days don’t use at least some of those days. Even worse, 42 percent of American workers in one survey reported that they didn’t use a single vacation day. In contrast, in many European countries, employees get—and take—anywhere from twenty to thirty paid vacation days a year, and that’s in addition to paid holidays.

If you haven’t taken a vacation yet this year, it’s not too late. Whether you travel to a faraway land or enjoy some relaxing time at home, think of it as a chance to improve your work-life balance, recharge your batteries, spend time with loved ones, gain new perspectives, and reduce the odds of burnout. And without the pressure to respond to every due date, demand, or crisis, your brain will be free to wander. Bon voyage!

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