Facebook Twitter

The impact of the U.S.’s ‘No Vacation Nation’ reputation on employee wellness

How lack of paid time off is fueling burnout and undermining mental health in the U.S. workforce

SHARE The impact of the U.S.’s ‘No Vacation Nation’ reputation on employee wellness
Americans could perhaps learn a lot by noting how other countries handle employee vacations.

Americans could perhaps learn a lot by noting how other countries handle employee vacations.

Pasko Maksim, Adobe.com

The United States has been dubbed “no vacation nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research for being the only developed nation that does not require businesses to give paid time off to their employees.

The U.S. could take note of how other economically advanced countries are taking care of their workforce.

“European workers (get) at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with some countries mandating as many as 25 to 30 days per year,” the research group reported. “Australia and New Zealand require employers to grant workers a minimum of 20 paid vacation days per year, while Canada and Japan require their employers to provide at least 10 paid vacation days.”

The hustle and bustle of work life can start to take a toll on a person if they don’t prioritize their mental health, and burnout can ensue.

Radical Storage, a leading global luggage storage company, conducted a survey of more than 1,200 working Americans to explore the significance of paid time off, or PTO, and the extent to which it is honored or disregarded by their employers, focusing on workplace stress and vacation practices.

“More than three-quarters of U.S. workers (77%) are planning a vacation in 2024 to combat work stress — equivalent to 129 million if taken as representative of the domestic labor force,” according to the survey.

However, that doesn't mean they will actually separate themselves from the office just because they’re on the beach. “Over half of (the) people (52.3%) admitted to feeling stressed about work during most or all of their vacation.”

Bringing extra baggage on vacation

Have you ever been enjoying your afternoon on vacation, feeling carefree, and then jolting forward in a frenzied panic because your brain reminded you of a deadline at work that you can’t miss? If not managed, that feeling of instant stress can be detrimental to a person's health and work performance if it becomes a common occurrence.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” emphasizing that it is not considered a classified medical condition.

The Radical Storage survey found that even if people do take their PTO to de-stress, 52.3% of respondents said that they worried about work while away from it. A whopping 71% admitted that they “feel organizational pressure to keep up with work during PTO, from fielding calls to responding to emails,” the survey said.

Different occupations struggle more

Research has found that work-related stress and burnout increased significantly following the pandemic. The pandemic brought irregular work schedules and workloads.

“The burden of the pandemic has been associated with a significant rise in reported feelings of burnout; over half (52%) of health care workers report feeling burned out,” according to a study published in the Journal of Interprofessional Education and Practice.

“Health care workers reported experiencing persistent high levels of stress, trauma, and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early phases,” the study added.

On top of that, with enforced quarantine, many people didn’t take time off work because they were stuck at home. Without a break, depending on the profession, many people are stuck dealing with lasting levels of high stress.

How are companies combating burnout?

Lexi Francis works at the photo-book platform company Chatbooks as a paid marketing manager in Lehi, Utah. She said the amazing thing about her job is that they have unlimited PTO as well as five days every quarter of MTO, which is mandatory time off.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis said her company realized that workers weren’t taking time off and that this was decreasing job performance and increasing burnout.

To keep that from happening, she said Chatbooks realized “that their workers obviously work better (when they take breaks), meaning people like me will work better if we have something to look forward to or if we just take time off once in a quarter.”

And it’s not just encouraged; Francis said in her last team meeting that her manager asked her when she was planning to take her time off, as the end of the first quarter was approaching, “She basically told me, ‘You need to plan your MTO out because we don’t want people getting burned out.’”

She emphasized that their busiest time of year is during the holidays, “So that’s kind of like all hands on deck. But then, once the holiday is over, we have a two-week winter break. So once Christmas comes, we have off completely between Christmas and New Year's.”

A Pew Research study found that 4 in 10 workers in the U.S. don’t use all of their PTO. According to their survey, “About half of those who don’t take all their time off (52%) say they don’t feel they need to take more. A similar share (49%) say they’d worry about falling behind at work if they took more time off. Some 43% of workers who don’t take all their time off say they’d feel badly about their co-workers taking on additional work.”

Mental Health America emphasized that communication between employer and employee is key to ensuring employees are actually taking advantage of their PTO:

“When communicating, think about including information on the benefits of taking time away from the office, which can help inspire individuals to use their vacation days. Work is busy and stressful, but the ongoing communication and reminders can help encourage your staff to take the time they need.”