The Summer of Lost Vacation

At a time when holidays are needed more than ever, a new survey shows more than a quarter of workers plan to take fewer days off.

Published: Jun 19, 2020

Few people would argue that this year, amid a pandemic, protests in the streets, and an upcoming contentious election, people shouldn’t skip their vacations.

And yet that’s exactly what many workers are doing. According to a recent survey, 28% of US workers plan to take fewer days off this summer compared to last year, and 37% say they’ll save their vacation time for later in the year. Of course, much of this makes sense: with the coronavirus raising fears of flying and hotel stays, people looking to get away are weighing such risks.

But there’s also concern, amid unprecedented levels of unemployment, that taking time off could be looked poorly upon when more than 30 million Americans have been laid off or furloughed. “Most of us are operating on less than full because we’ve got kids at home or we’re doing more with less because people have been laid off,” says Nancy Von Horn, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. “When you’ve been burning it on all ends, that’s when you absolutely need to take a vacation.”

Observe what’s happening with colleagues—is the boss taking a two-week hiatus? Or has someone explicitly said that vacations should be paused?

Indeed, studies show that workers who take time off perform better, experience less burnout, and have better mental health than those who work with no breaks. And career experts say taking a vacation is even more important now as individuals continue to work from home, further blurring the lines between professional and personal time. Here’s how to overcome the fear of being out of the office and take the days you deserve.

Is it rational or irrational fear?

If you’re worried about taking time off, one of the best places to start is to figure out if that concern is real or just in your head. Observe what’s happening with colleagues—is the boss taking a two-week hiatus? Or has someone explicitly said that vacations should be paused? (The survey did show that 9% of respondents said they’ve been discouraged from taking time off from work.) “Often we’re so caught up in how people view us that we stop ourselves from doing things,” says David Ginchansky, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Now more than ever, leaders are tapping into their emotional intelligence, so it’s best to be upfront and honest in your request. Ginchansky suggests saying something like, “If this is out of place please let me know, but I generally take time off during the summer. And right now I’m really burned out and feel I could be more productive if I take a week off.” It’s also good to come to the conversation with plans for how you can minimize stress for your boss, Von Horn says. After all, telling your boss that you’ve already spoken to a colleague who has agreed to take over your duties for a week can only help sway his or her mind. 

Look for gray areas.

Even if your boss tells you now isn’t the time to check out for a week, that doesn’t mean you should just say OK and hang up the phone. Instead, see if you can negotiate. Maybe you can’t take a week over July 4th because other colleagues already plan to be off. But could you take a day off to make for a long weekend?  

Lean on your colleagues.

If squeaking even a day or two out of your boss is futile, see if you can take a few hours off here and there by asking colleagues to cover for you. If anything, the pandemic has shown us how we have to communicate better, and trying to find a way to take your vacation time is a great opportunity to enhance that skill. “With open communication, ‘I’ll cover your back if you cover mine’ works incredibly well,” Von Horn says.

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