Groundhog Day Every Day: America's Repeating Vacation Problem

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays sarcastic weatherman, Phil Connors, who is sent to cover what he calls a “rat” in Punxsutawney, PA for the fourth year in a row. But when a snowstorm delays Phil’s departure, he finds he is doomed to relive February 2 over and over again until becomes a better, less cynical, human being.

In many ways, Phil Connors’ fate to repeatedly relive the same day and same outcome mirrors the American workforce. In study after study, year after year, research shows that American workers are repeating the same vacation behaviors, despite negative consequences. Workers value vacation, but aren’t taking it because our workplace culture is shaped by fear and silence. They acknowledge the significant benefits of taking time off, but each year, allow the same barriers to stop them from doing so.

Without making a change, Americans are doomed to relive the same reality each year: forfeited vacation time, burnout, less time for loved ones, and negative consequences for health and well-being. Will we wake up and stop seeing our shadow before it’s too late?

Methodology

Groundhog Day Every Day: America’s Repeating Vacation Problem compiles results from Project: Time Off research and additional sources to capture America’s vacation trends, why Americans keep seeing their vacation shadow, and the impact it has on business success, happiness, and personal relationships. 

Project: Time Off Research

 

Additional Sources

Key Findings

“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” 

Americans love vacation. Almost every employee and manager consistently reports that they understand the importance of vacation to productivity, well-being, and personal relationships. Fully 96 percent of employees believe taking time off is important with a majority of workers (52%) and a near majority of managers (46%) characterizing time off as “extremely important."

Managers and HR leaders agree on the value of vacation, too. Eighty percent of managers said using vacation time is important to maintaining team energy levels and 67 percent believe it makes employees more productive. These results are echoed by HR managers who agree that if employees who are currently taking less vacation were to take more, they would be more engaged at work (67%) and more productive (72%).

While Americans love the idea of vacation, taking a vacation is another matter. Over the past two years, multiple surveys have looked into how much time American employees receive and how much they use. Year-after-year, there is little change: four-in-ten American workers (41% on average) consistently fail to use all of their time off. 

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

While it may be easy to chalk up this repeated behavior to America’s proud work ethic, the fact is we have not always been a no-vacation nation. American workers once took more than 20 days of vacation each year. Not anymore. Since 2000, America’s vacation usage has rapidly fallen. Americans are now taking less vacation than at any point in the last forty years.


For 25 years, from 1976 to 2000, American workers used an average of 20.3 days of vacation each year. But starting in 2000, that number began to drop precipitously. America’s vacation losses continued to mount during the Great Recession and, despite economic recovery, have continued to steadily fall. Today, American workers report just 16.0 days used in 2014—almost a full work-week less compared to pre-2000 levels. Beginning in 2009, the trend line shows Americans using nearly half day less of vacation annually. If we continue on this trend, America will be using less than a workweek of vacation in 20 years and zero days by 2046.

This is America’s Lost Week and it is destroying America’s vacation traditions.

“I would love to stay here and talk to you…but I’m not going to.”

While there’s near universal recognition of the importance of time off among managers, two-thirds (67%) of employees report either hearing nothing, negative, or mixed messages from their manager about using vacation time. When asked to name barriers to taking time off, one-fifth (20%) of workers cited their company’s culture. Further, 58 percent of American employees believe that America’s work culture stresses productivity over personal balance.

Managers also undervalue how closely their direct reports follow their example—and very few are setting a good one. Nearly half of managers (46%) continue to stay connected to the job during time away. Many managers (53%) actually admit to setting a poor or bad example for using time off.

“This day was perfect. You couldn't have planned a day like this… Well, you can.”

Like Phil Connors, Americans need to reexamine their priorities in order to see the groundhog’s shadow and reclaim America’s Lost Week. Without a cultural shift, we will continue to harm our personal well-being, and undermine relationships, professional success, and business performance.

With small changes, we can overcome our work martyrdom and break-free from a culture of silence in the workplace.

Spot the symptoms of work martyrdom – fast.  Just like your other bad habits, the first step is to recognize you have a problem: do you feel you’re the only one who can do your work? Are you stressed and need a vacation – but you can’t take one? It may be hard to swallow, but you need to know: you’re a work martyr. While you should still be proud of your work ethic, it’s time to recognize that it’s morphed into work martyrdom.

Plan your days for the year. Americans who plan their time off are happier with their overall mood, financial situation, and jobs. Planning is the fun part. It is the part where your dreams and goals come in. What are you going to cross off your bucket list this year? Confirm your vacation benefits, dates you can’t take off, and then schedule out your days for the year. Then, tell your boss, but no need to be anxious: nearly all senior business leaders believe in the benefits of vacation time to employees and to businesses. Getting it on the calendar is what matters most.

Take your vacation – and when you get back, show and tell. Talk about your vacation when you’re back and share the benefits with your coworkers – nearly three in ten (28%) people don’t.

Managers also play a role in changing the workplace culture around time off.

Start the conversation. Your employees need to hear from you that taking time off is important. Workers have said they would use more of their earned leave if their boss would encourage them to do so.

Support your workers. It’s essential to give employees the support they need. A strong majority (70%) of workers reported that if their boss would help manage workloads during their time off, they’d be more likely to use more of it.

Consider your policies. Fully 69% of workers said they’d be more likely to use more vacation time if their employer would create policies that openly encourage taking the time off they have earned.

Unlike Phil Connors, Americans don’t need to relive their past to make a change. With simple adjustments and a supportive workplace, America can break its no-vacation habits and win back its Lost Week.