It would be hard to be a workplace martyr at DuTrac Community Credit Union in Dubuque, Iowa.
Everyone who works there is required to take off five consecutive days during the year.
“Sometimes you need to just get away and decompress,” senior vice president Jason Norton told The Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa. “Everyone needs to step away from work occasionally.”
But Americans stink at stepping away from work. The country has become so allergic to vacation that American workers reportedly wasted a record-breaking 658 million vacation days last year.
That’s 658 million days that you spent at work when you could have been at the beach, in the backyard, hanging out with family and friends — heck, even just lying on the sofa watching Netflix.
The most recent annual study of vacation habits around the world by the travel website Expedia.com sadly concluded that Americans are among the most vacation-deprived workers on the planet.
In 2015 Americans who had 15 days off used an average of 11, Expedia’s research found. That was worse than in 2014 when Americans used 14 of their 15 vacation days.
Chicago Tribune reporter Jerry Davich contemplated America’s growing aversion to time off this week — as he made a list of work-related stuff to do on vacation.
“What's wrong with me? What's wrong with us?” he wrote.
“In our digital age, it's becoming much harder to distance ourselves from workplace duties when we are supposed to be “off work.” So we plug in our devices, pick up our phone calls and continue to produce even when we're off the clock. Even more troubling is that many of us boast about our unused vacation days, as if it's a “badge of merit.”
More than half of American workers — 55 percent — left unused vacation time on the books, according to the latest “State of American Vacation” study.
That’s the highest amount of unused vacation time ever reported by Project Time Off, a coalition based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the way Americans think about and what they do with their vacation time.
Apparently we stay chained to work because, among other things, we don’t want to face a mountain of work when we get back from vacation, no one else can do our jobs while we’re gone, and we don’t want to seem replaceable.
“The informal work culture has created a sense that you shouldn’t take your full vacation time because it shows you are not as dedicated to your job with all the competition for promotion,” Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Center for Human Resources, recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Someone else is working late at night, is always busy, giving up vacation time and looking to be more dedicated.”
When Expedia released the findings of its study last year — 9,273 adults surveyed in 26 countries — GeekWire declared that “Europeans rule when it comes to taking holidays.”
South Koreans were the only workers who worked more and took off fewer days than Americans.
“Of course, many European countries offer many more vacation days — 30 days in many — than our paltry, pathetic two weeks here in America,” noted GeekWire. “But Europeans also tend to have a much healthier attitude about work/life balance and don’t have the ‘guilt’ we Americans do at taking time off.”
Expedia’s study, albeit somewhat self-serving for a travel company, reported that 85 percent of the world’s workers “somewhat or strongly agreed” with the notion that they felt happier after taking a vacation.
“Vacation time reduces burnout and fatigue, and even blood pressure and strain go down,” according to Mina Westman, a Tel Aviv University professor of management.
“For those taking vacation, health benefits reach a baseline after nine days off, so taking more and shorter vacations are healthier than taking all days off at once. Even business travel has benefits by detaching the employee from the workplace and ... boss.
“If you want to have a healthy workforce, physically and mentally, people need to have vacations. The body can’t work nonstop.”
Now there’s even evidence if you don’t take vacation there might be something wrong with you — or will be if you don’t start using your time off.
A new study of more than 16,000 working Norwegians concludes that some workaholics might be more prone to mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity, than people who have better work-life balance.
The study didn’t pinpoint a cause and effect, so it’s unclear how mental health and overwork are linked. Genes, for one thing, might explain the connection in some people, researchers said.
It’s also possible that workaholism contributes to mental illness — or the other way around.
For their purposes, researchers deemed employees as workaholics if they got stressed when told they couldn’t work, tried to find ways to free up more time for work, or worked so hard it affected their health.
Author Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, crusades to get people to take time off from work.
The author of “The Happiness Track,” Seppala recently told Money that being a workaholic and adhering to a “Puritan” worth ethic can hurt us.
“Happiness is actually the fast track to success,” Seppala argues. “If you take care of yourself, if you take care of the people around you, if you take time off you’re going to be more productive, you’re going to have higher performance, you’re going to have better relationships with people, be more charismatic, the list goes on.”