“How many of you have vacation days you haven’t used that you are at risk of losing?” – About one third of the room put their hands up.


I was dumbfounded when Julie Lancaster asked this question at a training we co-taught for City employees last month. I did not realize this was a question that needed to be asked. Now I am fascinated by it.

To clarify, these City employees have paid vacation leave that they have not used. They can roll over vacation days to the next year, but in this case, these employees have rolled over so many that they are reaching the limit and they will start losing the days if they do not use them.

Why aren’t employees using paid vacation leave? And who is not using paid vacation?

First, all the employees who raised their hands were baby boomers. Partly this is just math. In most cases, the baby boomer staff have been there longer and are more likely therefore to have years of rolled over leave. However, recent data suggests that younger generations are more likely to use their paid leave than older generations. This was a hot topic at the International City and County Managers Regional Summit. For some cities it is changing the way that work is scheduled and the number of staff needed to get work done.

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Stopping to smell the roses at one of my favorite getaways, La Posada Hotel and Gardens in Winslow, AZ

There is conflicting data about the trends in how workers view their vacation days. Project Time Off (funded by the travel industry) has hired survey firms to track employees attitudes towards paid vacation. In 2016 the survey found that 39% of employees want to be seen as a “work martyr” by their boss.

Work Martyr is defined as:

The belief that it is difficult to take vacation because…

No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.
I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.
I don’t want others to think I am replaceable.
I feel guilty for using my paid time off.

These beliefs echo what the City employees discussed in training.

Surprisingly, the 2016 survey found that 48% of Millennials think it is good to be seen as a work martyr by their boss. In another study (conducted by Alamo Rent-A-Car), 42% of Millennials surveyed admitted to shaming their co-workers for using vacation. Although some of this can be explained by Millennials still being new in their careers and being job insecure, the article also points out that Millennials are the first generation to enter the workforce during a decline in vacation usage. As digital natives, this generation is also more likely to stay plugged in during their time off and may not even know how to unplug.

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My digital detox — going to destinations without cell phone signal, such as this one – the bottom of Urique Canyon in Mexico

Never being able to unplug and unwind is taking its toll on older Millennials and there are businesses emerging to address this. One of my favorites is Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults that brands itself as digital detox. Millennial expert and author of The Quarter Life Breakthrough, Smiley Poswolsky, just got back from two weeks at the camp. He expressed a sense of rejuvenation, sharing, “We write 300-page books about the key to happiness, fulfillment and joy, but the thing that always seems to actually work for me is about as simple as it gets: just spend more time face-to-face with the people you love most.”

Connecting with other humans; A simple concept and yet so difficult to do.

How do you reset and recharge? Do you feel shame or guilt in taking vacation?


I plan to continue this Vacation Series with a post about great vacation ideas for the workaholic as well as suggestions on how to prepare before a vacation to minimize the impact on your team and on your inbox. If you have other vacation related posts you would like to see, add a comment below.