Why Millennials – and Others – Should Use Vacation Days

Posted By Terri Williams on January 27, 2017 at 9:00 am
Why Millennials – and Others – Should Use Vacation Days

American workers are not taking advantage of their vacation days, and young millennials are the worst offenders. According to a recent survey,

  • 64% of American workers get paid vacation days
  • 47% of workers who get paid vacation days will use all of them
  • 7 days: minimum amount of vacation time most often left unused

Among young millennials:

  • 59% won’t use all of their paid vacation time
  • 25% won’t use any of their paid vacation time

So why are young millennials the group least likely to take advantage of paid vacation time?

Internal and external pressure over vacation days

Young millennials are acutely aware that they’re the new kids on the block, and they’re trying to avoid any missteps.

According to Debbi Casey, assistant professor of human resource management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, they’re overworking themselves in the pursuit of success. “Research shows millennials are more likely to work more hours, whether on or off the clock, and to forgo vacation time they’ve earned in order to stay at their desks.”

While all generations go through the insecurity and uncertainties of being junior workers, Casey believes there are additional factors driving this generation. “The tight job market following the financial crisis of 2008, the rise of tuition and student loan debt to get requisite degrees for the desirable jobs, increased competition from an increasingly globalized labor force, and the influence of technology blurring borders between work and personal life all create that perfect storm.”

In addition, Casey says that millennials have been pushed to excel since they were in preschool. “We haven’t taught this generation much about balance, but we have taught them a lot about competition,” Casey says. In fact, this intense drive to succeed has resulted in helicopter parents sabotaging the job search process.

And because they have less tenure/seniority, Bruce Tulgan, founder of management research, training and consulting firm RainmakerThinking Inc. and author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials, believes they want to avoid any missteps.

“Younger people will be the ones under the greatest ‘informal’ pressure to keep working, even if they have time coming to them,” Tulgan explains. “So, they may be not taking their vacation time because they are getting cues from their bosses that not taking their time would be preferable to taking their time.”

Another reason young millennials are not using vacation days? Tulgan believes they want to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. “Many young people in jobs are in a hurry to bank as many self-building benefits as they can as fast as they can early in their career: they want to learn marketable skills, build relationships with decision-makers who can help them, and collect proof of their ability to add value by banking experience with different tasks, responsibilities, and projects.” Tulgan adds there might be yet another reason: young ambitious employees trying to impress their boss with their work ethic.

Regardless of the reasons, Tulgan believes employees of any age should be aware of the dangers of not utilizing vacation days. “The risks of not taking time to rest and refresh is that one might get tired, might not take time to stay healthy, might become disgruntled, or otherwise burned out,” Tulgan explains.

Reversing the trend of unused vacation days

If young millennials have a plethora of reasons why they shouldn’t use their paid vacation time, how can they be convinced that this not a good strategy? Casey recommends educating young adults before they enter the workforce and then using human resource management to reinforce the importance of taking time off. “Workers are human — notice I did not say ‘workers are only human’ because it is not a liability to be human.”

Companies and their young employees need to understand that humans do their best work when they’re not routinely tired and overworked. “To be human is to be creative, empathic, and social, but it also means to need rest, security, peace, and a sustainable balance between the personal and professional sides of life,” Casey explains. “If millennials don’t understand that, it’s up to their mentors and organizations to teach them before they lose the benefits human workers bring to their firms.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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