why is it so hard to take time off work?

There’s a ridiculous state of affairs in American vacation time: we don’t get enough, and we don’t take all of it that we get. Sometimes that’s because people worry it’ll be frowned upon. Sometimes it’s because it feels like there’s never a good time to get away. Sometimes it’s because  because work will pile up while you’re gone, making it a vacation more stressful than it should be.

At Slate today, I talk about this absurd situation, and what employers and employees can do about it. You can read it here.

{ 321 comments… read them below }

  1. Aggretsuko*

    I don’t have backup here and when I go on vacation next month (which I timed for a time when HOPEFULLY my absence isn’t QUITE as bad…but it will still be bad) I will be utterly drained and screwed when I return. I was out for two days last week and when I came back I was wishing for death.

    Really, the only time that’s good to be out is at Christmas because everyone is out and therefore nobody can send more work in.

    1. pleaset*

      Yeah – the fundamental issue, at least in the US, is the amount of work. If we really have 52 weeks of work, less holidays, then 4 weeks of vacation just doesn’t fit…… There are not 56 weeks in the year.

      1. Happy to be me*

        This is a real problem. We keep trying to put 10 pounds of crap in a 5 pound bag and simply put, it does not work. Never really did.

        When I was younger, I would try to move the sun, the moon and the stars to meet a deadline. But once you start getting health issues, that doesn’t work anymore. Work doesn’t appreciate your hard efforts. All they learn from working harder is that they can push you to constantly deliver more. And when you are burned out, or develop health issues, you will be kicked to the curb for the next “human resource.”

        The only way to play the game is to not play at all. Nowadays, I go on vacation and completely stop everything. It is why I go to places where there is no coverage at all.

        1. Devil Fish*

          I never fully understood the intention behind calling employees “human resources” until I worked for a call center that called all its employees (and this is real) “human capital.” Corporate HR emails were sent from a department called (this is also real) “Global Human Capital”—and if this sounds like a nightmare dystopian hellscape to you, you’re not far off.

          Resources are something you need to put effort into cultivating and maintaining, that are generally finite and require strategic consideration when determining their best use.

          Capital is depleted as part of the transaction process and once it’s spent, you have no further responsibility to it; it is purely incidental to the process.

          Fun times!

          1. Dr Useless*

            I also worked at a place with “Human Capital” before and I did not work there for long, because they were very much into pretending they were cultivating and maintaining, but very little into enacting any consequences from any information they had learned in that process.

    2. Madam Secretary*

      To hear this seems like you have too much on your plate. Maybe they need another person?

      1. Federal Middle Manager*

        Sure, but why hire another person and pay two people when you can hire another person who won’t take vacations and fire the person who does? (Hypothetically speaking, of course…)

        1. OhNo*

          … And then get left wondering why no one stays in the position for more than a year or two. “Where’s the loyalty?” they’ll ask, never thinking that requiring an employee to never take a vacation or sick day for 20+ years might be asking a little much.

    3. Lygeia*

      Yes, this is me too. Even when there are tasks that someone else could handle in my absence, they often just don’t. I come back with an inbox full of “Lygeia is out on vacation this week but will address this question as soon as she’s back at her desk!” Great. Now I have a hundred things that someone else promised I’d get to right away on top of the things that I legitimately need to be taking care of.

      I was just gone for a short trip (3 days off), and today is a NIGHTMARE of catching up. So I’m feeling extra bitter.

      1. TiffanyAching*

        This is my situation as well! I do system stuff, and my boss technically has all the security to do the things I do, and I can set it up so my tasks temporarily route to her. But in practice she has no idea how to do the things, so basically everything has to wait til I’m back. Other coworkers will also tell folks “Oh Tiffany handles that, she’ll do it when she’s back,” even if they are capable of doing the thing (both technically and knowledge-wise).

        I’m also unofficially the backup for most of my team, as being the system admin I can get in and do just about anything, which means I try not to schedule my vacation at the same time as others.

        1. Hypatia*

          Welcome to my world. My boss is my back up on a system that only allows for one back up. Did my boss actually learn how the system works? No, so I don’t really have a back up, and he can’t do the simplest task.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Likewise — we’re running too lean. If you look at all the people who USED to do this work, we’re at about 40% from 10 years ago. Any vacation means days of backlog on our return. We do have industry conventions when the people who feed us tasks go away for a period of time — but it’s not always the same week and we have to go look it up ourselves to find out the dates we might have down-time.

      1. BurnOutCandidate*

        I feel that.

        In my business, we handle two and a half times the number of products we handled a decade ago with less staff. No, we didn’t suddenly become efficiency experts; we do exactly the same things in exactly the same way, which is exactly the same way they were done in the 90s. (It was good enough then, so it’s good enough now. Makes me want to back my head into the table.) But the less staff isn’t uniform. Parts of what I do were done by five different people (besides myself) in greater and lesser degrees.

        It’s rough.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Speaking as someone who was typically replaced by 2 1/2 people when she moved to a new position, we can all laugh. I guess.

    5. sofar*

      I’ve been in the same boat. I’ve had jobs where I’m the only one at a company that does A Thing. However, I need a two-week vacation abroad every year to be able to stay sane.

      My inbox is insane when I return. And the entire lead-up to a vacation is fraught with people panicking about me being gone for two weeks. And the day before is full of people trying to get me to handle one more thing before I leave and am inaccessible.

      But still, I insist on taking a vacation every year. Not during our busy time. Usually soon after it, though!

      I’m lucky my employers have always been reasonable, so that my job has never been in danger. My current boss is awesome. I request off well in advance. I warn my teammates. And then, when my vacation starts, the Out of Office response goes up. I mute Slack notifications. And everyone else finds a way to deal. Stuff goes wrong. Always. I’ll handle it when I get back, as much as it sucks when I get back.

      1. Lamplighter*

        One summer I had to do my job (usually 45 hrs/week exempt) and cover the job I used to do ( usually 40 hrs.week ) while the current occupant was on maternity leave. The old job was to administer FMLA, with mandated response deadlines, using a really good but expensive software under license. My boss worked picked up some of my work to help out. I had to take a long-planned week off to take care of my mother as her alternate caregiver under already approved FMLA . The plan was for my boss to take care of urgent matter on my regular job and Grandboss would handle FMLA since she was th only other person on the software license. When I got back, it was apparant that Grandboss had not done anything on FMLA while I was gone. There were a couple of actions that were already late an several others due immmediately. This company made it hard to take off a chunk of time off. Other than my semi-annual FMLA stints and a few odd days here and there, it was rare I could take a real vacation. When I was laid off from them. I had close to six weeks of unused vacation paid to me.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Oh, I did two jobs at once like that till they found someone to cover the old job…and I ended up with a lovely case of a-fib, too.

    6. Tigger*

      I feel this so hard right now. I took an hour to go to a doctors appointment today and I am drowning in work. I can’t imagine taking a whole week off

      1. Happy to be me*

        I am sorry Tigger. But that kind of workload isn’t sustainable. There is a price to pay from being that busy. And a couple of decades experience tells me that the harder you work to keep your head above water, the higher the price you have to pay.

        But look at it this way, If you get hit by a bus, the planet will find a way to keep spinning. Maybe one of the plates you keep spinning needs to fall, so people can learn to be more reasonable about your workload.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, that’s insane that an hour out of the office causes that big a backlog of work.

        2. Devil Fish*

          “Maybe one of the plates you keep spinning needs to fall, so people can learn to be more reasonable about your workload.”

          This is pretty much always the correct answer to the problem. I spent literal years at my last job trying to explain to my peers and the people we “supervised” (despite our “supervisor” titles, we had all the responsibility of a supervisory role with none of the agency) that corporate had no incentive to fix anything unless it was obviously broken.

          Unfortunately, the bonus structure was based on meeting unreasonable metrics and no one was willing to risk a pay bump that would get them just above the poverty line by doing things like following financial regulations or reporting their hours accurately. I don’t blame them, but I’m still bitter about it.

          1. OysterMan*

            “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.” As long as the work is getting done, they DO NOT CARE that you’re overworked. It’s only when things start going undone, breaking, or delivered late that it starts to become a problem. It took me many years in the workforce to learn that.

            The problem is many younger/inexperienced workers (rightfully) fear that they’ll lose their job if they start to let the cracks show. All I can say to that is find a manager who will support you (and even encourage you) to let the plates fall. If a workplace is fine with working you into dust, try to get out of that job.

  2. Harvey 6-3.5*

    At my work, we aren’t allowed to bring our computers out of the country. So there is a real incentive to take a trip to Europe or even Canada, just to avoid any emails.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I once went to Canada just so my company– particularly the CEO– wouldn’t contact me. They once complained about international data and phone charges for work reasons, so we were basically forbidden to turn on our work phones unless we had international plans, and those were only granted to a select few. It was the loveliest week.

    2. Becky*

      In November I’m taking a European Cruise–no way am I checking work email with poor pay-by-the-minute satellite internet on the boat!

    3. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

      We went on a 3.5 week road trip in Canada this year and very deliberately did not get any kind of international data plan/Canadian sim card. Since we were on campgrounds, our internet was limited to on average about an hour every couple of days. It was pure bliss, 10/10, would recommend.

    4. ItsAllFunAndGames*

      I take a week in super rural Canada where there is barely cell coverage for a call to go thru, forget about actual mobile data. I tell them “Using the internet” involves a 30 minute drive to the little down that is near by where I can get public wifi. (Which they frown upon you using when ‘out of the country’ so that won’t do the trick either).

      I also told them that unless they wanted to spring for international calling, for the most part my phone is off when I am up there other then for personal emergencies and use.

    5. Avasarala*

      I remember when my old boss told me to take my computer home over the 2 week holiday I was leaving the country to visit family. “Just in case you need to answer emails,” she said. OK. I took my computer out the office and left it on my kitchen table while I left the country. I’m not bringing my work laptop overseas where something might happen to it!

  3. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    Yeah, my company is all about “work/life balance”…as long as it’s 90% work, 10% life.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Heh… do you work in legal?

      I am very upfront about the lack of work/life balance in interviews because I’d rather scare people away early in the process rather than 3 month into a hire.

      1. rmw1982*

        I’ve had a grandboss like that in the past. Her life was work, so yours should be too. I still took my damn vacations though.

  4. Lena Clare*

    When I dated an American guy (and even talked about moving to the US, and looking for jobs there etc), it was a big culture shock to learn that you typically only get 2 weeks’ leave.

    When he came to visit me, he used his vacation leave of course, and spent a couple of hours a day answering emails.
    This seems…yeah, not conducive to wellbeing, and it was something I really disliked.

    You get 5 weeks as standard here in the UK, plus 5 public holidays throughout the year, and many employers (such as mine) increase your leave entitlement the longer you work there (I now have 6 weeks’ holiday leave).

    I know that some UK workers work through their vacations, but it’s not standard and generally I think the opposite of what Alison’s saying here (that people who don’t work through their vacation are disapproved of) happens in the work culture here.

      1. Artemesia*

        I hope that guy found another job and quit during the busy season leaving jerk boss in the lurch.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I used to work for a global but small company. Guess who had to cover some work while most of our European coworkers were off almost the whole month of August? Us Americans.

      1. Not a cat*

        Oh me too! Half our marketing team had all of August off and most of December. Guess who had to pick up the slack + our own work? The US team.

      2. no, the other Laura*

        YES. Exactly. Two whole facilities worth of people at CurrentJob are just MIA for a whole month. Who makes up the difference (including revenue)? “Why do the American sites get more revenue?” They literally work four more weeks every year, and if we keep the facility running 24/7, that’s $16M/year/site just due to vacations. It has nothing to do with efficiency or automation or innovation, it’s literally just working longer.

        That said, a ton of the things we do are make-work that has little to do with actual revenue generation. Internal reports that are almost never read past the executive summary, PowerPoint slide decks that are forgotten 15 minutes after a meeting despite taking weeks to assemble. Nobody actually needs that.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Don’t get me started on PowerPoints
          My current company spends so much time making internal slide presentations for each other. Such a waste of time!

      3. Allonge*

        It seems to me that you (and those responding to you) resent the Europeans for taking their due vacations.
        On a very basic level, I even understand but let me tell you that this sounds totally bonkers from the other side, in general. We get reasonable PTO (not mixed with sick leave!), and have a culture that allows for taking it, mostly. There is no one I know who says here, sure, I will work all 52 weeks so that we have 10% more revenue. That is a number. This is my life. No increase in revenue will give me back the time spent with family, looking at pretty places or even Netflixing. Do you have any direct benefit from more revenue? I really hope so, seriously.
        The revenue would further increase if everyone worked 20 hours on all days, not even saving weekends. Sounds unreasonable? That is how not having paid leave sounds to me.

    2. B*

      Yeah, it’s amazing what Americans will put up with. In my (Euro mainland) team of 9 people, 4 are about to leave on simultaneous 3-week vacations. And… the work will be handled, or wait, or deadlines will be prolonged, because everyone needs recharge time and we’ve been pushing hard for months now. If someone is on vacation, there’s a team member assigned to handle their urgent business, with expectation of reciprocity when they take their own vacation.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Hahaha this is happening with my team right now. I’m on a project and both PMs and the other analyst are out – we’re looking at about a month without our full team on the project – and while everybody is available if I need them, I don’t really want to bug people on holiday. But my company provides a generous (for the US) amount of leave for the team here and encourages us to use it to unplug as much as we can, so until I can convince them to send me there this is what I’ve got.

        The main thing I’ve learned from it is that even in client-facing work, people are understanding. We just present the information as an unchanging fact that most of our team won’t be working in August and plan around it. Now if we could just convince American companies of the same thing…

      2. Lena Clare*

        The holidays in August might be a European mainland thing – not many UK companies have employees taking their time off in August ask at once. Some do – if they have young kids for example – but in our company we have to have a percentage of people in at all times.

        Personally I love saving my time off in the new year when it’s still dark and a bit miserable, and everyone is back at work :)

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          I went to Rome last August and so many of the smaller shops and cafes/restaurants had signs on the front with words to the effect of ‘sorry we’re closed most/all of August for our holidays, we’ll be back in September!’ But that’s definitely not a thing in the UK. In fact most places I’ve worked were always a bit reluctant about people without kids taking holiday in August, mainly because we needed to keep the place running whilst those with children took time off.

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          I had to contact someone at Norwegian gov’t entity one summer. I was told people were out for ‘festival season’ or something along those lines. It was the best reason anyone ever gave me.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve had bad experiences when managers in Europe were assigned to projects in development in the US — and there was a real disconnect about expectations while the European was on vacation. Yours truly in the middle.

      4. Manon*

        I was baffled when I learned about the concept of “la rentrée” in a high school French course. Growing up, my parents never took more than 2 or 3 days off before the weekend to go on trips and always worried about checking dates with their employers, so the idea of so many people taking weeks off all at once was almost unbelievable.

      5. Windchime*

        We don’t really have a choice. I don’t think that anyone except a millionaire CIO or someone who had worked at the company for 30 years would be offered a 6-week vacation policy in the US. We want more vacation (and someone to cover for us while we take it!) but it’s just not something that is available here. The plan seems to be to just work us all until we are burned up and stressed out.

        1. Blj531*

          I’m in public interest law and unionized. We start with 21 days of vacation, and after year three get 28 (which works out to just under 6 weeks). Our pay isn’t great, but the vacations do exist!

        2. MinotJ*

          It does exist. I work in healthcare and we start out with ~2 weeks of vacation per year and it goes up pretty quickly. I’m now earning 5 weeks/year, and it can roll over. I have to request time off at least two months in advance, but people do take 2 week vacations here, and a month off for a safari or cruise isn’t unheard of. I’m taking my third week-or-longer vacation of the year next month, and then there’s Hawaii in October. Non-union, nurse-ish job.

        3. Lawyer*

          I have worked at three law firms (two BIGLAW, one medium-law). All three gave everyone four weeks vacation.

        4. Kat in VA*

          It exists. I have five weeks of vacation right out of the gate, first day at my company. It’s use it or lose it each year, doesn’t roll over.

          Taking it is entirely another matter. No one tells you not to, it’s not frowned upon – quite the opposite, it’s encouraged – but I can’t fathom taking an entire week off and not even looking at my email. I get 200+ emails a day, the overload on my account would be staggering.

          My boss keeps threatening me that if I don’t take a “real” vacation, he’ll pick a week for me and forbid me to come in. I keep telling him that’s great, I appreciate the sentiment…but even with coverage from the other EA, the thought of taking *that* much time off (other than over Christmas) fills me with terror and dread.

          Hell, I took two sequential days in July and it took me almost two weeks to dig out from under it.

          So it’s now August, and I have 20 of those 25 vacation days left… *bangs head*

        5. First Time Poster*

          It exists in insurance. I started off with 19 days PTO (and 1 floating holiday) and my topout is 34 days with the option to “buy” another week. It’s one of the reasons that I am trying to stay directly at an insurance company and avoid the siren song of better money at a smaller non insurance company

        6. TardyTardis*

          I finally ended up with four weeks vacation before I took early retirement (that last year, vacation was all spent on emergency medical things with the husband, and the two days I had for myself, we had a house guest. Whee). But it’s one reason I stayed at the place so long, that and their incredible medical benefits.

      6. Jadelyn*

        It’s not so much what we’re willing to put up with, as it is that most of us don’t really have a choice about it. The political (and therefore legislative and legal) landscape here is hugely, HUGELY tipped in favor of corporate interests (mainly because they’re the ones with the means to buy a few politicians and get their preferred laws passed), which has resulted in a world where employers can pretty much do what they like and employees have to just eat it or be unemployed. So when it’s a choice between “never fully disconnect from work, even in the 5 paltry days a year they allow you to be unchained from your desk” and “stand up to the company and get fired, then have to try to find another job that will probably treat you exactly the same way”, most people feel like there’s no point in fighting it.

        And, because of the intense pro-business slant in our national politics, unionizing is very, very hard for employees to do. So the one real avenue of redress (collective bargaining, which gives the employees some semblance of power against the might of corporate interests) is only available to the lucky few who already have a union in place. The rest don’t have the energy left, after being burned out from never getting a real break, to wade into the fight that attempting to unionize inevitably brings.

        It’s a cultural thing. We “put up with” it because most of us don’t have, or at least don’t feel like we have, any choice in the matter. And at least having a shitty job is less worse than no job at all.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Posted too soon – in addition to this, there’s a pervasive cultural idea that if you’re poorly treated as a worker, it’s your fault, and that only the best, brightest, most skilled, and hardest-working people deserve any rights.

            I used to think this was mainly a problem with the folks running a lot of businesses, but over the last few years it’s become increasingly obvious that a significant portion of the American public is devoid of empathy to the point of deliberate cruelty. I don’t know how you fix that.

            1. Jadelyn*

              This, too. How many times do you hear someone say in response to complaints about worker treatment “Then go get a better job”? Mistreatment has come to be the default standard we expect, and I think there’s an element of the whole crabs-in-a-bucket thing involved here too. My employer treats me like crap, why should you get out of being treated the same way?

              It’s like that one headline – “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people”.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yup. That headline came to my mind too. It’s pretty much the whole problem with our culture summed up in one sentence.

                And yes, the crab bucket mentality is a big part of it. Racism, also, since a lot of the less prestigious, less well-paid and benefited jobs are done by people of color.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            …there are countries with both low unemployment and decent employment laws.

            I’m not sure why so many people either *want* to be exploited or just think any day now they’ll be the one on top of the heap and look forward to having their boot on someone else’s neck.

          2. B*

            Dunno about France, but our current unemployment rate is lower than the US. Possibly because people staff with the expectation not all workers will be available 24/7. Maternity coverage people are actually a big source of recruitment for us – once you have someone for 12 months of maternity leave + whatever time the pregnant person has to take off for health reasons before delivery, you have a good idea whether you want to keep the temp.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Strictly speaking in the UK the minimum is 5.6 weeks (or equivalent, if hours vary) and many employers give public holidays on top (typically pro rata so they can schedule people to work on those days if the business needs it, e.g. hospitality or healthcare).

      Part-timers with odd hours can end up with holiday entitlement calculated to the minute!

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, I have 25 days’ holiday plus all the standard English bank holidays. We have to use 3 days for the Christmas/New Year office shutdown, but that’s still 22 days to play with. Also, in the UK it’s standard for your holiday allowance to be available to you as soon as you start a job – some places have rules about not taking holiday in the first three months, but this idea of ‘accruing’ holiday allowance isn’t really a thing here. If you start a job after the holiday year starts, you’ll get a pro rata allowance, but you don’t need to accrue holiday before you can use it.

        Also, I’m wondering whether this is another cultural difference – it’s pretty standard here for colleagues to take up a bit of slack when someone’s on holiday. People going on holiday is a normal thing, and it’s normal to ask whether there’s anything you can help with while someone is away. You’re not expected to do someone else’s entire job for two weeks, but it’s normal to take on a few tasks that need finishing off, or to be the point of contact for any urgent queries, while a colleague is on holiday. Yes, you still have plenty to catch up with when you get back, but it’s fine to hand over a couple of urgent things so they can be moved forward while you’re gone.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Hmm, we don’t exactly at mine, but I am a department on my own so it’s not practical. However, I have zero access to work email when I’m on holiday and there is zero expectation of getting any. The vibe is far more like “oh you’re away in August? We’ll have the meeting in September then. Have a great time.”

  5. Oof*

    We were just discussing this in my office. Sure I can take a day off – but then have to work an extra day or very long hours to catch up. That is not much of a vacation.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I had 10 days off in July. I worked 10-12 hours my first week back and was exhausted by Friday.

    2. Yvette*

      And this is the same reason why people don’t take sick days for colds or sore throats. Your work just piles up while you are out.

    3. Bortus*

      I work for a small company and wear many hats as it is. There is no backup for my position. I plan my vacation based on the times it will be least disruptive to have me gone and I do check my emails daily.

      That said, I had my own business for over 20 years. Talk about 24/7/365! This job is a piece of cake by comparison.

    4. Angry with numbers*

      There are technically two people who can do my work while I am out. If I am out for a day or two nothing is ever covered even super simple inquires that take less then 5 minutes to answer. When I am out longer some of it is done, usually poorly. When I went out on maternity leave they brought in a temp that I helped find and she was awesome I was worried about what I was going to come back to until I started training her. It’s the only time I’ve come back to almost no tasks waiting for me.

  6. LuckyClover*

    What I think is ridiculous is I get 10 days a year… but due to office closures during the winter holidays there are 1-3 days I am required to use vacation (unpaid if I don’t have the days left). I don’t celebrate the holiday so it is incredibly frustrating to me that I have to use vacation for it.

    1. AnotherPerson Here*

      Ugh, this! I have to use my PTO to observe my own religious holidays, then to be forced to use my vacation days for another group’s holidays is very annoying.

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          The US is technically secular but culturally Christian in the sense that a lot of so-called “secular” things are Christian-tinged. So, for example, Christmas is a federal holiday (even though Christmas is explicitly Christian). Our politicians often say things like “God bless America” or publicly pray during political events. It SHOULD be secular, but it isn’t.

            1. Rachel in NYC*

              My school district finally started giving off for Yom Kippur and the first day of Rosh Hoshana when I was in high school. EXCEPT, they didn’t state it was for a religious holiday- just it was an off day. Everyone knew way but it was a great excuse for our teachers as to why it was perfectly acceptable to have a test the day after Yom Kippur. (Which also overlapped with students decorating homecoming floats.)

              No part of it wasn’t stupid.

        2. Transitioning-ish*

          It is secular, and yet. On the one hand, you’ve got guaranteed free exercise of religion.

          On the other, well, there are people who think the religious inserts into our coinage and currency and Pledge of Allegiance have always been there. And while it’s not specifically worded as “One nation, under the Christian God,” I do believe it’s always been assumed as such.

          Anecdotally speaking, if you have a vast majority or even just enough people who believe they’re a vast majority in your workplace who observe Christian holidays, those will be the default holidays. If you’re instead in a workplace with a predominantly Jewish community, you’re more probably going to have those holidays (though might also observe Christmas, etc., especially as enough other places will be shut down).

          So I think it depends on the demographics but also up to individual companies, though I have not researched this.

        3. ThatGirl*

          Technically yes but, for instance, most companies give Christmas (and often Christmas Eve) off, but nothing for Yom Kippur or Hanukkah or Eid-al-Fitr. Or you get a floating personal day that’s supposed to cover it.

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      My first post-college job granted 15 “PTO” days…which sounded great until I learned that 15 included sick AND vacation AND the 8 mandatory holidays on which the office was closed. Fortunately the next year my city passed a law requiring 40 hours of dedicated sick leave, which left me a generous 7 whole days of vacation.

      Now I’m in higher ed and get 21 vacation days, 12 sick, and about 12 paid holidays :D

      1. Windchime*

        I work for a university and just about fell over with shock when I found out that I would get 12 sick days per year and it wouldn’t affect my vacation or holiday days. Seriously shocked; I’ve only ever gotten 2 or 3 at other places and it came out of PTO.

      2. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

        I also work for a university. At my job, you don’t start off with any leave at all, but you earn 8 hours of sick leave and 10 hours of vacation leave a month. The longer you work there, the more hours you earn per month. There’s no upper limit but you can only roll over 45 days from year to year. And there is also a shared leave pool you can choose to donate to if you want. If you donate to the shared pool and then have a medical crisis and run out of sick leave, you can take as much leave out of the shared pool as you need.

        There are some not-so-great things about working here (like our low, low salaries), but the awesome leave policy and benefits make up for a lot.

  7. Jennifer M*

    I have 18 days combined sick and vacation. I usually take 1 week in May, the day after Thanksgiving, and 2-3 days in December. I’m always worried that if I take too much leave, I won’t have the sick time when I need it. On the one hand, the exclusion period for my short term disability was reduced when our benefit plan year reset last October. On the other hand, I work in government contracting and while in theory we can work through a shutdown, last go around, the agency didn’t have a chance to assign us any work before the shut down happened so I had to burn some of my leave. I was lucky that one piece of what they did was determined to be an emergency and they needed me to work, so I only had to use 6 days of leave during the shutdown (well, it was actually more than that but I had already planned to take Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day off because of family events so I’m not counting those 5 days plus 2 holidays).

  8. Kesnit*

    Ironically, I posted about this issue last week to a Facebook group. (I work in a career where self-care is recognized and my boss does encourage time off.)

    “I completely understand the idea behind self care and taking a break. When I come back though, I have to catch up on everything that came in while I was out while still managing my normal (work). Even if I’m caught up before I take some time off, there’s always new (work, projects, etc). It almost doesn’t feel worth it a lot of the time because I have to put in twice the effort I would have if I had just not taken time off. More than once I’ve taken my laptop home so I can at least get something done while I’m out of the office so I have less I have to catch up on.

    I’ve got a week long vacation planned in early 2020, which is the first I’ll have taken in the by-then almost 3 years I’ve been working here. I’m really looking forward to it, but am dreading the piles I will come back to.”

    1. Kitty*

      This is so depressing – no one should have to be that excited or dreading the fall out for a measly week long vacation :(

  9. Vim*

    If your PTO and sick time is all one bucket what’s a good way to judge an appropriate amount of PTO to use and still have a reasonable amount left over for any potential sick time? I struggle with figuring that out. We get two weeks of PTO a year and they do roll over into the next year but since that also covers any illness related absences taking the entire two weeks every year would make me nervous. If you’re a healthy and dependent less (aka no need to use PTO to take care of others when they get sick) what’s a relatively responsible amount of time to leave for sick days?

    1. Adalind*

      That’s how my work is as well. You get PTO based on years of service and everything – holidays, pto, sick time – is all in one bucket. So out of my 27 days, 7 are holidays (8 technically but one is a Sunday and doesn’t count for me) I have to take off and therefore use from my PTO bucket. I personally don’t take a lot of vacations and try to take long weekends. If I take a longer vacation it’s only about a week. I just always hope I don’t get sick.. you kind of know yourself and hope you don’t catch the flu or something (I did one year and wiped out almost a week of PTO early in the year). It does make it hard to take real long vacations because I am nervous about “what ifs” or things not exactly planned (e.g. moving, family stuff). Trial and error unfortunately.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Honestly? A few years ago I started 30% of my vacation time & all my PTO for the end of December as soon as we’re allowed to sign out for vacation time — and then cancel days if I get to needing them during the year.
      I don’t know how it’ll work this year because we lost someone who normally covered for me.
      The drawback for me personally is that my husband’s company measures vacation time on a different calendar so HIS use it or lose it is end of November. Family vacation? Ha.

    3. Becky*

      My work allows a maximum PTO carry-over at year end of 40 hours. I mentally reserve those 40 hours as not-to-be-touched unless there is some health emergency. Then I plan my vacations and other time off usually leaving a few days just as an “if something happens”. I just got back from taking 5 days of PTO to visit my family (first time my entire family has been together in 7 years). I have a vacation planned around Thanksgiving (we get Thanksgiving and the day after as Holiday pay so I like to book vacations around then because I can extend an extra 2 days or use less PTO) that will use 11 PTO days. This leaves me with 1 PTO day that I can use for being sick or whatever else might pop up between now and the end of the year and still have the 40 hours left to carry over.

    4. Autumnheart*

      Kinda depends on how often you get sick, and what your work policy is around working from home. For example, all my PTO goes into one bucket, and people can and do take sick days. But if it’s a mild illness and I feel well enough to work from home, we can do that. I’m glad for this policy, because it doesn’t force people to burn a PTO day, and it encourages sick people to keep their germs at home instead of bringing them to work.

      Since I get a lot (by American standards) of PTO and I’m not sick very often, I’ll set aside one week for “unexpected problems” and save the rest for vacation. But I’m definitely running into the issue where I have more vacation than I can feasibly schedule, when weighed against other people’s vacations and the busy season.

      It’s a big problem when companies try to run so “lean” that they have everyone working at capacity as a day-to-day standard, and then the wheels come off anytime someone is out. You need to have some redundancy in your staffing in order to be optimally flexible. But try convincing executives and shareholders of that, for those who aren’t capable of envisioning long-term sustainability, and who believe that they need to eliminate every minute of non-productive labor.

    5. Close Bracket*

      I get 3 weeks (120 hrs) PTO, and only 40 roll over. I just started this year, and I get a pro-rated amount. I plan to keep 40 hours (the amount that rolls over) in reserve for sickness.

    6. mrs__peel*

      I also struggle with this! I think that having a combined sick + vacation time PTO system (on top of crappy healthcare and medical leave systems) makes it MUCH harder for Americans to take adequate vacation time.

      I try to keep *at least* one to two weeks of PTO in reserve at all times, in case of health emergencies. (I’m building mine back up now after having unexpected surgery earlier this year). Even as an ostensibly white-collar professional, I couldn’t really afford to take unpaid FMLA time if I had an emergency. Taking more than one or two vacation days at a time makes me nervous that I won’t have enough PTO if I get seriously ill in the future (or if a family member has an emergency, etc.)

      (Also, if you have any kind of chronic illness that requires a lot of time off for doctors’ appointments, etc., and have limited PTO, you basically can’t take vacation EVER. Which sucks).

  10. Toothless*

    A nice thing about my team having as many international transplants as it does is that because their family lives so many time zones away, they tend to take two to three weeks of vacation at a time when they go visit and so it makes it feel much more normal for the rest of us to take longer periods of time off as well. +1 for diversity :)

    1. cat socks*

      That is the case at my job too. There are a lot of people from India who will take extended time off to visit family. I’m from India myself, but all my family is in the US. However, I’ve been back to visit relatives and with the cost and time of travel, you need at least a week to 10 days to make the trip worthwhile.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Oh god, I can’t be out longer than a week usually, it’s too hard. Can’t imagine doing 3 weeks of catchup for the next 6 weeks.

      1. nona*

        If its 3 weeks, then the truly urgent gets addressed without you. With only a week, people are usually content to wait until you are back to bombard you.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          It wouldn’t be in my office! We had two staff members (each other’s backups) out for months and we just…did not do anything for some issues until one returned.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      My immediate boss and two of my other colleagues are all over in Europe, and my boss is heading towards the end of her two week long vacation now. I love this because when it’s my turn to vacation, no one will look askance at me for taking two of my three weeks at a time (just have to figure out where to go for two weeks!). This is the first company I’ve worked for where people regularly take breaks that long – all of my other jobs had all American colleagues, so the standard was a week here and week there. I’m actually excited to start planning long trips. I have the kind of position that nothing major will pile up while I’m gone – people will just go to my counterpart for assistance or submit their proposals as is – so I can actually take a real break for once. Hallelujah!

      1. Miso*

        In my country, employers have to give you two consecutive weeks off by law if you request. It’s totally normal for people to take 3 weeks off here.
        US pto and sick day customs always sound like a dystopian nightmare to me, I honestly could not do that for longer than, say, a year.

  11. nonn*

    Currently, I get 3 weeks every year (it will go up to 4 in a year), about 2 weeks of sick leave, 10 public holidays, and a couple of personal days and all of these are grouped in different “pots”. we can carry-over almost 7 weeks of personal leave, depending on how long one is with the company and occasionally if one is about to “lose” their overage, they can get an exemption and keep the excess for another year. Unfortunately, I have had to carry-over a lot of excess tome because I can never get out of here unless I want to come back to utter chaos and suffer through the cries of my co-workers (and bosses) because they have to cover me. It can be exhausting!

    1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      Removed because I ask that we not try to identify where people work (we can’t know in advance if they’d welcome that or not). – Alison

  12. RedLineInTheSand*

    My boss routinely works while on PTO. It’s annoying because it makes it seem like we all should work through our PTO, even though I know that’s not his intention.

    We don’t get sick time, it’s all lumped in together, and I only get 20 days of PTO per year. Due to medical issues, I have ended up taking some leave without pay. Working on the international side of a non-profit it’s disheartening to see how much time off my counterparts overseas get.

    1. BossLady*

      I worry about this. I definitely check my emails on my days off and frequently get texts/calls from my boss. Usually it’s only about truly time sensitive things and I don’t mind personally. But I worry I’m pressuring the people below me to act the same way. I tell them they don’t have to, but obviously “do as I say, not as I do” isn’t ideal.

    2. Delta Delta*

      This exactly. I worked for a boss who did this. He once went to a Caribbean island and insisted he would stay on top of certain calls and emails. I offered to cover for him in case service was spotty and so he could have an actual vacation. He insisted his way was how it needed to be done. This totally sent the message to the employees that this was the expectation. He also frequently called and emailed employees while they were on vacation over things that weren’t so important they couldn’t wait. It led to widespread feelings of dread for everyone trying to have a day or two off.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      It is disheartening. We had someone in my chat room who lived in Paris, and one day she was talking about an upcoming trip to the Swiss Alps. She had just come back from a trip and we were all, “Didn’t you just go on holiday?” When we explained how the American system was, she called it “barbaric.”

  13. pentamom*

    How would you deal with this situation: your employer is fine about your taking vacation when you want to, your co-workers are fine about covering the things that absolutely need to get done during your absence, there is no expectation that you work during your vacation, check your e-mail, or otherwise be reachable except in case of a real emergency, but the nature of your job is that you will be swamped with e-mails and other matters when you return, on top of having to do your normal duties that the new week brings. Therefore, it’s not hard to get away, but the price you’ll have to pay when you return still creates a certain discouragement to taking more than a day or two at a time off.

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      That’s my situation, and unless I have a big trip planned I only take 4 day weekends scattered throughout the year. So much nicer to come back to only 2 days worth of emails and calls.

    2. sacados*

      That was sort of my situation at my old job, and I typically handled it by doing a quick check through of my email once a day or so. Due to the nature of the job, I would get literally HUNDREDS of emails a day — which is a pretty insurmountable volume to come back to after a week.
      Like you, there wasn’t really an expectation that I would jump in on anything but the most dire of emergencies during vacation, but I found it really helped me just to go through my inbox for a quick sort– archive anything that wasn’t me/would be handled already and flag any tasks that I knew I would need to take care of once I was back at work.
      That way, at least I had a fairly organized situation to come back to, where I knew specifically what things I needed to tackle on the first day back.

    3. MoopySwarpet*

      This pretty much describes my position. I check my email at least once a day while I’m out and file the informational things so they’re not staring at me when I get back. I flag the things that are urgent for when I return, and I occasionally forward or respond to things that really can not wait. Some of those responses are just to let the sender know I did get it and will get to it when I return.

      As for tasks and duties, I keep a running list and prioritize. If it’s something I can quickly/easily do from the road, I’m likely to do it just to have it done.

      I also bump all of my “deadlines” by a day or two when I do return. Weekly reports that are normally done on Monday morning get done Monday afternoon or Tuesday by end of day. I start by working through and categorizing the backlog of work by priority. Since my co-workers have covered the must get done stuff while I’m gone, it’s fairly easy to get the fires under control in the first day or two. My co-workers are also nice enough to handle what they can my first day or two back.

      Another thing that helps, I think, is when something does need to get one that I am the only one who can do, a co-worker will communicate with the person needing it. Something along the lines of “Moopy is out of the office, but will work on this upon return. If it is critical to have this before the end of next week, please let us know your deadline.” That way, if it is truly urgent, they will figure it out while I’m gone or I will know it needs to be higher on the list when I get back.

    4. sofar*

      The way I’ve usually dealt with it is: I try to go through my inbox the night I get back to the U.S. from a long vacation. I delete what I can, and flag everything else for asap followup. Before I go on vacation, I write (by hand) a checklist of things to do the second I get back, so I can plow through them despite jetlag.

      If people came to me panicking my first day back, I’ve told them I’m working through my inbox as quickly as possible and I WILL jump on the thing they need as soon as I can. It’s a tough thing to enforce. But I’m human, and it’s literally all I can do. The absolutely necessary things get done, sometimes not much else. They’re similar to the days I’m feeling under the weather and am just trying to triage. Everyone has those days, vacation or no.

      My first days back are long ones. Things definitely fall through the cracks. But I’ve found that apologizing and being honest with people, “I’m just back from a vacation, I’m digging through my inbox, if I haven’t responded to your need by noon, please Slack me, visit my desk, bug me!” helps a lot. I work in a demanding but reasonable environment. YMMV.

      A two-week, unplugged vacation adventure is vital to ensuring I don’t burn out. I know that and have always been willing to prioritize that, despite the price I’ve paid when returning to work.

    5. RandomU...*

      Are the emails and things still relevant and actionable when you get back especially since it sounds like you have good coverage?

      Here’s what I do when I return from vacation. Typically 5-7 work days.

      I open my email and immediately move all of my email to a temporary folder. I start skimming from the most recent and flag or move back to my inbox anything that still needs action. I’ll start working on that stuff and ignore the emails that have either been taken care of or are informational only. I then usually plan a day to do nothing but review emails and get a handle on what’s gone on and what is coming up that’s new. Honestly, I don’t stress about it. A perfectly reasonable answer for the first week back from a week of PTO is “Still catching up but I’ll look into that”

      1. Jen2*

        Yeah, the expectation here is that the morning on your first day back is just spent going through email and following up when necessary. So you wouldn’t be expected to do a full week of new work, if there were a lot of outstanding issues from the week of your vacation.

    6. Jules the 3rd*

      This is actually my situation, except for the ‘co-workers cover’. What I find is that:
      * About 30% of the tasks / questions that come in are resolved before I get back – people find the right data without me redirecting them, or make decisions based on the information they already have. I’m the easiest data source, but not the only one, and often not the right one. (Really folks, go talk to finance about that!!!)
      * 50% of the work still needs to be done, and I spend a extra time catching up. (I usually put in extra time before vacation to get a little ahead).
      * 20% just doesn’t get done, and nothing explodes.

      Ends up at about 1.5hr work for every hour of vacation, and the extra work can be spread out over a week or so. If I take a full week off, I make sure it’s at our slow time, work extra for a week ahead and expect to work extra for a week after. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but, hearing other US workers, it seems middle-of-the-road.

    7. Aggretsuko*

      That’s just life these days. That’s why I have 3.5 weeks of vacation and don’t use all of it per year. I probably use around 3 but one week is during the holidays, one is one week off later on and the rest are stray one off days that hopefully won’t cause AS much trouble.

    8. Diana*

      I’m trying to say this in as straightforward a manner as I can, not to sound rude, but to speak in plain English about a subject that people kinda dance around:

      Most of the backed-up work isn’t important. Most of your emails aren’t important. Things don’t fall apart in Europe when people take 5 weeks of vacation. Things don’t fall apart when someone goes on maternity leave. Things don’t fall apart when someone has surgery and spends 3 weeks out of the office. Things didn’t fall apart in the 2 weeks you were gone. Things won’t fall apart if it takes you 72 hours to get fully caught up instead of 2.

      It’s a natural, normal consequence of the human ego to think that you are so indispensable that everything grinds to a halt without you. Unless you’re the CEO, this is probably not the case. And we all do this! I do it all the time! I’m not judging you, I’m the same way! It hurts our ego somewhere deep down to realize that we can be gone for 2 weeks and everything kept humming along without us, more or less. But it’s true – things did keep humming, and most of those emails resolved themselves, and most of those problems got solved by other people. Do YOU expect your coworkers to be completely caught up when they walk back in the door after two weeks? If not, why do you think your coworkers expect this of you?

      You are a human being, and you deserve rest, and relaxation, and time to think about other aspects of life: your family, the arts, philosophy, history, travel, your hobbies, your health, whatever. And not (god, this drives me nuts) because rest and relaxation will help you come back to the office refreshed, as though your Seamless Productivity is always the underlying goal and justification for all actions. Your ultimate goal in this world is not to be a smooth operating capitalist cog of Seamless Productivity, right? There are no brownie points in heaven for Delivering Maximum Possible Value For The Organization.

      Take your vacation, and when you come back to an inbox of 300 unread emails, take a deep breath and remember that 250 of them will have no further followup, and the last 50 can be approached in order of priority over the course of the next few days – not before your first lunch hour back. Go enjoy some time off, you deserve it.

      1. Diana*

        (I’m not trying to dismiss the folks who are dealing with truly shitty work environments, where you can never get days off approved, or they mess around with your sick days, or all those other terrible things. I’m just responding to people whose biggest obstacle to vacation time is the specific fear that they won’t be able to catch up when they come back.)

      2. Kesnit*

        That is a nice thought, but not always realistic. Sure, I probably won’t have 250 e-mails to respond to when I get back from my week off. (Most of my work is not done via e-mail.) But large files for my review will come in that week and will sit in my box. When I get back, I have to review all of them. (This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours each.) Meanwhile, more files on different projects will come in the week I get back, and they all have to be reviewed as well. There is no extension on reviewing the second set of files because I am still reviewing the first – the deadlines are what they are. So in the end, I have to do 2 week’s work in about 1 week. (Sometimes I get lucky have have a little extra time.)

        My co-workers can’t review the files for me because they have their own files to review.

  14. cat socks*

    I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t have trouble taking time off at my job. I’m not in management, but at my level (individual contributor) there is no expectation to still check in while you are out of the office. A couple of years ago we switched to an unlimited time off policy. That and being able to work from home as needed has been a great perk. I generally work 8-5, but it’s not a big deal if I need to come in late, or leave early as long as I get my work done and attend meetings.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’ve been pretty fortunate with this too, especially in my current role. I am not expected to check in at all. I have a co-worker–a peer– who is, but I also think she has some boundary-setting issues and she works for someone who doesn’t ever take a vacation because he’s… well, he’s got issues.

      My biggest problem is that my boss is often available on his vacations, which is his prerogative, but it also means that I don’t feel empowered to take care of certain things. He was out of town recently and we got an email from a client about a project. As I was drafting my response, he emailed me asking all kinds of questions and it took all of my energy to compose a diplomatic “I got this” response.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        My coworkers and I just had a conversation about this and the different kinds of work/vacation anxiety that split along cultural lines – my American coworker saying she’ll feel all kinds of anxious if she doesn’t take her work laptop on vacation with her, and my French coworkers saying they’ll feel anxious if they do. (I’m American but fall into the latter group in terms of what will make me feel better on vacation.) I tend to go completely off the grid on my trips and pick places with limited WiFi availability or tell people I have bad phone signal, so if there is an absolute drop-dead date on something or you need me to dial in for a call because I’m the only one with real expertise in something, I will if I can but if it’s 100% necessary that I be there then it’s 100% necessary to reschedule for when I’m back in the office.

        I’m lucky that I started drawing this boundary early and everybody knows to expect it from me. Hell, I took 2 weeks at the start of my new job and refused to bring my laptop. My projects survived.

      2. Llellayena*

        Yes, I’m lucky that I have the kind of relationship with my boss that lets me literally say “You’re on vacation, go away! I’ll let you know if you need to jump in.” The trick is the other direction. I check my email once a day on vacation but will only respond to super-critical items, and that’s usually to direct someone else in my office to handle it rather than me. Every once in a (long) while, something will come in that my boss will answer and I’ll have to write to him with an “Actually…no” because it’s on a part of the project I’m more familiar with. Those are fun.

    2. Yikes*

      Similarly situated. I used to practice as an attorney, but now I work for a municipal entity in a position that requires a law degree, but not a law license. I work 8 to 5, basically have seemingly endless PTO because of the ability to earn comp time on top of an already generous package, and will eventually have a pension. We are already staffed pretty thinly, but we are in a high-burn-out field, and therefore support each other in wanting time off, and are all willing and able to hop in when someone is out of the office. It’s a much healthier environment than, say, one law firm where I worked where one of the senior associates didn’t miss a day of billing when she was hospitalized for cancer surgery. It’s inhumane.

    3. KR*

      I think part of is is the “as long as I get my work done and attend meetings”. Like I have an average amount of PTO but I feel like I can’t take it when I want to and use it all and still be caught up on my work.

  15. Science Lady*

    I recently took 5 days off (and it was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday so I didn’t even get the weekend bookends) and I had to work multiple 70-80 hour weeks leading up to my time off and two weeks later I’m working at least 55 hours a week to get caught up. My normal is 50 hours a week (I’m US exempt and like most companies here they expect way more work out of us than can be done in a 50-hour week). I go on vacation so burned out I can’t enjoy myself and then I come back to tons of work.

    It’s not just that the work piles up when I’m gone, but my job involves a considerable amount of hand-holding of other people to get them to do their jobs (it really shouldn’t because I’m not a project manager or anything, but learned helplessness is a real problem in my company and if people in my department (which again, is in no way planning or project management) don’t push people the work just… doesn’t get done). So it’s double problems to fix.

    1. Granger*

      THIS! The pre-vacation prep time takes me at least as long as getting through the backlog when I get back.

  16. Recovering Adjunct*

    Sometimes it’s because you never know if you’ll get severance when the layoffs come but you can ensure a type of “severance” by hoarding vacation.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      True, but many companies now have a “use it or lose it” policy where you’ll only get 5 days max.
      Happened to me when I left my last job. Should’ve been 3 weeks, but I only got 1 week paid out.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, the company I was at before last allowed you to roll over your unused PTO time; however, if you were leaving the company, they would only pay out for five unused days. If you had any more days left than that, you forfeited them. The year I left them I had already taken three weeks earlier in the year, was paid out for one, and forfeited my last week – it sucked. I had been saving my PTO time to use for interviews. Had I known I wasn’t going to need it, I would have used that last week on a staycation.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          I know! Had I realized that, I would’ve taken a week off then given my notice. Because at NewJob I only got 5 days that first year.

    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      When I was making plans to leave ToxicJob, I took as little PTO as I could so I could get a bigger cash-out when I left.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Oh yes, this too! I totally save vacation for that reason! They have to pay you for it here.

  17. Dzhymm*

    Nobody has even mentioned the other vacation discouragement — expendability anxiety. If you take off and the office/store/shop really *can* get along just fine without you, maybe they’ll decide that they can get along without you permanently…

    1. House Tyrell*

      This happened to my ex-boyfriend. He got 4 days vacation time approved 7 weeks in advance and a week before we left, they asked him to cancel or shorten our vacation by 2 days to make it to a meeting and told him that if he couldn’t then they weren’t sure if they could justify his position anymore. He bought a ticket to leave 2 days early less than a week in advance and they never even apologized or thanked him.

    2. Federal Middle Manager*

      This. In the US there are more and more “right to work” states and “at will” employment, there’s very little standing between workers and being let go for little or no reason.

      I work in an “at will” sector of the federal government and it’s a tension I notice. I feel it’s my duty to model good work/life balance and always take my vacation and don’t obsessively check-in. However, my fellow managers in my new office are much more “connected” when on vacation…it makes me wonder if they know something about upper management’s proclivities that I do not.

      1. Devil Fish*

        I think I’m misunderstanding your point? “Right to work” is the law that means you can work in a unionized job without being mandated to join the union and the only state that isn’t “at will” is Montana.

        Being let go for no reason is the reality most of us face in the states (even in Montana because the worker protections that keep us from being at will are so full of vague loopholes they’re basically worthless and most employers seem to ignore the law and write an “at will” clause into the handbook/employment paperwork).

        Your coworkers seem to be responding to their job insecurity the way most of my coworkers always have. I doubt they have secret knowledge about management, people just tend to try to look better than the person who’s least connected because that’s the person who’s probably going to get fired if all else is equal.

        1. TardyTardis*

          In the real work ‘right to work’ means that the companies have the state legislature in their pocket to bust anything that even *looks* like a union, and probably already have (Wisconsin, I’m looking at you).

    3. Koala dreams*

      I find that so interesting: if you have too much to do, you can’t take time off because the work will pile up, and if you have some downtime you can’t take time off because you’re expendable. There is no way out. It shouldn’t be like that.

  18. Booksalot*

    I end up reminding my boss every fall that my large PTO balance is being hoarded for winter-related days off. I live in a semi-rural area and have an hour commute, so I’m sidelined by weather that most of my colleagues don’t struggle with. They just pop onto the highway, no problem.

    Winter has gotten more severe over the years, so I assume this issue will eat more and more of my vacation days as I get older. Plus, I fell and badly sprained my ankle trying to get to work during an ice storm this past winter, so now I’m even more conservative about what weather I’m willing to venture out in.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My winter comrade! I drive 45 miles south to the office from foothills to shoreline — and that difference can mean a magical mix of snow, ice & rain. I became very cautious driving in winter weather after a bad experience with black ice….I consider myself lucky because 30 yards along the road, I could have gone down a hill.
      I joke about being snowed in on my mountain, but it isn’t really much of a joke. We live along a state highway and see what happens when mother nature is throwing more ice than DOT can keep up with.

  19. Phony Genius*

    Anybody else ever find that a vacation trip, and/or planning for one, can be just as, or more stressful than, work itself?

    1. CTT*

      I am in the middle of this hell and YES. Why is finding hotels so miserable??

      (I’m also in an area without a major airport so I have to get connections for everything; these are way bigger barriers to me travelling than work. I think the solution for me is more 4-day weekend staycations rather than big trips, since that’s not always relaxing to me.)

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, planning trips seems to get more difficult as the years go by. At the same time, I don’t like just sitting at home in my pyjamas, so I need to make sure there is a balance between planned activities/trips and resting at home.

    3. Kitty*

      You can let it get crazy! I planned a trip to Italy which should have been great, but I got waaay too intense about planning The Most Perfect Trip ever. It was emotionally exhausting.

  20. fromscratch*

    I took two days off in June to go be with family on the anniversary of my mom’s death.
    It took 36 hours of work Monday – Wednesday that week to be able to leave and not have things “fall apart” while I was out those two days.

    I’m taking 8 days off in a few weeks. We recently hired someone to share the workload on team projects. He’s supposed to be my backup – with the understanding that anything we don’t do in the next 2 weeks is all on him while I’m out.

    I have a sinking feeling I’ll come back in September and none of the work will have been done.

  21. Fireworks*

    When I was younger, I kept trying to wait for a good time to take a vacation. Guess what? There’s never a good time. Stop waiting to see if things will slow down between projects. It won’t, there’s always another one on the horizon. I learned that you need to just plan something, and then do it. Take the time off. Tell folks you won’t be available. The more you do it, the more you learn how good it is for yourself to truly disconnect, and get away. If you have a lot of leave, take 2 weeks at once. If you take one week, you’ve barely gotten a chance to relax before it’s time to come back and get back into it. Two weeks really allows you to disconnect, reset, and reboot. The more you do it, the more comfortable you feel with being off the grid workwise. And yes, there’s a lot to deal with when you get back, even when people are covering for you. The first day back, I’m pretty much catching up all day. But it’s so worth it to try to make it happen. I know this all sounds pie in the sky, but I’ve been where you are, and I’m telling you it’s possible. Very thankful to now have a boss who encourages us to get away for a while.

    1. sacados*

      This exactly. If there’s never going to be a “good” time, that just means you decide when you want to take time off, and then as long as it’s far enough in advance you just use that time to prep everything and make sure it happens.

    2. sofar*

      Agreed. There is never a “good time.” The more time I’ve spent in the working world, the more I’ve come to appreciate the tactic of requesting time off and then booking the trip. That way, it can’t be moved, and people will cope somehow.

    3. boop the first*

      Indeed! My husband is this type of person. He has a LARGE amount of vacation time and insists on using all of it, so he’ll just start working 4-day-weeks whenever, or he will take an entire month off just to play a newly released video game, and he is often the person who stays home to wait for repair people during that annoying 8-hour window of possibility.

      I don’t even have good or important jobs and I take a week off maybe every 3-6 years? I don’t see dentists or doctors, I don’t register for community events, I don’t get sick, and I don’t experience life at all. Even though, like you say, I could just…. stop working. If I already hate every job, what does it matter if I accidentally make myself redundant?

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    I get great vacation leave and my bosses support it and take vacations themselves. My big boss even reminded me to not be on email while I was on vacation. I wasn’t…mostly. My anxiety comes from having some fire that needs to be dealt with. It’s all anxiety and probably some PTSD from crazy bosses. I do turn off my email on my phone and take a laptop. I limit myself to 5 minutes a day. Strangely enough, the only place I don’t check email is Disney vacations. I’m not wasting precious luggage weight on a laptop or battery/data usage. Plus you run all day and there really isn’t time. Regular vacations though. I’m really trying to get better.

    All that hoarded leave did come in handy when my son was born. I took off 2 weeks prior to his birth and then 14 weeks after. Still had leave when I got back to work. So there’s that. My BIL works for a international company and HAS to take two weeks off at a time. #jelly

    1. nonymous*

      My new supervisor has a habit of checking email frequently when she is off the clock and pushing others to move up their deadlines. She doesn’t directly asked for others to work off the clock, but she definitely uses body language to communicate her impatience AND does not take any ownership of having to delay other stuff because she has decided something new is priority. So she’ll tell me that item C is of highest priority and then when I point out that A & B are ahead of it in line – is she okay with delaying those? – she will claim that she didn’t give me a hard deadline (but won’t say either way whether A&B should be delayed). Sigh.

  23. Coldbrewinacup*

    I’m lucky to get 16 days off a year.
    We have no paid sick leave
    We are not allowed time off at Christmas other than Christmas Day (and no, I don’t work retail)
    Consequently, coworkers come in sick constantly because they don’t want to use PTO and get the rest of us sick… but since I try not to be a jerk, I use my PTO and stay home–which means I get less.

    My company also doesn’t give you PTO. You have to earn it with hours worked. They tell you upon hire you have 16 days, but if you quit your job while you are in a “negative” PTO balance, they will take your last check to recover the money paid while you were out. So basically there is no PTO.

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      Vacation and sick time as accrued benefits is a pretty common practice. You can earn “up to” 16 hours your first year, etc etc. That’s why a lot of companies don’t let you take vacation or sick until 90 days or whatever – usually however long it takes to actually accrue that much.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        My employee handbook says new hires aren’t allowed to take vacation within the first six months of hire unless given express approval by management for something requiring extenuating circumstances. At first, I balked at that, but then remembered I accrue vacation again (my last job, you were given your time upfront – no accrual necessary) and wouldn’t have a substantial amount of vacation time saved at that point anyway (I accrue 10 hours per month). By the time I can take vacation in November, I’ll have a week, two days, and some hours banked, which I’ll probably just roll over to next year.

    2. ACDC*

      Unless I’m misunderstanding what you are saying, this sounds like a very standard accrual PTO system, which is pretty much standard.

    3. MoopySwarpet*

      PTO/vacation accrual is pretty common. They don’t just “give” it to you, you earn it. That’s part of the reason it has to be paid out when you leave. I think the majority of companies don’t even let you go negative on your PTO.

      I don’t see how you’re getting less. 16 days isn’t horrible. That’s 2 weeks vacation and 6 days sick. Granted, you do have to work for almost 4 months before you can take a full week off.

      I’ve worked for companies that did not allow any vacation time in the first full year, and it’s not off the charts uncommon.

      Your co-workers are jerks, but you’re probably healthier overall for actually taking the time to recover, which means you’re enjoying your evenings and weekends while they are spending that time recovering or getting sick again because their immune system is shot. So, really, they are getting less time off and healthy than you are.

      1. Quad front*

        My last job, if you quit or was fired you would lose all your accumulated PTO, I’m not kidding.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          That’s not uncommon. Some companies have a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy which means you don’t get paid out if you leave. I worked for a company that switched to that type of policy after years of having separate leave buckets, and I only got paid out because I left before the switch-over.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            This. A lot of companies in my area don’t pay out vacation when you leave – I worked at one unicorn of a company that paid it out, but only up to five days.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that it’s required to pay out – California requires payout of all vacation time, considering accrued unused vacation time to be “earned wages” that you just haven’t been paid yet, so they’re owed upon termination.

            But I have a friend who lives in Georgia and got laid off when his company closed a few years ago, and they didn’t pay out a dime. He’d been there for 15 years and had a couple hundred hours banked, and it just…vanished.

        2. lnelson in Tysons*

          If in the US many states do not require a pay out upon separation. So if the employer works you hard, and no time if taken off. You might have earned say 10 days of vacation/PTO, but if you leave, you won’t get it paid out.
          One place I worked did have a use it or lose it. In the last two weeks of “using it before losing it” only about 1/3 of the people were in the office so they wouldn’t lose their vacation time.

  24. Mel*

    I’m fortunate to have always worked for companies that really wanted us to use all our vacation time. At the smallest one there were some restroom on when (ultra busy times were a no-go) but they would have been horrified if I didn’t use it all.

  25. What day is today?*

    Just last night I was struck by this part of a novel I’m reading, Donna Leon’s Unto Us A Son Is Given. Would that we all were the subject of this experience:

    About an hour later Signorina Elettra [the secretary] came into Brunetti’s [the protagonist, a police commissioner in Venice] office to say goodbye. He lacked the courage to ask her where she was going and contented himself with nothing more than to wish her ‘Buone vacanze’ [happy holidays]. She failed to even suggest she’d be in touch during the next three weeks, and he did not even presume to ask if she would be reachable by SMS.

    And 3 weeks later:

    Monday morning brought the return of Signorina Elettra Zorzi to the Questura. There was no panoply, no trumpets sounded from the windows as she stepped from Foa’s launch…. The armed officers failed to raise their pistols and fire off a celebratory round or two when she walked through the front door.

    There was, however, general rejoicing to be observed, had one the eye to detect it…. No one threw palm fronds on the ground at her feet, but surely the sight of such a display would have surprised no one.

  26. Searching*

    When I visit my relatives in Europe, it’s not uncommon to see signs on smaller shops or restaurants stating they are closed for 2, 3, or 4 weeks because they are on vacation. Yes, they shut down their entire business for vacation. Vacation is that important. It boggles the American mind.

    1. Booksalot*

      It’s common in my area for little pizza/deli shops to close and the owners to return to Italy for the summer. The issue is that they don’t communicate their schedules, just post something vague like “Closed for Vacation”. People try to stop by and find them closed, then get pissy about the lack of firm return date and stop going for a month or two. Business doesn’t pick up again until later in the fall, when people forget they were aggravated.

      I guess it doesn’t hurt their bottom line that badly, since they keep doing it every year.

      1. Allez, les citoyens*

        It’s the restaurant business. Of course it hurts their bottom line; it’s just that they are small mom-and-pop joints that don’t care. Bear in mind that if the restaurant is closed, anyone who works there isn’t getting paid. This is where “be careful what you wish for” is apt.

    2. Koala dreams*

      That’s normal, especially if it’s a lunch restaurant or coffee shop that mostly caters to people working. If the offices or factories around you close for summer vacation, you won’t have as many lunch customers as usual so it’s the best time to close. Sometimes there are employees who then are required to take those same weeks as vacation.

  27. Rebecca*

    It seems like many workplaces here in the US are staffed to bare minimum – it’s always so difficult to take any real time off without coming back to an email avalanche, multiple unresolved work issues, because the poor coworker doing double duty trying to do his own work and cover for someone else is overwhelmed, or he has an emergency, and on and on. I am much more fortunate than many (6 paid holidays, 5 PTO days and 20 vacation days per year). I take every minute, as none of it carries over. I usually end up taking 2 5 day stretches per year, one in the summer, and more days during Christmas, but the rest of the time is a day or half day, here and there, as I can fit it in. I just dread coming back to a backlog that will take 2 stressful weeks to clear.

    1. Nonny Maus*

      A lot of companies are minimally staffed–and in many industries that isn’t a bug, but a feature. (Food Service and Retail come to mind.) Some of it is the constant need to ‘maximize-profits’ over everything else, along with the disposable nature of the work (or so it seems).

      I spent most of July sick with something that required antibiotics–which always wreck me hard. I’m Temping currently, and so don’t get sick-leave–but my contracts were like “no, please stay home and get better” compared to some of my old jobs which were like “how soon are you allowed to come back?” in the sense of I was ‘not contagious but not well’.

      1. nonymous*

        When we had people switch to remote work it was sold to upper management that a feature was going to be fewer sick days from remote workers. One of the supervisors would even call remote employees “tele-slackers” to their face.

        1. Nonny Maus*

          >.< Ah yes, the old "If I can't see the butts in the seat, they must not be working!" Approach.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Yes, when I worked at the tax place, it was “if you’re sick STAY THE F HOME!’ and anybody who screwed that up was sent home (our slogan was from MONSTERS V. ALIENS, “Beware of the Susan”).

  28. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    I am lucky that on my team/at my company we are encouraged to take time off, and we really try to pitch in to make sure people’s duties are covered while they’re out. There’s always going to be some of the post-vacation catch up, but we really do try to minimize – especially for anything time sensitive.

  29. blink14*

    It’s very much a Catch-22 experience. Not taking the time off, or working tons of hours before and after has set up this cyclical work environment where many people feel they are running a marathon with work biting at their heels. Take time off and you’ve fallen and are trampled by work. Taking time off sets up a lot anxiety about coming back to work – you get ahead before you leave if you can, and then you come back to tons of emails, assignments, etc.

    The true issue is that many people believe that in order to succeed in a career, get promoted, a better schedule or shift, etc, you can’t take time off and you must be available at all times. This believe trickles upward into management, and there’s this constant cycle of feeling like you can’t take even a day off because it’ll be frowned up and your work ethic is questioned.

    I’m in a position where I accrue a lot of vacation time by US standards, and an unusually high amount of sick time, and I’m not a level where it’s expected to be checking email and making calls while on vacation. But many people at my level are doing that, and I do see some of them promoted. At the end of the day, work/life balance is more important to me than being promoted. I fully intend to take all of my vacation time, a regular lunch break, and not check email after I leave the office, and if I can’t do that in a higher position, then I’m not really interested in that position’s level of work dedication.

    1. Windchime*

      That’s how I feel, too. Many of my peers get their work email on their phones; I have not done that because there is nothing that any of us gets that is so time sensitive that we must reply immediately during after-hours. When I go home, I am home. I don’t log in (unless it’s part of my regular on-call rotation) and I don’t check emails. If a coworker needs me, they can text me and I’m happy to answer. But there is zero expectation for any of us is to check emails on vacation; fortunately, we have the types of jobs that our work can wait for us to get back and it doesn’t pile up too bad.

      The older I am, the less interested I am in killing myself or my health over a job. I will work hard while I’m there. I will be kind and professional and hard-working, but I won’t sacrifice my life to a place that will just replace me with another cog in the wheel when I finally crash and burn.

  30. librarian without an itinerary*

    Surprised no one is mentioning being able to afford a vacation! Just because you have paid vacation in your compensation package doesn’t mean you’re also paid enough to be able to do anything with it. My colleagues that do it are the ones that have significant others with much better paying jobs. Sigh

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      I take a lot of stay-cations. I can’t afford to go on trips, so I just tool around my house and take care of things that I’ve been putting off. Or read. I’ll take days off just to laze about the house and read. Much more recharging than trips!

      1. Angry with numbers*

        I get more vacation than my husband, after our family trips and other planned days around the holidays, I still have 5 days I have to burn before the end of the year. I just start taking random days and take our daughter who is 1 on little adventures to local places that are crowded on the weekends.

      2. DJ*

        I love stay-cations. Trips are exhausting. I mean if I have the money and time, I’d love to go somewhere, but since I don’t, I’d rather take a week off and chill at home. I end up feeling more rested, plus I can catch up on work at home while still getting plenty of time to read/play video games and get some quality sleep.

        My favorite is to save as much as I can and take off for a week (sometimes more) around the winter holidays just because I love that time of year and my office is generally pretty slow around then so there’s not going to be massive amounts of work to catch up on when I get back.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      “Vacation” in this context doesn’t mean “travel.” It can mean just taking a day off to sleep in or read a book or go to a museum or go to a movie. I used to take two days off every fall to go to movies and yoga classes during the day when they were much less crowded, because I was pretty broke and couldn’t afford to actually travel somewhere fun. It was just as relaxing– probably even more, because it felt so decadent to go to a movie on a Monday afternoon.

      1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

        I save 2 vacation days every year for a spa/sauna day in February/March and October/November (basically whenever the weather is REALLY bad). It’s amazing.

      2. The Original K.*

        Right! Just take the time. I worked somewhere that was generous with PTO and I mostly frittered it away. I used to like to break up the week by taking a random Wednesday off. Sometimes I’d take long weekends. Sometimes I’d use them to play “tourist in my city,” but sometimes I’d use them to clean the house or go to the movies or go on a long bike ride or just get all my errands out of the way. You’re not required to do Big Important Things just because you take time off.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I need to take my own advice, too. I have plenty of leave before the end of the year and just moved to a new city and I really want to visit a very popular museum. All I really need to do is take a morning off.

          1. The Original K.*

            That sounds lovely. When I worked at that employer, I remember using one of those PTO days to go see an exhibit at a museum – I remembered that the exhibit was leaving soon and knew it would be crowded on the last weekend before it left, so I took a day and went to see it during the week.

            Traditionally I took a week at Christmas (the company was open but its clients were closed so there was nothing to do), a week or a week-plus at summer (in which I would usually travel), and then fritter away the rest a day or two at a time. One guy there liked to work between Christmas and New Year’s and he reserved all his time for summer because his wife was a teacher so she was off then. He took a lot of summer Fridays off.

      3. Windchime*

        Yeah, I’m actually taking a stay-cation day today. I had a personal event that took place over the weekend and I knew I wouldn’t want to go to work today, so I took it off. I love having a long weekend for no particular reason. It’s afternoon now; I may take a nap and I have a little sewing project I’d like to work on.

    3. Ali G*

      This reminds me of when I was early on in my career and went to Europe for work fairly often (3-4 times per year). I was just out of grad school and dirt poor living in a high COL area on a non-profit, entry level salary (and yes! student loans). So while I had free plane tickets and technically time off, I just couldn’t afford to foot the added cost of tacking on a personal trip. Of course, when I finally got to the point where I could afford it, I didn’t have time to tack on a personal trip because my job was so crazy.
      I’m lucky to now work at a place that has a generous leave policy, and let’s you use it an unplug. None of my co-workers that go on vacation work while on vacation. I am taking my first real vacation in 5 years later this month and it will be so awesome to actually ignore work for 10 days.

    4. fposte*

      I think we’re mostly just talking about the ability to take the time off in the first place.

    5. Jadelyn*

      Using one’s PTO doesn’t require going anywhere. I’m very open with my coworkers that most of the time, for me, “taking a vacation” just means “sitting at home playing video games”. Sometimes I use it to get big projects done around the house, like repainting rooms and stuff that I don’t want to use up a whole weekend doing (I get very cranky when I have to go back to work on Monday feeling like I didn’t really get a weekend because I was busy working on things the whole time).

  31. Lucette Kensack*

    I have the best possible situation for vacation time — plenty of PTO, a thoughtful boss who encourages time off, a reasonable workload — and it’s still so hard to take the time. Because it’s not like anything slows down while I’m away; going on vacation just means that I do more work the weeks before or after, not that I actually get less done.

  32. Didi*

    I have never had trouble taking time off from any job I have ever had – and I have been in the working world for almost 30 years. I see people I work with having anxiety about taking time off, and we’re doing similar jobs. There’s no way that they are insanely swamped and regretful when they return, and I am not. We all work in the same culture.

    The secret comes down to:
    – letting people know a few weeks before your vacation that you will be out on X days
    – telling people when you will get back to them (after you return)
    – reminding people that you will not be checking email or attending meetings while you are out
    – using an out of office message on email and telling people to call you on the phone to deal with issues if it’s an emergency (no one EVER calls)

    Also, people need to adjust their own attitudes:
    – your office is not going to fall to pieces because you are out of the office.
    – if you cannot manage your time, that’s on you. Learn how to prioritize, say no, delegate and simplify

    1. Moocowcat*

      I feel your perspective on taking time off! In a functional workplace, these points work very well. Sometimes you just have to schedule time off and then plan responsibly. One thing that I’ve had to learn is to step away and trust that the covering worker will competently handle things. In the vast majority of cases, everything does work out. And as long as no clients are literally on fire, mistakes can be corrected.

  33. Alice*

    Love that this is the question today. I work at a small nonprofit with a time sensitive mission, particularly for certain goals. My boss encouraged me to take time off, and I know other people are doing it too (especially because it’s not too busy right now ). But maybe this is the bane of non profits – I feel like I shouldn’t take a week off and should at least still check in and the work were doing is important etc etc

  34. cactus lady*

    My biggest struggle is that my boss will always OK my vacation time (as long as I have the hours accrued and it doesn’t interfere with deadlines), but then when I am away, boss will actively prevent people from covering for me (as in, sending emails to clients saying “cactus lady will take care of this when she gets back”, ordering my assistant to not work on my projects while I am away, etc), so I come back to… a huge pile of work. Every. Single. Time. I still take my vacations though. I try not to accrue any vacation time without having a plan for it. I think I’m the only one in the office like this, though. Maybe that’s why boss acts this way?

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Your boss sucks for that. If there are other people in your office who can help you out while you’re gone, your boss should have them do it.

    2. seller of teapots*

      Is this something you can talk to your boss about? Is it a chance they are responding that way because *they’d* like to handle vacation work that way, and not realizing it’s not how you’d prefer to operate?

  35. Anonvetstudent*

    Vacation and time off is part of the reason I changed my mind about my ultimate career goals! I’m in vet school, and what I originally was really interested in was a speciality with long hours and almost no time off plus a lot of extra time spent in internships and residencies.
    Then I learned that *because* burnout is so prevalent in emergency vet med (a secondary interest) lots of clinics decided to remedy the problem by…hiring more staff to cut hours, offering 4 day on 4 day off schedules (an example), and generally offering more time off than most general practices. Since it’s emerfenxy it’s 24/7/365, so they realized the only way to give their staff better benefits in terms of time off was to hire more people! So now that’s where I’m leaning towards going. I’ll still have to do my 4th year which is May-May of 60-80 hour weeks with 2 weeks of vacation and either Christmas or New Years off, and probably a year of internship which is 60+ hour weeks at a lower pay than my grads who don’t, but eventually itll be worth it!

  36. Luke*

    At a previous employer, my department director made it passive-aggressively clear PTO use would be frowned upon. Nothing official mind you- the organization as a whole promoted time off useage. But our Director looked down his nose at any staff member who dared use more then 5 days at a time. He also complained about taking compliance leave- a mandatory action for that business.

    So my teams reward for taking time off was a pile of unfinished work plus the stink eye from the boss come review time or promotion consideration. It will surprise many (/s) that his Dept suffered from frequently sick employees and high turnover. Being a manager now , most of my list of “things ill never do to my people EVER” came from that employer.

  37. DizzyLizzy*

    At my previous job, I had several responsibilities where I was the only one who did them, so I was told to write detailed instructions and train specific teammates on specific tasks. That meant if I wanted to take off I could only do so if *all three teammates* who were trained on various tasks were available to do them (i.e. they were in the office that day, did not have meetings, did not have urgent projects, etc.). There was really only one task that absolutely had to be done every morning and there were no consequences to putting off the rest for a day, so this was very annoying and it was hard to take off for more than a day at a time. I had to log in for an hour or two or more sometimes on my “day off” to get the tasks done since no one else was available for them. My supervisor wasn’t flexible about it at all, and then would remind me I needed to use up my vacation days at the end of the year since they don’t roll over.

  38. Kyrielle*

    I once had a boss who was disturbed that I had taken almost six weeks off (vacation and sick combined) in the preceding 12 months.

    Four of those six weeks were my summer vacation that year, and my summer vacation the previous year, because we took our big vacation earlier in the year that year than the one before.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      If you have a company where all the worker bees get zero vacation, zero sick days, and 5 PTO (which don’t roll over), it doesn’t take math genius to figure out how the money rolls in.

      It’s worse at non degree needing jobs, because workers are treated like you are making hamburger. So someone quits? Any warm body that can do the work marginally will do.

      My sister’s company offers no paid maternity leave. She had to hoard any paid days off she could. 6 weeks non paid maternity, and 3 weeks out of her PTO.

      No one really did her job while she was gone. Her first day back she sobbed at her desk because of things that were half done or flat out ignored.

  39. RMNPgirl*

    One of the reasons I love my company is we have a great PTO policy. We’re a non profit so the benefits make up for not having as much for pay (although the pay is good and we have been able to do raises the last few years.
    We start off getting 27 days a year and every 5 years of service you get an additional 5 days. After 15 years, you max out at 42 days a year. Of course, taking that much is really difficult so there are a couple options. Anything over a year’s worth will roll into an illness bank which can be useful to have, but doesn’t get paid out if you leave. The other option is the but down each fall. You can ask for a payout of excess PTO as long as you don’t go below 40 hours in your bank and have taken 80 hours in the past 12 months. It’s a nice way to force people to at least take a total of 2 weeks off.

  40. IrishEm*

    4 weeks is the EU standard and I really don’t understand why elsewhere in the world that this is not the case. In my place we are obliged to take two full weeks in order to not burn out. I’ve taken two full weeks, and some odd days here and there, and I still have 11.5 days to take before year’s end. The Irish Trade Unions are very strongly working to improve holiday leave time – my entitlement went from 21 days to 23 just this year (as someone new to the co.) and the longer I remain with them the more days entitlement I’ll earn as part of loyalty retention packages. In my first job I went from 25 days to 29 before I left for college.

    All the above to say that for the sake of my physical and mental wellbeing I could not live by the American way, and I do not understand why it is so widely accepted – especially given the amount of sick days needed for people to deal with stress and burnout. Time off work – time AWAY FROM work (including emails, etc.) is an absolute necessity. I’ve been approached by an American company with their EMEA HQ inDublin and I’m worried that taking holiday entitlements may be treated the American way (i.e. with scorn, as in Alison’s article) if I were to take a position with them, despite the fact that EU regulations and Irish labour laws apply.

    If it’s culturally ingrained that “good workers don’t take time off” then I’d burn out in a month. I can’t move jobs to a company where I’d be actively discouraged from making use of the benefits package in full. I genuinely don’t get why that’s even an attitude held by anyone, everyone needs to decompress, if a company’s profitability is based on staff not actually using their benefits then they are not actually profitable, imo.

    1. Nonny Maus*

      Honestly? I live in and work in the US and it doesn’t make sense. All I can fathom that might explain it is that Capitalism requires you to view your workers not as humans, but as replaceable and disposable. Along with a shift away from longer-term and more stable profit-growing/sustaining to a focus on Short-term-Profitability/get all that you can NOWNOWNOW!

      This also assumes that one works in industries where time off IS granted or paid for. For many of us it’s “Day off? Don’t make money.” Get sick? Do you go to work and make money, or lose money and go to a doctor and have to pay for copay/medicines.

      I’m taking a simplistic view on it, to be honest–but it’s incredibly disheartening.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        “Capitalism requires you to view your workers not as humans, but as replaceable and disposable.”

        That and laws that favor business interests over that of the individual. Big money (corporations) control the politicians, who control the laws.

      2. Someone commenting*

        It’s seeing workers as human capital. In the US, a burnt out associate can have a nervous breakdown and quit due to overworking on monday, I can deny their unemployment claim on tuesday, casually call any one of the decent fits from the last interview in on wednesday, and have them start on friday.

        Why time off when you can have a new employee instead?

        (I realize this is a horrendous practice that needs to be stopped, but that is how it is)

    2. Luke*

      A problem is the topic of “measurability”. We have a lot of metrics in the business performance world- but we also don’t have ones on subjects which matter for business success. Like overall employee well being in terms of vacation time used. Since attaching company performance to PTO used isn’t a direct metric, employee well being cannot be numerically quantified as a direct profit benefit (even though basic logic and observable fact proves the point).

      Unfortunately the direct & indirect business cost of used PTO is all too easy to compute, and without direct profit increase data on the other side many managers view PTO as a mandated expense without a business benefit.

      1. IrishEm*

        I suppose the difficulty in quantifying wellbeing does mean that if the results are not obvious then they can be read to be nonexistent, which seems to be the case with companies viewing annual leave as a perk rather than a requirement and burnout/stress difficult to identify.

        I was going to add something else but my dog is now pestering me and I’ve lost my train of thought. Good night!

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      I’ve been approached by an American company with their EMEA HQ inDublin and I’m worried that taking holiday entitlements may be treated the American way (i.e. with scorn, as in Alison’s article) if I were to take a position with them, despite the fact that EU regulations and Irish labour laws apply.

      My American company’s European headquarters are there, but my European colleagues take at least two weeks off at a time, which is not standard for the U.S. (standard for us is usually one week at a time). I think you would be fine unless you had a manager that frowned upon it – I really think these kinds of things end up being manager-specific. Like, my grandboss has told all of us to take our time and not to log in while on vacation, so my direct manager (who usually logs on and works when she’s “off”) didn’t during her current vacation because he explicitly told her not to. When she had a different manager, however, that manager expected that she’d still be available to answer questions. So as long as management understands the necessity of breaks, I think you will be fine.

      1. IrishEm*

        That’s a relief. Not really looking right now, but with so many big US companies on our shores it’s probably inevitable I’ll end up in one at some point.

    4. blink14*

      To flip this around, the company my dad works for was bought out by a Germany company about 15 years ago. Status quo on the American side remained, same PTO policies, but the German company respected the American holidays and rearranged deadlines around them.

      The German company was bought by a French company 5-6 years ago, and the American worker experience has continued to spiral downward. My dad has at least 6 weeks in vacation time “off the books”, regularly works major American holidays to meet deadlines set forth by the French headquarters, and now can’t even hire a replacement for the manager below him, because by the company’s policy, he has enough man power (he’d need like 5 people to really have enough employees under him). Meanwhile, all of the European offices in this company get their company’s holidays off, no questions asked, their vacation time in full, etc.

      What this comes down to is that many European countries have nationwide laws in place to protect employees’ time off, sick time, etc. The US is far behind, and state by state there are huge variances on what laws are in place. This allows American companies and foreign companies with American offices to offer really poor benefits or not be made to enforce those benefits.

      1. IrishEm*

        That sucks so much! I think you’re right that European countries have directives and regulatory bodies in place to protect the holiday and PTO entitlements once companies are based in Europe, it’s a shame that it’s not transferring across (by osmosis, maybe?).

  41. QuestJen*

    When I took my current job, I was told “You get 21 days off to start!”, which was the amount of vacation time I got at my previous job after 5 years tenure, so I was like “well, sounds comparable.” Except it didn’t occur to me that it’s given as PTO — a lump sum for both vacation AND sick time. So whereas my last job was 21 days vacation + 10 sick, this job is solely 21 days for all of that combined.


    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Oh, man, I hear that. I once took a job that offered me slightly less vacation than the job I was leaving but I was willing to cut back. Then I realized that I was also losing three personal days, one random day they gave people for certain circumstances (like moving), summer Fridays… it sucked.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I really miss summer Fridays too. Getting to leave at 3pm (or earlier) every week was lovely.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          We had an even better deal, because our department required all-day coverage– instead of leaving early every Friday, we rotated Fridays off. It was so nice, especially when I was really junior and had no days and wanted to go on a two-week tour. I was only able to make it work because I could take off two summer Fridays in a row. I didn’t know how good I had it!

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            That does sound great! I would be using those “off” Fridays to do laps in my pool or sit outside and read a book.

  42. Happy finally now my shoe fits*

    I was made to feel guilty if I took a vacation, or even a few days off. I was required to find a replacement for my cases, as I’m a case manager social worker. One year I did find a replacement, and she agreed to take over my cases. So, I booked my non-refundable airfare and hotel, and then the worker decided to cancel on me. I was told then if I couldn’t find another replacement I’d have to cancel my vacation. Needless to say, I could not find a replacement and was terminated from my job.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Wow! Your manager couldn’t even step in here to help you out just that once?! That sucks.

      1. Happy finally now my shoe fits*

        No, manager also had PTO at the same time. I’m at peace now. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

  43. Maestra*

    I’m a teacher in the U.S. on a traditional calendar. Because school is not in session for two summer months, I now receive just three days of personal leave each year. The reasoning is that we should save all our vacations for the summer, but life just doesn’t work that way. Several weddings to attend during the school year? Pick one or two. Family reunion? Better be in the summer. Want to attend a field trip with my child who attends another school? Not enough leave time. I’m a little frustrated because all my family gatherings/vacations now take place without me since it’s unreasonable to plan everything around my schedule.

    1. Kimmybear*

      I come from a family of teachers so it took me a long time for them to get that I couldn’t just drop everything in the summer and visit. Also took me a while to learn that you can take September vacations

    2. Jerusha*

      My husband teaches high school, and he gets five days. This had led to lovely things like him not being able to come with me to my grandfather’s funeral out of state, because he couldn’t afford the time off. Gee, I’m so sorry my grandfather died at a time that was inconvenient for the academic year. Or having to forego a planned long weekend, because he chose (!) to take the day off work to be at the hospital the day I had my gallbladder removed. I likewise regret that my gallbladder didn’t consult the academic calendar before blowing up like a balloon.

      1. Lady Librarian*

        I really love having the summers off, but:
        1) yep only 3 days during the year
        2) if school ends around June 20th (northerner here) the minute August 1 rolls around you’re spending most of your time planning, shopping for supplies, fixing up/organizing your room, attending mandatory PD, etc.
        3) you will probably attend conferences (that you pay for yourself) to keep up your required PD hours
        4) and all this is IN ADDITION to the summer job you might have and/or kids and/or other family obligations
        So it’s not really summers off, but yes we DO get an enforced, unavoidable break. It’s a really huge benefit and one that everybody should have.

        (I have a US friend working in the UK now and he LOVES it, he takes weekend trips with his family all the time and it looks like he never works. He does. He just works 40 hours and then stops. LIKE EVERYONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO.)

  44. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    This is why employers should not plan to have any employee or department running at more than 90% efficiency – the “slack” covers a reasonable amount of vacation and sick absence, not to mention any vacancies caused by career progression.

    We can dream…

    1. banzo_bean*

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to convice your boss you need the time when you’re booked to 120% capacity.

  45. Baska*

    I’m the office manager for a small Canadian non-profit. While we have other staff, none of them really deal with admin stuff. So if I’m not here, the payroll doesn’t get processed, cheques don’t get written, deposits don’t get made, etc. I *could* take time off if we were willing to let all that stuff pile up and/or if I cross-trained someone on the most time-sensitive stuff (like payroll), but honestly I find it far more relaxing to use my vacation days so I have Fridays off all summer. Three-days weekends for two and a half months is way more relaxing to me than a two-week vacation, because it means nothing ever piles up too much, BUT I still get the benefit of some time off.

  46. CM*

    My job is actually great about this. I’m not expected to do work on vacation except a quick check-in on urgent matters (a few minutes of email a day) and when I come back people expect that it may take a few days for me to catch up and don’t expect me to take care of their thing immediately. I think the second part is key — people need to leave you alone and expect you to be in catch-up mode for a while after you return.

  47. Ahoytheship*

    I used to be in a role where if I was out for 1-2 days, I had to have someone back me up and review my emails.
    Out for 3 or more, and I had to have TWO backups.
    And even then, I remember going away for a calendar week once (so the typical Mon-Fri) and coming back to over 500 emails in my inbox. ::faints::
    And you’re expected to jump right in at start time the next working day, no time to go through that clusterfudge.
    Taught me to always have a buffer day before going back to work so I could spend a few hours going through my inbox before coming in the next morning.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      500 emails?! The most I ever came back to was 50 when I already had 50 in the box, and since most of them were just asking for status or copying me in on other people’s messages, I just deleted them.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I just today got back from 2 weeks off and had about 300 emails in my inbox. Which really wasn’t bad, considering, and I was able to clear a lot of them out using the “clean up conversation” function in Outlook.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Wow – I would still delete them, lol. “Oh my, Outlook malfunctioned again. Sad.”

  48. NW Mossy*

    A few years ago, I had something of an epiphany that’s helped me a lot in really being able to disconnect from work – it was finally, really, GETTING IT that email is not the same thing as work. I read somewhere that “email is a to-do list other people put things on,” and that really resonated. I realized that I was fitting my priorities in around other people’s emails, rather than the other way around. I’m still a work in progress on not getting sidetracked (especially when the topic sparks my desire to research), but just knowing how vulnerable I am to taking on weight that’s not my responsibility to shoulder has helped a lot.

    Now, I spend a lot less time on email when I come back from vacation – a cursory skim for most things is more than enough, and the list of things that truly still warrant my time and attention rarely exceeds 20. The overall volume hasn’t changed that much, but my threshold for “this still matters enough to act on” is much higher. Today, I’m practicing for my upcoming out-of-range vacation by nudging correspondents to the right area (“so-and-so is the right person to weigh in on that!”) and making vigorous use of my delete button.

    1. I edit everything*

      I love that idea, and it works well for me, come to think of it. I do tend to avoid email when I’m in the middle of Getting Something Done, and it has made a big difference.

  49. Semaj*

    I just put in a request for two full weeks off for my wedding/honeymoon! I’m thrilled to be taking the time off (I’ve never taken more than a week at a time), but I definitely felt nervous about it even though this is part of the compensation package.

  50. I edit everything*

    Then there’s the freelance life. You don’t want to turn down any work, for fear of more not coming, and if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. And God forbid a project reach you late. I’m scheduled to take a week off next week, but the edit I’d planned to have finished this Thursday hasn’t even reached me yet. It’s due next Friday, so if I don’t finish it this week, it’ll either be late (GAH!) or I’ll spend vacation editing while hubs and kid hike, swim, etc.

    1. Nonny Maus*

      Freelancing and Independent Contracting, along with Food Service and Retail.

      I know this fear and anxiety well. Good luck, and I hope you get to spend time with hubs and kid without work!

  51. seller of teapots*

    This is timely because I need to take some vaca before we hit our no-vaca-busy-season, and I’m feeling guilty about it.

    1. seller of teapots*

      Aaaand this prompted me to talk to my boss about the issue, and he was like “Yes please take your vacation! I need you rested before things really get crazy.”He did ask me to check my email/slack once each day while I take time off, in case there’s a crisis, and that seems like a perfectly fair deal considering the time of year.

  52. Jake*

    Vacation tends to just mean long hours before and after to deal with the mountain of backlog that everyone claims they will cover and then doesn’t. At least, for me.

    Hell, my wife gave birth and it took an act of Congress for me to take 3 days off. It’s sad in the construction industry.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      My sister’s “punishment” for her 9 weeks mostly unpaid maternity leave, was literally nothing being done until she returned.

  53. MsChanandlerBong*

    This is probably what I hate most about my job. We get 10 PTO days per year. If we got 10 vacation days and then five or 10 sick/personal days, it would be fine. But the PTO includes sick, vacation, and personal. I went two years with no real break because I used up all my PTO on having a heart attack and then going to all the follow-up medical appointments when I got out of the hospital. We also have no paid holidays. If I want to take the day off to be with family, I can, but I won’t get any pay. On top of all that, we have peak periods that run from September through December and March through mid-June. Even if I had enough days left for a vacation, that leaves the cold temps and potential snow-related delays/travel problems in December January or the hot temps and humidity of July and August.

  54. BurnOutCandidate*

    This year I was able to string four vacation days in a row together. The last time I’d been able to string two together was in 2012.

    I have literally no one to cover my work, and I have daily deadlines. That makes taking any sort of vacation time impossible. I took a day last September and was berated for it afterwards because I decided a deadline could be pushed back a day.

    With the way the schedule worked out this year, I was able to get a couple of days together. Hopefully, it’s not another seven years until I can take more than two days off in a row.

    My bosses don’t understand why I’m tired and miserable all of the time. It’s because I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I have enough banked sink and vacation time to take three straight months off, and I have asked for a sabbatical, but then it loops back to there’s no one to cover my work, there’s no one with the high level Word and Excel skills my work needs, etc., etc.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      And if you quit, die, or win the lottery, your bosses will have to figure out how to get the work done. And they will. So take a vacation.

      That daily work that has to be done – make sure it’s well documented, and ask your boss who can be trained to do it while you’re on vacation. No-one is available to cover your work, because they’ve got you convinced that you’re the only one who can do it, that you can’t take a vacation because it’s got to be done.

      But you are tired and miserable, and you need that vacation. You are owed that vacation – that time off is part of your compensation package.

      “I need a vacation or I need to quit, and I’d rather not quit. So let’s figure out how I can take a vacation, and it needs to be within the next 3 months and for at least a full week.” Give them a reason and a timeline, and then – take a vacation!

    2. Koala dreams*

      Can you take some sick time at least, so you can rest? Put your phone on flight mode after calling in sick so your employer can’t nag you.
      If your work is that important, your employer should treat you better, not worse. They are doing it all wrong.

  55. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    My experience is that, if you take time off, you will come back to find someone has meddled with or otherwise sabotaged your work, and you now have to spend weeks undoing the damage. Of course they were rude to an important business partner jeopardizing the relationship, booked an important event without securing a location to host it or staff to work it, placed an expensive order of something unnecessary with your tight department funds, and suspended one of your employees for not smiling enough and she’s already got another job offer by the time you get back.

    Yes, vacation is SO relaxing.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      Are you my sister? That exactly what happens to her.

      Make it so miserable, you’ll never take time off.

  56. Quinalla*

    I find I do better when I have a longer vacation, when it is at least a week, I completely unplug and am only available for emergencies (which is reasonable for my level). When I’m gone for a day or a few days, that’s when I have a hard time unplugging as it is often feels easier to just check email once or twice a day to keep up with what is going on. I’m trying to stop doing that as it is better to unplug and to set the example of unplugging for others. I was heartened to see some of our C-suite taking real vacations this summer and explicitly stating it, makes it easier for others to feel they can too!

  57. EH*

    I’m currently working for a unicorn tech company in the US – we get two weeks vacation, nine days sick leave, a bunch of paid holidays , and – if you’re here long enough – you get a sabbatical. We have low enough turnover that half a dozen people in my department alone have been out on sabbatical this year (four weeks of half-pay, where you are expected NOT to work or check email or anything). The company makes happy employees one of its cornerstones with a very conscious effort, and it shows.

    It’s bananas. I spent the whole first year waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  58. Pipe Organ Guy*

    I wear two very different hats in my job. One hat is as the parish organist. To take a couple of Sundays off, I have to make sure I have a firm commitment from a competent substitute, make sure that the sub has the hymns, service music, and anthems or solos, that the sub knows the bulletin deadline and where to send the titles/composers of the organ music, that the sub knows what memories in the organ console are available for presetting stop combinations, and that the sub gets the service bulletins.

    The other hat is more challenging. The Sunday service bulletin is really more of a weekly booklet, with all the prayers and readings for two different styles of church services. Hymns and service music are included, too. So for a couple of weeks before I go away, I ask the parish administrator (who is cross-trained in this) to brush up on her skills with a couple of practice bulletins. On top of that, I use software that isn’t used by too many people these days, but it does a better job than the universal word processor, Microsoft Word. I was pleased when I got back from a recent two-week vacation, and heard, “I hate to say it, but that whole process is starting to make sense. Even WordPerfect.” And I found out that things really had gone tolerably well.

    Whoever eventually follows me in this job will also have to know a specialized piece of software: Finale, which is sort of to music what Word is to, well, words. Neither my boss nor I ask someone who’s filling in to do anything with this.

    I have to say that the time leading up to this vacation was significantly less stressful than in some past years.

  59. Eh-nonymous*

    I’m on the west coast of Canada in the Vancouver area.
    My current allocation of vacation is 20 days and I have 17 personal days.
    Add in the 12 stat days each year and it’s a lot of time to use!

    In prior years it was a huge challenge for me to get an entire week in a row off.
    A change in management was a lifesaver. The boss is off for 2 weeks right now and left the laptop behind. Lead by example!!

    I do have special responsibilities that no one else can do (involves many levels of permissions and training that no one else has – and will not have) and my workaround involves never taking long vacation until after Work Day 13. I’m perfectly fine with that.

    The employer also pays 100% salary for sick leave up to 105 (calendar) days in a row out of a separate bucket.

    I’m pretty lucky compared with many others here.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      A change in management was a lifesaver. The boss is off for 2 weeks right now and left the laptop behind. Lead by example!!

      This is the crux of it – management sets the tone. If C-level execs, or even just your line manager, don’t model this kind of vacation behavior, you won’t be able to do it.

  60. Brent Lee Leatherman*

    This is why I try to remain a contractor as much as I can get away with in the job market. I don’t ask permission to take time off, I just take it.

    1. EH*

      I was a contractor for a while – but no work = no money (even on bank holidays, ugh), and I was already only making barely enough to pay the bills, so I basically never took time off. Except between contracts, but that was all jobhunting and money stress, so not at all restful. I’m curious what kind of contracting you’re doing that you can just take time off from a gig with no repercussions. I couldn’t get my boss at my last contract to let me work remotely more than once a week, time off, even when I could afford it, was no-go.

      I’m still just barely making enough to pay the bills, but I’m salaried and get a lot of time off, so my mental health is doing so much better. I’m a technical writer for software companies, so contracting is the norm but it sucks.

  61. Shazzer*

    I am a long time reader and this topic is one that motivated me to post for the first time! For nine years, I worked at a company that was generous with PTO (they didn’t differentiate between vacation, personal and sick time – it was one big pool). They also allowed people to accrue up to the total amount they were entitled to. So, when I left, I was entitled to six weeks of PTO, and that’s how much I could keep in my PTO bank.

    My boss was rabidly anti-time off. He never, ever got sick or had to visit a doctor or dentist during business hours. In the nine years we worked together, he took two weeks off; one week for a family vacation and one week when his dad died. He purposely kept our group heavily divided by task, so there was no cross training. I think he did this to prevent people from taking time off, since literally no one else could do your job. One guy in our group scheduled two weeks off when his wife was having their 2nd baby. My boss came into my office, extremely disturbed, and said “I cannot for the life of me understand why he would do this. It’s their second baby. I took off NO time for the births of ALL of my kids”.

    Neither of us works there anymore and I departed with an extra bonus of six weeks of unused PTO, which was a nice cushion, but the burnout at that place is very high.

    1. seller of teapots*

      I cannot for the life of me understand why he would do this. It’s their second baby. I took off NO time for the births of ALL of my kids

      This makes me extremely, extremely sad.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I feel sorry for that jerk’s wife. When was the last time she had a break? Way to ditch your wife and let her manage a newborn alone, jerk boss.

  62. Jules the First*

    I’m not sure I’ve ever had a holiday where I didn’t at least skim my email. I draw the line at conference calls – if I’m just taking the day off, then fine, I’ll call in if there’s someone more senior that means it can’t be rescheduled, but otherwise someone will just have to brief me later. I’m finding it really depressing this year as all my peers are going for their holidays and they keep asking when I’m going and I’m not because my team is short staffed due to some resignations so I can’t take more than a couple of days at a time because I have no cover. It sucks.

  63. Gazebo Slayer*

    Yup. Most businesses won’t do the right thing unless they’re legally required to. Even then, many will disregard the law unless they’re really *forced* to obey it through harsh consequences.

    Money and fear are really the only things that can keep the robber-baron class in check.

  64. Elizabeth K*

    Managers who discourage time off are asking for trouble. In financial industries it is common to require that staff take blocks of time because that often brings problems to light. In one of my positions, we found the same issue when a social service provider unexpectedly had to take time off. I recall, years ago, when I was employed at a bank that the rule was one had to take the allotted two weeks vacation in one lump. I pushed back on that since that meant that all the time was spent at once without consideration for other potential needs- and they actually changed the policy to at least one week needed to be in a lump.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      It would have been better to have given everyone an extra week so they could have the required two week slot for detecting fraud.

  65. CommanderBanana*

    My boss is an asshole when we try to ask for time off and won’t ever directly say yes to time off requests (but won’t say no either). She, of course, takes vacation.

  66. LQ*

    In the role I’m in now I have been HORRIBLE about taking vacation. So much so that I’ll have to spend over 300 hours to not loose it this year.

    I tried to talk myself into taking one day off this spring and I was having a hard time. So I went to talk to a coworker who is really big on taking vacation and it’s why she has this job. I figured she’d talk me into it. She tried but I ended up with a panic attack and canceling the only vacation day I had out there on the books because of what she said. I don’t even know how to talk myself into taking any of the time I have. I feel so painfully bad about it. This weekend I made a big deal about taking Saturday off. So just not working on Saturday. Mind you no one is in the office, no one is demanding I work. It’s just I know there is a crushing amount to do and I don’t know how to better get it done. I’ve taking 1 day off this calendar year. I took 6 last year.

    There is so much to do. And on the 1 day I took off? The project I’m on broke something serious and I ended up having to go in. So yeah, that’s why I feel like I can’t take any time off. There’s always something and no one else steps up to take responsibility.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      This is not sustainable – you are going to develop very real health problems if you keep going like this. Believe me, I’ve been there. Please for the sake of your mental and physical health – take your time off. The messes will still be there when you get back.

    2. Observer*

      Take the time. You’re not going to catch up anyway. So take the time and at least you’ll feel better. And maybe you’ll get enough clarity to either ask for some help because the workload is unsustainable or to start job searching.

      1. Allonge*

        “You’re not going to catch up anyway.”

        This, sooo much. If I were to wait to take time off until there is nothing to do (not nothing at all, but nothing urgent and important), it would never happen. LQ, this seems to have hit very high levels of anxiety for you. Is that company really worth it?

  67. DCGirl*

    A big issue at a previous job was the manager would wait so late to approve leave, and we were explicitly told not to book anything nonrefundable till leave was approved. So, for example, she wouldn’t approve anyone for the day after Thanksgiving until the first week in November, by which point airfares were significantly higher than they would have been three months earlier. By that point, your choices were to pay through the nose to fly home to visit your family or stay in town.

  68. PopJunkie42*

    I just spoke to a coworker who is taking care of a parent who is dying. On hospice care now. She wanted to take time off but feels like she can’t and is coming in tomorrow for a meeting. I’ve been sitting here all day in total disbelief! I do think she partially puts this on herself – this feeling that everything needs to be taken care of immediately, and she’s the only one who can do it. I really can’t believe that if she went to our boss and said “I’d like to take a week of work to spend with my dying parent” that he would push back on that. But now I’m nervous too. I get 4 weeks of vacation a year plus plenty of sick time and I always take it without guilt, and I’m hoping this new job doesn’t push back on that…

  69. ejodee*

    Because you need to be there to deflect those sweeping new requirements. Sit out a week and you’re a goner.

  70. chickaletta*

    It’s hard because we live in a culture that never shuts down. My friends in Europe and Australia talk about an extended period when their company basically shuts down, either in December or in August usually, but it’s always for 3-4 weeks at a time. Nothing like this exists in the US. Many of us work in offices that operate on even December 24 and December 26, and continuously through the summer. There is never a break from the standing meetings, working towards your deliverables, or producing your reports. To take a true time off often comes with admiting to your boss that something isn’t going to get done by you while you’re away. We live in a culture that says “produce, produce, produce” and which frowns on people who do not (see: unemployment, homelessness, medicaid, maternity leave, etc)

  71. gy*

    It’s incredibly aggravating for me, as I accrue a good amount of vacation time, but whenever I try to use any of it my request is denied. We don’t have enough staffing and we are staffed right at minimums (in fact they have to use a lot of overtime just to get us to minimums), no leave requests are approved. I’m in a job where training takes FOREVER (average of 3 years of OJT until certification) and we don’t have any new people inbound and there are a lot of guys eligible to retire, so I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon, unfortunately.

  72. Rewe*

    I find this so messed up. The not having PTO is one thing, but going on about how much the company has to lure you in and then you are not allowed to use it. I was aware of this but I had never really thought about it until I took HR as an elective in business school and we had to do a comparison between two countries. I was given USA as one of the countries. Attitude towards work is a very interesting cultural difference. Since the societies are structured differently, I guess it makes sense in a way.

    Funnily, we had an opposite problem in our work (in the nordics). The law states that employee has a right to take 2 weeks off continously. Somehow our office turned it into that employee must take off 2 weeks (we get 5-7 weeks PTO a year). ALso the ammount of PTO is regulated by law so its’s not negotable. We had employees that wanted to have several long weekends through the summer to go sailing and their cabins. Thankfully they stopped enforcing this made up rule.

    Here companies hire students to work for the summer when people take holidays. This way they get a cheap cover and provide experience for the students. The students get some money and college credit. Sometimes these students get hired in the company. In my work we don’t have cover and nothing shuts down. The work doesn’t go forward in those 4 weeks you are off, but it doesn’t matter. The client accepts “I was on holiday” as an excuse why things haven’t moved forward cause we all as a culture accept that it is the norm and a necessity in order to do good work.

    1. Koala dreams*

      It’s a good point about culture. When enough people take summer vacation, it gets accepted. Maybe your customers are also on vacation and don’t need your services until they get back. Maybe not, but they accept it anyway.

  73. Miles To Go*

    If you have vacation time as part of your compensation package, it is the employers obligation, not yours, to deal with covering your absence. Because, hey, this is a predictable business expense! Whether it be spending money on overtime to cover your shifts, or only giving you 50 weeks of work instead of 52, it is their obligation.

    Also, in a former job I wasn’t allowed to take more than one day off in a row, and none of them could be on weekends (it was a 24/7 coverage job) because other employees didn’t “want” to cover the shift, despite it being in all of our contracts that we had to, and oh right, I never signed a contract restricting my use of my PTO to only one day at a time. One of many reasons I left.

  74. Coffee Cup*

    Wow… I work in a European country with one of the most stringy legal minimum for paid vacations, 20 days. The literal legal minimum in the EU. And I feel miserable about it, it is not enough for anything, sometimes I feel trapped. I am angry at my employer for not being flexible when a lot of others are. People routinely take longer vacations because their workplaces have a more generous policy, or they negotiate, or they simply take unpaid days off. Even people in top positions and important institutions regularly have long weekends away. I would argue that people get more done and are happier when they can get away more.
    I do realize that this is culture, but wow, that is not nice.

  75. Adminx2*

    Just to add my chaos job- I realized if I gave them any real heads up about being away they (the manager and his wife/office manager, yeah it was one of those) would create even more chaos and needlessly get into a tizzy about everything, making my last day before vacation insane.
    So my best bet would be ask for the days off months in advance in email. Have it on my calendar. Quietly prepare all my back up info, and then as I walked out the door just say “I’ll be out until Tuesday as we confirmed in March.” or just call out sick last minute knowing I’d prepped things.

  76. yala*

    We have a fairly generous leave policy, but Christmas break screws over a lot of people because it’s mandatory–the place we work closes for those two weeks, but the entity we work for does not, so only about half of that time is covered by holiday leave. It plays havoc on new hires who haven’t had the time to accumulate a week’s worth of leave (and it hurt me pretty bad back in 2016, where a vacation + multiple family health crises ate into my leave, meaning a chunk of that holiday was leave without pay–something I’m trying to avoid this year, after ANOTHER family crisis).

    I used to be pretty good on sick leave until we had said family crisis back in April/May, and there was just a full week were I was incapable of doing anything. I’m grateful to be working in a place with leave at all, though, compared to my brother in retail who had to just…get back to work.

  77. Someone commenting*

    It’s very easy to understand why this happens. Consultancies and Top Management usually approve staffing coverage and expenses such that if everything works well, and if everyone is at work and productive, the needs of the business are being met. *just*.

    Meaning whenever someone takes a longer vacation, things start to fall apart immediately.

  78. Elizabeth West*

    Exjob was fairly generous with PTO. Vacation, sick time, etc. was all in one bucket and accrued per pay period. Even better, you could go 40 hours in the hole, although you’d have to earn it back before you could start accruing again. This was helpful when I booked a vacation to the UK that lasted almost three weeks, in late September through early October 2014. I started planning it in April and gave notice to my boss so we’d have plenty of time to make sure we were covered and my team was okay with it.

    I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I have not had a real vacation that allowed me enough time to truly relax in my entire working life (unemployment doesn’t count). At OldExjob, I took a week off once, but it was a staycation after Memorial Day; my birthday fell on the holiday. It went by way too fast. I actually forgot about work halfway through the UK trip. When I returned, I was so relaxed and refreshed it took me almost no time to catch up.

    It’s unbelievable that we don’t require people to take off in the U.S. We need better staffing, better pay, more cross-training, and management who actually get that people need breaks. And judging people for the reasons they want the time? That needs to stop. It’s an earned benefit; it doesn’t matter why you want the time.

    Use-it-or-lose it sucks too, especially when the company doesn’t pay out the unused time AND makes it difficult for you to take it. That’s just evil.

  79. Zephy*

    I’m in the middle of this right now. I put in for an 8-day vacation later this year, using 6 days PTO because there’s a weekend in there. My company wigs out about more than 40 hours in a single PTO request – it adds an unnecessary number of links in an already-too-long chain of approvals. We also have a use-it-or-lose-it PTO system that I don’t love – we accrue very generous-for-the-US amounts of time very quickly, but vacation + sick + personal time is all in one bucket, it expires 12/31, there are blackout dates in late summer/early fall where no PTO will be approved (college, makes sense, that’s busy time) and it’s not paid out when one leaves. I don’t remember if it isn’t paid out at all or if you’re only entitled to one week’s worth.

    At least holiday time is separate; we get about 10 paid holidays all told, including a few days where the campus closes early the day before a holiday/holiday-adjacent weekend (e.g., Christmas was on a Tuesday last year; we were dismissed a couple of hours early on Friday the week before and the difference was put on our time cards as holiday pay). I see other people here saying their holiday pay comes out of their own PTO buckets, which is IMO a shitty policy – you couldn’t work that day if you wanted to, the business is closed!

  80. lnelson in Tysons*

    When I temped and didn’t get paid vacation it was easy not to do anything.
    Now in a more permanent position while I have been able to go away for awhile, I end up having to do at least one day’s work. Usually payroll as there never seems to be anyone else who is able or willing to do it.
    Like others mentioned what did annoy me is that the person who was supposed to be backing me up and dealing with the little stuff while I was gone, just didn’t so returning was always hard.
    When we were (past job) in the US office, I found it very annoying that our German counterparts did take their time off and were definitely off, but never respected our days off. So not meaning, Hans in German IT is out, therefore Scott in US IT can help. It was Hans in German IT is in the office, Scott in US IT is on vacation so let’s make sure that Scott is working as well. “I don’t care that it is a US holiday and you are at the beach I need:!!!!” Amazing how fast the respect disappears under those conditions.

  81. OysterMan*

    I am trying to figure out when I can schedule surgery to take care of a painful (and potentially dangerous if it worsens) issue. Best we can find is… mid February. Due to Big Projects, busy season, being understaffed, and my being the only one who has the knowledge needed, Mid Feb is the earliest boss will approve. I’d like to do it over the Christmas holiday, but boss is concerned about being understaffed during annual performance reviews if something goes wrong.

    If it turns into emergency surgery before then, I’ll be incredibly angry, but I won’t feel the least bit sorry for my team. Eggs and baskets and all that.

  82. Master Bean Counter*

    I saw this morning and realized that I am lucky. I missed this yesterday because I took a day off at my boss’s insistence.

  83. Al who is that Al*

    The saddest thing about reading all these comments is some of the people who post how long their hours are or how only they can do their job and the secret pride that you read between the lines at being that person or doing those hours….

  84. 653-CXK*

    When I worked at ExJob, we had copious amounts of earned time, and everyone was crosstrained so there would be no loss of work when people went on vacation. The drawback was that any time we took off was drawn from a single bucket, and we were often “encouraged” to work floater holidays.

    At NewJob, we begin at two weeks, but can go up to five; we receive sick and personal time separate from our vacation time. Our unit closes on all holidays but one (Patriots Day), so we get paid for that time. There are only four people in our team, but we work independently of each other.

    I think the reason why American businesses frown on time off is the fear of missing out – one lost second of production, one less dollar brought in, and your competitor eats your lunch. It’s also a good reason why people burn out – you can’t relax because someone higher-up wants to keep beating the competition. The inverse is also true – those businesses who have no metrics, no stockholders (or very limited ones on a very tight leash), and look out for their employees first have much happier employees.

  85. Kendra*

    You know things are royally screwed up when your first thought after hearing a cancer diagnosis from your doctor is, “thank goodness, I can finally take some time off…”

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