Why Millennials Forfeit the Most Vacation Time of Any Generation

Tell me if this sounds familiar, “I wish I could take some time off, but I am just so busy.”

Of course it’s familiar; we’re all busy. But we’re not all work martyrs. Work martyrs are the ones who take the culture of busyness to extremes, insisting they couldn’t possibly take a vacation because there is no one else who can do their job and believing that the amount of face time they put in will prove them dedicated and indispensable.

Give it a rest, work martyrs. Seriously. Your vacation deprivation isn’t helping you. In fact, it may be hurting your professional success.

P:TO’s The Work Martyr’s Cautionary Tale examines the consequences of being a work martyr and the results aren’t pretty. No surprise, work martyrs are experiencing severely higher stress levels at the office and at home. They put more pressure on themselves to stay connected even when they are away from work. And despite all the stress and pressure, they are less likely to have received a bonus than non-work martyrs.

To review, the work martyr equation is: More Stress + More Pressure = Less Money

It doesn’t add up. Still, work martyrs take pride in being seen that way by their bosses. To a lesser extent, many of them want to be viewed as work martyrs by their colleagues, friends, and even family. Yikes. Time to take a vacation from your problems.

The work martyr brand of thinking is hugely problematic for companies. Americans work hard, but they need the break vacation provides to work smart. Unfortunately, Millennials are dramatically more likely to be work martyrs. More than four in ten (43%) work martyrs are Millennials, compared to just 29 percent of overall respondents.

Some of the work martyr behavior that Millennials exhibit may be symptomatic of being early in their careers and working their way up the ranks. But Millennials’ point of view is unique from previous generations. It’s easy—not to mention lazy—to say that Millennials are entitled and spoiled. The fact is quite the contrary, my friends. Not only do the survey findings run counter to this narrative, this stereotype ignores the circumstances of the Millennial experience, which helps explain why they are most susceptible to work martyr thinking.

Millennials entered the workforce in the midst of the longest and arguably worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. When Millennials landed jobs, they brought with them a strong desire to prove themselves, intensified by the often long and painful search that preceded their first day, and the record student loan debt many of them are shouldering. To make matters worse, these digital natives have been connected to the workplace from day one and are more likely to stay plugged in on vacation (even though they feel less productive when they return). 

The reason Millennials forfeit the most vacation time of any generation—even though they earn the least—is closely associated with lingering economic fears. Compared to Boomers, they are at least twice as likely to say they are afraid to lose their job (20%, compared to 9%), that they are afraid of what the boss might think (23%, compared to 10%) that they want to show complete dedication (30%, compared to 15%), and that they do not want to be seen as replaceable (27%, compared to 11%).

Millennials will define the future of America’s work culture. They are the largest segment of the workforce already and are increasingly moving into management roles. Millennials and all work martyrs need to change their thinking, but it will take good managers willing to work as change agents to make that happen.

The benefits to businesses are substantial: more engaged employees, an improved team environment, and greater productivity, to name just a few. The alternative is to settle for higher stress levels and worker unhappiness, a damaging combination that will hinder any company’s success.

The choice is simple—it just needs to be made.


August 16, 2016