I feel overwhelming guilt about taking time off work

A reader writes:

I genuinely don’t understand how folks deal with the overwhelming guilt of taking time off work. I’ve had this problem since I started working right out of college, and it’s persisted through multiple job and industry changes and multiple PTO policies — from seven days to unlimited — in my over 15 years of work. During Covid, my workplace was understaffed and very strict with travel and PTO, and I felt too guilty to leave even when my grandparents were dying from Covid or when my best friend wanted me to be maid of honor at her wedding. I will never get those experiences back, and I made that sacrifice for a retail job I hated — I had no passion for it, I was a very small cog in the wheel, and I quit as soon as I found something else! (Thankfully, I’m at a job I love now, largely due to your advice.)

As much as I regret every day missing those experiences, the guilt of missing work is so strong that I still find it incredibly hard to take time off even for huge life events or catastrophes, and I delay small things as much as possible to try to stave off some of the guilt. For example, my doctors want me to have surgery that I know would vastly improve my quality of life, but I feel so guilty about taking time off I’ve put it off for over a year. When I do take time off — like my honeymoon last year — I wake up every day with tears in my eyes from guilt and feel sick to my stomach from not working.

I’ve never returned to a work crisis; at every job, there have been people to cover for me. But I can’t stop feeling incredibly guilty for missing work. My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job, but I don’t want to spend my whole life feeling this guilty all the time. I have never come back to work “relaxed” or “refreshed,” and I’m currently dealing with some burnout because of it. I know I need time off, but I don’t want to spend it feeling worse than I currently do due to the guilt.

I wrote back and asked, “If you had to break the guilt down, what do you feel guilty over exactly? Be as specific as you can — it will help us sort through this.”

It was tough to boil it down, but I know I wouldn’t be able to afford to live if I didn’t have a job. And I don’t just mean fun things like trips and hobbies, I wouldn’t be able to afford food, housing, or other basic necessities. Any time I’m not working during work hours, I feel extremely guilty for taking advantage of my company. I know it’s part of my compensation — just like the money I need to live, but I also know no one would ever complain if I didn’t take any days off (especially since we have a no minimum “unlimited” days off policy). And I definitely hear folks complain about people who take too much time off (and those people are always first on the list for layoffs!).

I’m 1000% more relaxed in the evenings after work or on the weekends than I ever am on a vacation. I know that I put in enough work to have earned my weekends/evenings off, but I’m not able to complete enough work to ever feel like I’ve earned a full day off, much less a week. I feel like if I was just able to do two weeks of work in one, I could take a week off guilt-free without passing all my unfinished stuff to my team. It typically takes two people to fill in for me while I’m out, one of which has to be pulled off of his regular duties completely, so I know me being gone is costly for the company. If I cost too much, take too much time off, or become too inconvenient, why keep me on?

I’m not just feeling guilty for costing the company money but even more so for putting my family’s life and livelihood in danger for relaxation.

You opened by asking how other people deal with the overwhelming guilt of taking time off work, and the first thing to know is: most people don’t feel this way! The intensity of your feelings on this is vastly outside the normal range of how people feel about time off. So there’s something more going on than just a work issue.

But to address the work side of it:

Good managers and good companies want you to take time off. I want people who work for me to take time off because I want them be able to disconnect and come back refreshed — because people do better work when they’re not exhausted and burned out. People see things with fresh eyes and come up with better, more creative ideas when they get fully away from work sometimes (and not just for a couple of days on the weekend, but for a good, long break — at least a week and ideally two). I also want people who work for me to take time off because having you gone means I can better spot where the holes are — where we need cross-training, where we’re at risk of disaster if you ever got hit by a bus or seriously ill because no one knows how to access the X resource or what the deal is with the Y project.

You asked why your company would keep you on if you take time off. That is a really bizarre way to look at it! Your company assumes you’ll take time off, just like they assume you’ll cash your paychecks — it’s built into your compensation, it’s built into their business model, and they’re planning on it. It might be inconvenient to pay you too, but they do it because that’s an utterly routine, non-remarkable, necessary and expected part of how employment works. No one is contemplating replacing a good employee because they take a normal amount of PTO. It would make no sense to do that, because their replacement will also take a normal amount of PTO.

As for people needing to cover for you when you’re gone and getting pulled off other duties: same thing here. That’s a normal part of how this works. If your company is so short-staffed that it’s a disaster when someone’s out, that’s on your company — they’re not staffed appropriately. But it doesn’t even sound like disasters are happening; it sounds like people get pulled in to cover in a very standard, non-remarkable way. Again, this is normal. This is not a reason people get fired or put on layoff lists.

You said you feel you’re taking advantage of your company if you take time off, and that you’d be putting your family in danger. Do you feel you’re taking advantage of your company and putting your family in danger when you cash your paychecks? Like your pay, this is part of your compensation. You’re not taking advantage of anyone by accepting it and using it as intended.

I think you know that intellectually, but something in your brain is saying, “But they wouldn’t complain if I didn’t take it, so therefore that would be better.” So why does “they wouldn’t complain” trump the fact you deserve and have earned time off like everyone else, and that it’s essential to your health and well-being? That part in particular says there’s something more going on here — something a therapist could help you sort through.

That might not be the response you were expecting, but the feelings and responses you describe on this issue (waking up with tears in your eyes and feeling sick / not going when family members are dying or to be in your best friend’s wedding) are extremely disordered. They’re so far outside the realm of healthy thinking on this — and the impact on your life so severe — that it makes sense to bring it to someone who can help you do the hard work of sorting through it.

Some starting ideas to kick around with that therapist: did you learn growing up that your feelings and needs don’t matter? Or that you’ll be penalized if you try to take care of yourself first, or even at all? Or that you don’t have intrinsic value simply as you, but instead need to tie yourself into pretzels to justify being around? I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but you’ve got to dig into it, and that’s where I’d start.

{ 454 comments… read them below }

  1. Sam Brown*

    OP, what if you reframed taking a vacation as a BENEFIT to your company? Ideally, you’d come back refreshed and able to be more productive, which would be good for them. But even if that’s not the case, people taking regular 1-2 week vacations is important for your company to be able to adequately audit yours and others’ work. But also, Alison is right and this guilt is 100% not normal.

    1. Project Maniac-ger*

      Totally agree. It’s also a callibration and growth tool for your coworkers. They know what you do and how to do it, and that is really important for the company’s health! I found out that I like to organize events because I was filling in for someone on medical leave, and I leveraged that experience into more experience and a better career trajectory.

      I’d also like to reiterate that is is not normal and is profoundly impacting your daily life. Please do not excuse these feelings away and please get help so you can have a more healthy relationship with work.

      1. Anax*

        Absolutely; having staff out on vacation also helps with what we call the “bus factor” in IT – if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, would your coworkers be able to pick up the slack? What invisible or undocumented or untrained tasks would be a problem? That’s really valuable!

        When you’re away, someone has to pick up the slack, and that’s a GOOD thing.

        It means that when you’re back and available to document or answer questions, you can fill in any gaps. And if nothing in particular happened, it’s like a fire drill – better to test before there’s an emergency and find out things will be ok, rather than having an untested emergency!

        One of my previous jobs (a bank) *required* us to take at least a week of vacation a year for exactly this reason. It was really valuable when COVID hit, and my coworker was stuck in a foreign country for weeks! Because she took vacation, we had documentation and plans ready just in case she was ever unavailable – so when the pandemic hit, we were ok even though she was away for over a month.

        (And yes, speaking as someone who has some definite anxiety and “protestant guilt” over work – I feel some of the emotions you’re experiencing, I’m definitely prone to imposter syndrome and putting off taking vacation, but the level of distress you’re experiencing is way outside the norm!

        Please, talk to a professional. This may not be the case for you, but I found that my feelings of irrational guilt and anxiety were alleviated dramatically when I started taking antidepressants, and it really improved my quality of life; turns out, my brain was just being a jerk!

        I hope you’re able to find similar levels of relief, whatever the course looks like for you.)

        1. Quill*

          Whether it’s documentation of the job, practice, cross-training, or audits, there are many benefits to having someone out and people having to ask “wait, how do we actually do this?”

          1. D*

            Also, if two people have to cover this role and one person has to abandon their normal tasks, I think LW is very safe.

            1. Ellie*

              Yes – if anything, taking a vacation is going to underline just how valuable an employee OP is. If you do the job forever with no breaks, and no complaints, they will take you for granted. If you go away on vacation, and two people are needed to do the work you do, it underlines that you are worth twice as much, and are a key person that they need to retain.

              OP, you have this all backwards. Find a good therapist who can help you get to the heart of why you feel this way. If you just don’t like taking vacations then there are other options to help you get a break. You could reduce your hours, take every Friday off, or even leave a couple of hours early a couple of times a week. Good managers will bend over backwards to accommodate high performers OP, you deserve a real break, and your company deserves to get your best, fully rested self on the job as well.

            2. Teapot Wrangler*

              That’s exactly what I was thinking. Demonstrating that you’re literally doing the work of two; perhaps even “worth two other people” is a really good thing that helps the business know how great you are!

        2. knitcrazybooknut@gmail.com*

          I would bet your bank’s practice originated from a standard payroll practice for discovering fraud: Once a year, everyone received a paper check, and was required to come to the HR office to pick it up. That way, any automatic payments that were going to fake accounts would be caught.

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          In financial roles, there are very good security reasons for the people in them to take vacations every year, and companies actually require it.

          Plus, all the other reasons. Therapy or medication really could help, like other suggestions which have been made.

          Also, find something you like to do when you are off. If you are off only to work on the house nonstop every day, or the family yells at you when you’re home, yeah, work is going to start looking better.

    2. Scarlett*

      Reframing is great way to think about these things! Another reframe if that one doesn’t work is self-compassion. Basically, it’s the opposite of the golden rule: treat yourself the way you treat others.

      If a coworker asked you to cover for a few days while they went to visit their dying grandparents, would you be angry? Would you want them fired? Of course not! (If you would, we have a completely different problem!) And then, why would you treat yourself so much worse than those around you?

      Physically imagine it if you have to. Pick a specific coworker, imagine them telling you they need a few days off, and then, in your head, tell them they’re a horrible person, they’re taking advantage of the company, and they should be fired. And you’ll be so uncomfortable with even the fantasy of saying/doing that that you’ll hopefully be able to see how ridiculous it is that anyone would ever think or believe that, and then, fingers crossed, you can let it go.

      1. mariemac*

        Another reframe that might be beneficial is to shift from thinking that you’ve earned your time off to you are giving your time to your company.

        Instead of the company owning all of your time and you working hard enough to justify going home at night, you are in ownership of your life and your time. You are gracious sharing it with the company for 8 hours a day, and the time outside of work, evenings and vacations, has always been yours. The company does not own you, and does not require that you earn your free time. You own yourself and your time.

        As someone who has been in therapy and worked really hard on changing my own mental patterns, any reframe will be a daily repetition to yourself, even when you don’t believe it. Eventually you will, I promise.

    3. Santiago*

      Totally agree but even if the company didn’t benefit (which it does) from you having a work life balance, your intrinsic value as a human being still trumps LW.

    4. jasmine*

      Yeah I’ve had managers actively encourage time off (and who would complain if you took too little) for exactly this reason

  2. badger*

    I hate it as much as the next person when an advice column suggests therapy but this is REALLY where you need a therapist. This is impacting your quality of life and you’re ability to do day to day things (like take PTO, or go to weddings, or grieve!). Person-centred therapy is probably the kind of therapy you want to explore (a lot of person-centred therapists are shame and guilt specialists), or Internal Family Systems, if those modalities speak to you, but even CBT will help you cope with the feelings of guilt when you do take leave.

    You don’t have to live like this <3 I hope therapy helps!

    1. Stoney Lonesome*

      I want to second Internal Family Systems! It has helped me tremendously. My couples therapist (who does not specialize in IFS) said that she’s seen it work so well with skill practitioners that it seems almost like magic. It’s a highly underrated form of therapy.

      1. Covert Copier Whisperer*

        I just want to add to the chorus of support for this, because I know personally how very hard it can be to internalize “this isn’t normal” AND “I don’t have to try and gut this out/ change it on my own/I deserve help.” ESPECIALLY when you’re already delaying surgery.

        LW, therapy can help with this. You deserve it, it will be the most effective way of handling this and, if you need to hear it, even though it may take leave time any good manager would be in support of you going. (Which you do not have to tell them about.)

      2. AMT*

        Therapist here. Love IFS, and I’ll add Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), too. There are a lot of free and inexpensive ACT resources out there (e.g. books like “The Worry Trap”).

        It sounds like the LW needs to develop the ability to feel emotions like guilt, and have intrusive thoughts like “I should be helping my team now,” without reacting to them or trying to fix them–say, by ruminating and overanalyzing them (“Should I be this guilty now? How guilty should I be? Is this logical?”), telling themselves that the emotions are illogical (“I should be able to take time off!”), distracting themselves (“I can’t deal with the guilt, so I’ll play a mindless phone game”), or giving into the guilt and going back to work. ACT identifies this problem with the word “fusion”: treating all fleeting thoughts and emotions as though they’re incredibly important and relevant and need to be proven wrong, distracted from, or otherwise “dealt with.” Instead, ACT helps you separate unwanted thoughts and emotions from actions or beliefs and allows you to have them and make space for them without doing anything in particular about them. It’s more of a *non-doing* thing than a doing thing, and it takes practice, but I highly recommend it.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Sounds like a principe I often sum up as: Feel your feelings. Don’t think your feelings.

          Feelings can wash over you like waves – something unintentionally triggers something to well up in you. If you’re good at feeling your feelings, you can let yourself feel what you’re feeling and, when everything is working as it should, before too long the tide – the acute pain that feels like a lump in your throat or a pit in your stomach – will go out again for at least a while.

          It’s when you notice that you’re feeling so sad/anxious/guilty/afraid, and then start thinking of reasons why you would (or should) feel that way, that you get stuck. You keep thinking in very concrete terms all the reasons to be sad and you’ll trigger a renewed wave of sadness, over and over again. But if you just let yourself feel that lump in your throat, notice that you’re sad, and just accept that you’re sad right now and don’t try to analyze the why, what, and how of it, you allow the acute sensations to pass and be done with for at least a while. Until the next time something external triggers it, instead of you triggering it yourself internally, back to back to back.

    2. KitKat*

      Seconding the recommendation of Internal Family Systems if that resonates. Some part of you feels extremely threatened and is going into overdrive in response to something that is objectively not dangerous. IFS can help you sort out the cause and effect chain and give you tools to dismantle it.

    3. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

      Just doubling down on the therapist support comment. I live with anxiety and while it manifests very differently than for OP, the negative effects on my life are huge. An SSRI and counselling have been such incredible helps for me. There’s a lot going on for OP and the level of this guilt is something I hope they can be freed from. Looking into family-of-origin/childhood lessons learned, OCD, anxiety, and other related aspects of mental health may be helpful – OP, I ache for you! Life does not need to be this hard. You CAN be free from this oppression your brain is creating for you. And, it is your brain doing this – as Allison said, work-wise, you both can and should take time off.

    4. Working Class Lady*

      I agree. Therapy isn’t always the answer, but in this case, LW needs to get to the root of this guilt, and working with a professional is the best way to start.
      whatever it is goes way beyond a normal hard work ethic (which I personally value), and it’s standing in the way of them being able to enjoy their life.

    5. Thank You Sheep*

      I also vouch for Internal Family Systems. I was in either conventional talking therapy or CBT on and off for about 15 years and they didn’t do more than scratch the surface. Then a few months of Internal Family Systems and I’m finally healing.

  3. FormerLibrarian*

    It’s been almost a year since I recommended an EAP to someone, but OP, if your benefits include an Employee Assistance Program, that can be a great place to start working with a professional to unpack and organize some of your feelings on this.

    If you do have an EAP, it’s already an understood part of your total compensation and a sunk cost for your company. It’s very responsible to use it.

    1. Lusara*

      Yes, this. These feelings are not normal and it would be very helpful for you to try to work them out with a trained professional.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Yes. Because I guarantee if you don’t take a few days to deal with the surgery, your body will. You will wind up more days off whether you like it or not.

          1. ferrina*


            Your body needs rest and care. If you don’t give your body time off, your body will take it.

            Please OP, give yourself permission to be human and have human needs. Find a professional who can help you create a balanced approach that lets you take your PTO (which is part of your compensation!). Please don’t continue to martyr yourself and miss important people’s major life events (like your grandparents or your best friend). This is outside the bounds of normal, and you deserve to take your PTO and be with the people you love.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Very much this. If you don’t take care of yourself, there will be a point at which the choice is no longer yours.

              The PTO is part of the package – it is provided as part of your compensation for your work, and it is expected that you take it. It would be like going to a fancy dinner and then not eating the side you paid for. They are paying you for this time off, that’s why it’s PTO.

              I also agree to seek professional help to rebalance both your personal expectations and the need to take time off. Most of us do not feel guilty taking time off. I also urge you to think not just about your feelings about missing events, but how that affects others. At the end of the day, no job is going to care for you more than the people who love you. Give yourself permission to be there for them. Not doing so is hurting your necessary and valid relationships. I’d be deeply hurt if a close friend missed my wedding when they didn’t have to.

              Also, the short staffing is not yours to fix. If there aren’t enough people to do the job, that’s a management issue. Don’t let a toxic workplace make you think you’re invaluable. To be honest, if they closed the doors tomorrow, none of your sacrifices would matter, so stop caring about a company more than they care about you.

            2. Kes*

              Not only will your body make you take the time if you don’t take it, but if you push yourself to that point the result will probably be worse and need more recovery and time off than if you proactively give yourself the breaks that you most likely do actually need whether or not you realize it

          2. Hospital PT*

            Physical therapist weighing in here – I see people all this time putting off surgeries that would vastly improve their quality of life. That usually goes 1 of 2 ways: a) as mentioned above, your body decides for you or b) your recovery is longer and harder because you were in worse shape going into surgery and have further to come back from. Either way, the end result is that you miss MORE work.

      1. JSPA*

        And to be clear, “not normal” isn’t something to beat yourself up about; it means “far outside the norm” and “if your reactions are both far outside the norm and painful to you, you deserve to get help for them.”

        Also, if it takes one and a half people to cover your job, please notice that means your value to your company is 1.5 employees, for the price of one.

        But I also want to mention that if you’re struggling under student or credit card debt, or you don’t have a rainy-day fund such that you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and end of the month is scary…or your family pattern is to spend first, and castigate you if you can’t keep up…Then this is also a personal or family budget problem, not only a “you have feelings that are outside the norm” problem.

        Regardless: do get the surgery, if you’re in ill-health. Being in ill-health can shove you hard towards catastrophic thinking. Pain breeds stress and regrets, regrets breed stress and pain, stress breeds stress and pain and regrets, and then round and round you go. You can’t change the past. You have to put in work over time to change thought patterns. But an operation to correct a painful condition? That’s usually pretty straightforward (so long as you don’t skip any necessary PT afterwards.)

    2. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Trying not to diagnose from afar, but OP please ask an EAP rep about getting tested for anxiety. Anxiety may not be the issue, but it may be a good place to start.

      1. Eric*

        There’s really no gray area on this, this is clearly a massive amount of anxiety. No danger of misdiagnosing that one. I say as someone with an anxious personality myself. The questions us keyboard warriors can’t solve are what may be underlying it and what may be the best way to address it.

        1. Office Plant Queen*

          OP is experiencing anxiety, as in that’s the word for the feelings they have. But they may or may not have a diagnosable disorder. And if they do meet the criteria for something diagnosable, that something could be outside of the scope of anxiety disorders, since other things can cause anxious feelings

      2. Maisy Daisy*

        OP, in case you are concerned about your employer learning that you have contacted the EAP, please understand that your use of that benefit is kept private. The only information the employer gets is a periodic cumulative report showing the number of uses and a vague breakdown of the reasons for usage, i.e. issue with child, marital issues, employees’ own issues, etc.

        1. SarahKay*

          Seconding this. Our HR gets a monthly report with number of uses, and that’s it. No names, no reasons, nothing that could associate individuals with the data.

    3. Jesshereforthecomments*

      Was coming here to recommend EAP too. OP, you deserve time off and you’ve already experienced some traumatic, negative things due to not taking time off. Please get any help you can so you don’t have to keep feeling this way. We’re pulling for you!

    4. StressedButOkay*

      Yes, this! OP, I have anxiety and I spiral into catastrophic thinking – I’m hopefully not armchair diagnosing but the thoughts of “If I take days off, I cost the company money, therefore I will be let go” is absolutely catastrophic thinking, regardless of the anxiety root cause.

      OP, you deserve a guilt-free life and a life outside of work.

    5. Smithy*

      Also here to cheerlead the EAP process – finding a therapist via health insurance can take a while, but when I’ve used the EAP – it’s been far faster. And when I was using the EAP for access to therapy, I really needed that support faster moreso than perfectly.

    6. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

      OP, I agree that your EAP if you have one is a good place to start. But also know that if the EAP isn’t particularly helpful, that doesn’t mean counselling can’t help you! It can take a while to find a good fit, and EAP counsellors aren’t always the best (they tend to be paid less than normal private-practice folks, and it draws people who are a bit less experienced or skilled on average). Start there but don’t end there.

  4. HigherEdExpat*

    Hi OP! I’ve been there for sure. To be honest, what helped me the most was anxiety medications. I can list all of the social/personality based issues that coexist in me to create that – but lots of those went away with the lexapro. I definitely second Alison’s advice to get a therapist – but even starting with your PCP can help. (And your employer is probably already paying for an EAP that can connect you with a counselor of some sort – take advantage of that! And the EAP won’t tell your employer that it was you, just that there were x number of folks using them that month.) Happy to answer other questions you might drop in the chat about my personal experience – but this is fixable and will make your life better!

    1. Genevieve*

      Seconded! I used to stay up all night crying about something I thought I might have possibly done wrong at work. I did therapy, which helped a lot, and then I finally got on SSRIs for my anxiety and OCD, which helped even more. My life is so different.

      OP, your situation may be different because your concerns sound super specific (mine were all over the map), but the extent to which they affect you is not healthy. There are lots of kind of help for disordered thoughts like those, and I really hope you find what works for you. You absolutely deserve to live without this fear and guilt, and you *can.*

    2. Wiscogirl*

      Yes, as someone who works within the EAP world, start there. It’s such an amazing resource that most people under-use. I also suffered similarly, even checking email on my honeymoon and being an anxious wreck if I didn’t have access to email at all times. I would spend a lot of my PTO days staying home with my laptop open all day “in case.” Turns out, I had a lot of trauma from childhood about “punishment”, “working ethic” and “worth” that I needed to address. Therapy really helped with that, and I now enjoy every moment I have off! Please, do yourself the favor of calling into your EAP. It’s free, anonymous and full of solutions!

    3. Alex*

      It is amazing what Lexapro can do. I’m on it too. The things in your mind that feel so real and unchangeable just evaporate. It doesn’t change any facts of your life, they just feel so different. It’s like going to your brain and saying SHHHH! (and it actually working).

    4. Anax*

      This! Sertraline did the trick for me; it didn’t fix everything, but it got me from “frequent, debilitating panic attacks” to “some anxiety but manageable”, and that gave me the breathing room to work on other coping mechanisms. I haven’t had a full-on panic attack in years, and it’s a huge relief.

      Medication might not be the right course for you, OP, but I know that I had a lot of people in my life discounting it as an option because it’s ‘the easy way out’ or because they thought I just needed to will my way through my PTSD. It kept me from being medicated for years, and those are years I can’t get back. Meds are a valid option to explore!

      (And to be frank, sure, people got by in the past without it – but they did so with a lot more distress, and we 21st century folks deal with a LOT of chronic stress, trauma, and fatigue which would have horrified our medieval counterparts. An asthma inhaler is a reasonable treatment for lungs damaged by pollution – and ditto, anxiety medication is a reasonable treatment for neurology damaged by trauma. They’re equally valid.)

      1. Properlike*

        And to the “you can use willpower” strategy, the reply is always, “I have been trying that, and it doesn’t work!”

        1. Kit*

          One of my cousins was pontificating about how he willed himself through his depressive episodes, and therefore everyone should be able to do that and nobody should need to take medication for mental health concerns.

          He also takes insulin for his diabetes. I didn’t attempt to confront the cognitive dissonance too head-on but I did give him some pretty bombastic side-eye for the hypocrisy.

    5. not nice, don't care*

      And depending on what you work out/on with your healthcare providers, medication isn’t always a permanent thing. Sometimes you just need a bit of extra support while working through issues and making new habits.

      1. Pinky*

        Yes. I was only on sertraline for a year or 18 months or so. To be honest, there were side effects (and they were the main reason I quit them, and apparently mine were only mild) and I would probably not go on meds again, but looking back is was really what I needed for that moment and even with hindsight I probably would take them again at that moment in time.

  5. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Your company would feel zero guilt about eliminating your position or firing you for some perceived screwup – reminding yourself of this could be beneficial to you in adjusting your thinking.

    Also remind yourself that taking the time off that’s part of your compensation isn’t taking advantage of the company. Is cashing your paycheck taking advantage of your company? Of course not. How is PTO different in your mind? Exploring this can help you get to the root of these feelings and help you overcome them. Best of luck OP. You deserve time off to rest and enjoy life.

    1. Heidi*

      I wonder how the OP views coworkers who do take vacations and time off. Are they exploiting the company and putting their families in danger? If they aren’t, hopefully OP can come around to seeing that she wouldn’t be either.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        To expand on that, what does OP see when other people do take time off – are the coworkers getting attitude from their managers/teams over it, are they getting eleventy-six calls and messages while they’re off, or are they just getting waved off with a smile and a “See you next week”?

        1. Starbuck*

          That was in the letter:

          “And I definitely hear folks complain about people who take too much time off (and those people are always first on the list for layoffs!).”

          1. Dog momma*

            Well I guess you need to define ” too much time off”. Could be medical.. which is nobody’s business, could be planned vaca, or just some slacker. Sounds like its hearsay ( we have no idea), & those folks need to stay in their own lane.

      2. Illogical*

        That’s the not so fun part about anxiety. LW could see people take vacation and feel ok about it but self conscious about their own time off. I know for me it’s like “hey coworker, on X you did this wrong. You need to make sure you are doing procedure Y”

        Meanwhile if I make a mistake my brain is like “wow you are an effing moron. Boss is going to fire your ass out of a cannon for this tiny mistake”

        Anxiety is so much fun on a bun…

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          Right, but the exercise of “would you say this to a third party” is useful to see if you can even recognize that this is only crap you say to yourself.

          If you can be kind and understanding to others, you have the ability to be kind and understanding to yourself, you’re just currently not. If you think everyone is wrong, then there’s a different problem.

    2. Kristi*

      That perspective may not help as it will just prompt more pretzeling into making herself essential to make that elimination less likely. One problem may be an issue with lack of control. Job losses happen; trying to make sure they will never happen is trying to make sure pandemics won’t happen. At some point it’s outside your control and energy is better spent building up reserves so if disaster does come you’re prepared. (Which includes getting needed surgery!)

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Agreed. OP already believes that people who take time off are first in line for layoffs. Which is completely not true. A good company organizes layoffs by company needs and goals. yes, slackers will be let go, but someone taking a normal amount of PTO will not fall into that category.

        OP, it takes two people to replace you when you are out. that means you are the exact opposite of a slacker. You are overworking yourself in the hopes the company won’t be mad if you need a day off. You need to stop doing that before you burn out.

        1. sparrow*

          That stuck out to me too! If two people are needed to do OP’s work, then laying them off would cost the company twice the personnel costs that OP does. Doesn’t sound like a good candidate for a layoff, if the metric is usefulness.

      2. Awkwardness*

        I was part of lay-offs once even though I was pretty pretzeled up at that point (delaying medical appointments, working on the weekend etc). I can only speak for me, but it did help to adjust my perspective. The pretzeling did not help me in any way.
        If it was out of my control to avoid a lay-off, I might at least take care of myself, because otherwise I might have neither job nor health.

        But I agree that my experience is different in that way that I went through it, while it would be just a thought experiment for OP.

      3. Smithy*

        This right here.

        I think a reality with lots of anxiety is that it can always find new places to spiral to. Being able to do the work of two people at once? Then you may eliminate yourself from ever being promoted because it’ll be so costly to backfill your role. Become a top expert in area ABC – but what if ABC becomes obsolete in the industry or at your employer?

        To relate this to another area where anxiety lives – there are lots of maxims about dating/relationship around how someone will never hurt or cheat on you. And the reality is that most of those are pretty easily debunked, and that it’s more about an individual knowing that they might get hurt in their romantic life but have the resilience to handle being dumped or leave someone who’s cheated/crossed other boundaries.

        When we’re sitting in those anxiety spirals, it’s really hard to break them without help. So just to flag for the OP that you’re not alone in having these kinds of negative thought patterns but there are ways to get help to break out of these cycles.

      4. Momma Bear*

        This is a good idea. Rather than be scared, be proactive. Work with your spouse, OP, to come up with a “what if” game plan.

      5. Your Former Password Resetter*

        Agreed, focusing on that is probably not going to help.

        OP should definitely get professional help, but I wanted to share a few things that helped me to manage similar anxious thoughts:

        – When I have anxious thoughts, is this a realistic fear or are these self-sabotaging thoughts? Would someone actually do this, or have they done this before? If this happened before, what caused it and am I in that same situation? Beware any thoughts that start with “What if?” or anything that just feels correct. That’s where the evil brain pretzels live, and they lie and will twist the truth to make you suffer.
        If it’s an evil anxiety thought, I ignore it and focus on something else while reminding myself that it’s probably a lie and definitely not helpful.

        – If it is a realistic fear: What can I do about it? Can I prevent it? If not, can I reduce the chance of it happening, or check if it’s actually happening or not? If I can’t stop it: make a plan to navigate the aftermath. What do i need? How has this gone in the past? What steps do I need to take to get out of the situation?

        – If it’s a realistic fear and I did all I could: Try to remind myself that I can’t stop everything, focus on the solutions I have if it helps. Remind myself that focusing on things you can’t do anything about is unhelpful and self-sabotaging, and that I’ll be happier and no more in danger if I stop thinking about it.

        All of this is obviously much easier with a professional, and way easier said than done. But it genuinely helped me from spiraling out of control most of my time.

    3. Eric*

      “Your company would feel zero guilt about eliminating your position or firing you for some perceived screwup – reminding yourself of this could be beneficial to you in adjusting your thinking.”

      Seeing as OP wakes up crying, worrying about losing their job for taking her already-allocated compensation, I think this line of thinking will make them absolutely lose their minds with fear and anxiety. I don’t think this advice is well tailored to OP.

      1. LWH*

        Generally speaking I think OP needs to speak with an expert and not have an internet comments section weigh in. I don’t think people here are helping very much even though they’re very much trying to be helpful. A comments section ends up too “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” for someone like OP who is going to likely be overwhelmed by it.

    4. Andromeda*

      Ack! I have job anxiety as well (though nowhere near as badly as poor OP) and this reminder would make me feel worse, not better. My train of thought would be, “I *have* to do absolutely everything perfectly then, and take even less time off! Or I’ll definitely get fired!”

      Agree on the “no difference between cashing paycheck and taking time off” point though. PTO is part and parcel of your compensation — it may help OP to reframe her thinking around it as being like a bonus or extra bit of salary that everyone gets (since that’s what it essentially is). Employers absolutely expect things like weddings, illnesses and sudden life changes to happen. They need to be flexible on those things or how would they keep any employees? Imagine a workplace that forced people to not take their honeymoon! It benefits everyone to give employees some flexibility.

      I wonder how OP feels about other people taking time off — do they gloss over it unconsciously, judge people about it and also feel guilty for judging them, make justifications for why they should feel guilt but nobody else needs to? (These are all reactions I have to different things that make me anxious.) They might benefit from allowing themselves the same grace that they give others!

  6. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    LW this feels like something to unpack with a therapist. Like Allison said, most people don’t feel like this and the ones who do don’t feel it as strongly as you seem to.
    I never feel guilty about taking time off. I count down the days and then tell my co-workers that I’m out of here and the next few weeks are their problem.

    1. sofar*

      Was going to say the same thing.

      People not taking time off can stem from lots of things (anxiety, self-importance, workaholism). But the fact that OP says “guilt” is really troubling.

      I feel a lot of frustration and annoyance about how hard it is to take time off and how much folks at my company are hounded on vacation, but I never feel “guilty.”

    2. Baunilha*

      That was my first thought when I read the very first line: I never feel guilty about taking time off. It’s in my employer best interest that I take time to relax and come back refreshed so not to make mistakes due to feeling tired, have brand new ideas, etc.

      Like other commenters said, PTO is part of your compensation. As long as you’re mindful about it (don’t leave in the middle of an important project, or don’t take off for 4 weeks if the average for your industry is 2, and so on), nobody is going to think less of you because you took a few days to rest.

      And please get your surgery done before your body decides for you and then you have take twice the amount of sick days.

    3. online millenial*

      Yep. When I’m on vacation or taking sick leave, I don’t have a job. I don’t have coworkers or a boss or anything. I don’t think about work until the night before it’s time to go back. And that’s the point! You need to be able to disconnect and recharge.

    4. Aerin*

      The only time I feel like I should feel a bit guilty is when I’m out during a major crash or a time that’s generally really busy.

      I don’t actually feel guilty, though. I usually feel pleased that I dodged a bullet. I went ahead and bid for the first business day of January off for this year (traditionally our single busiest day of the year) and damn, it felt nice. I also always take my birthday off because there was one year that a major system crashed on my birthday and I’m not dealing with that crap again.

  7. 2cents*

    Seconding the therapist recommendation. It might not totally solve the problem but it helps! (Speaking as someone who felt guilty about having to use the bathroom on the clock and would try and hold it all day, in addition to other equally bad habits)

    1. Mystery*

      ….I specifically try to use the washroom at work so I use their water, soap, and toilet paper instead of mine.

  8. Tio*


    This jumped out to me immediately. You’re going to get sicker and sicker and then you’ll be so sick you can’t work! (potentially) You need t take care of yourself – both because that makes you a valuable worker, and because it’s good for you! Please please please schedule your surgery ASAP!

    1. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I needed surgery at a time when my team was very understaffed and I was basically like “I know the timing isn’t ideal, but this surgery isn’t optional. I’ll be out for two weeks.” The fact that we were understaffed wasn’t my problem; my health issue WAS my problem and the surgery was the solution, so: surgery, and medical leave, and my team had to figure it out. Which they did.

      If it would help to think of it the way Tio has framed it (the guilt would be worse for you if you became so sick you couldn’t work), then think of it that way, but get your surgery, OP. Never sacrifice your health for a job.

      1. Properlike*

        I had to get surgery, but took only one week off after because My Job Needs Me. It took a lot longer to recover.

    2. Ink*

      +1. Don’t know what it is they need, but a lot of the time you can’t put the problem in stasis and wait years for it to be convenient. The issue could worsen until the surgery is no longer feasible, or all kinds of other things could happen that cause LW to suddenly lose the options they thought they had. A job is not worth your health. Sometimes needs must, but from the letter needs do not must!

    3. pally*

      Second this! AND, for some surgeries, a delay makes room for the possibility of needing it on an emergency basis, removing the option of scheduling it on your terms.

      1. cottagechick73*

        Or the delay can take a simple surgery to one that is requires a longer recovery time (like laparoscopic changing to open abdominal). The other commenters are right, your body’s problems that require surgery are not static and change over time. It has taken me years to quit doubting myself and allowing myself to take up space and take care of myself – and not minimize myself into the corner for the “benefit of others”. If a friend shared a similar story to the one you shared with us, what would you tell them? I can almost guarantee that you would not call it normal and tell them to just suck it up (like your parents are trying minimize your concerns/anxiety as normal). You would listen with compassion and tell them that they need to treat themselves gently and get the help they need. Please listen to the many compassionate commenters and seek out solutions through an EAP and/or therapist.

        1. Jen*

          Yeah, I wonder if her parents aren’t a big part of the problem. If they honestly do consider this normal, then OP might have picked it up from them. Or if they’re just dismissing OP’s feelings, that probably contributes to Alison’s point at the end.

          1. kittybutton*

            this is exactly what I was thinking. it’s a very odd comment from the OP’s parents that this feeling is a normal part of work…it’s definitely not.

          2. MsSolo (UK)*

            Yes, I think there’s something going on here where the people around OP are normalising this guilt – references to their parents’ comments suggests they don’t see it as abnormal, but also taking OP at their word that their organisation ranks lay offs by amount of leave taking reinforces the anxiety as well.

            A neutral third party like a therapist can help OP set realistic expectations about taking leave and establish if her current network meets them, or whether they need to find a new role somewhere that doesn’t sabotage the work OP is doing to manage their feelings.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      Absolutely. I had thyroid cancer four years ago and one thing one of the nurses said to me was that “it’s better to deal with it now while you are young and fit and should recover pretty quickly from the operation”. Not only was this somewhat reassuring as it indicated the operation could safely be left for quite a while, but it’s something for the LW to think about. The longer they leave the operation well, firstly, depending on the condition, it may get worse, leading to a need for a more serious operation and therefore longer leave and even if it doesn’t, you are getting older and with many operations, the older you are, the more chance there is of certain complications or of a longer recovery time.

      Not that your job should be your only priority anyway, LW. You know what my then deputy principal (he’s now the principal) said to me when I told him I would need time off for surgery? “Well, the job comes a long way down the line after your health.” And I hadn’t even told him it was cancer, just that I was expecting to need surgery for a health condition.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Or the delay can cause the condition to become worse, complicating recovery at best. (I had cancer, when I had the surgery my stage was 1b … outcomes are much better when surgery is done in stage 1 than in any later stage. I’m now 2 years 10 months post surgery and doing well.) Even slow-growing cancers (like mine was .. the medical term was “indolent” and I joked that if you ever wanted something to be lazy, cancer was the thing that you wanted to be lazy) aren’t static and won’t get better without intervention.

        1. Dog momma*

          Glad to hear it, Random. Mine was 1a/ encapsulated, 2 yrs post surgery/ chemo and also doing well. Stuff like thus, or similar, can’t wait

    5. BigLawEx*

      Please do. I had optional surgery I put off for 10 years. Two things changed. First, I had worse insurance, so it cost more for me. And that benefit can change at any time, so keep that in mind. Second, I would have likely healed much faster/easier at a younger age and when I had far fewer responsibilities.

    6. Ace in the Hole*

      LW – picture how you would feel if the situation was reversed and a coworker of yours needed to take leave for an important surgery that would improve their quality of life. You would want them to take care of their health even if it caused you a bit of inconvenience, right?

      In the past few years, I’ve had several coworkers who had to take considerable leave time for personal or family health situations. No one thought poorly of them for it! One guy even needed to take several months off twice in the same year. It happens.

      And from an employer perspective, it’s beneficial to be accommodating of time off. It improves morale, retention, and efficiency.

    7. Anon for this*

      Going anon to make sure my team member’s privacy is extra-private:

      I currently have a team member out following a surgery. Their surgery did not go smoothly, so they are out for a lot longer than initially expected. It sucks.

      It does not suck for work purposes. It sucks because I care about them as a person, and do not want them to be suffering. It sounds like you’re suffering already, and if I were your boss, I would not want you to be suffering either. You deserve not to be suffering.

      For work purposes, it’s a little awkward – we had to shuffle their workload around a bit, and a couple of the “nice to haves” aren’t being had for the time being. That’s fine. We’re managing, and our main concern workwise is that they don’t return from their recovery to find a mess waiting for them.

      I and their grandboss would hate so much more for them to have not had the surgery, which even having gone badly will improve their life so much. If we had at any point given them the impression that taking care of their health would jeopardize their job, then WE would have been the ones not doing our job well.

    8. Kr*

      Yess! OP please get this surgery while you have a job that has PTO and A job. You don’t want to wait until it’s an emergency s

    9. Melissa2*

      And, importantly, this guilt has been a long term issue for the letter writer. The guilt will be there whether the surgery is soon or in a year, so it may as well be soon!

    10. Aerin*

      Not too long ago I delayed seeking intensive psychiatric care due to a work thing.

      BUT it was a work thing that I loved! It was something fun and fulfilling that the whole team enjoyed, and it was kind of my baby so I couldn’t easily hand it off to someone else. It was also an event that had a set end date, so on balance I decided it sparked sufficient joy that I could white-knuckle three more weeks to see it through. (I signed out of the final meeting and checked myself in the next day, and was out for seven weeks.)

      I couldn’t imagine delaying any kind of treatment for just regular old daily work. That work will always be there, there will never be a perfect time to go, so just go and life will go on.

  9. Ferret*

    OP I second Alison’s recommendation of therapy on this one – while some people ( and certainly not all) feel guilt about taking time off what you describe is far, far outside the normal range

    More common is people worrying about taking time off because of the amount of work you expect to pile up when you get back but I wouldn’t characterise that as guilt…

  10. ThatGirl*

    Ooof, OP, I hope you can get to the bottom of this – definitely need outside help, please seek some.

    I have never once felt guilty about taking time off. We are more than our jobs – you are more than our job. Even if we need one to live a decent/comfortable life – and I certainly do – I am not my job. What I do outside work matters as much if not more than what I do during the workday. Our significant others, families, friends, etc all deserve our time/love/attention too. You mention a honeymoon – doesn’t your spouse deserve to see you at your best and happiest?

    And, we are all better people and better employees for being well-rounded and well-rested. Nobody is a machine who can work without a break. Be kind to yourself.

    1. Not-So-New Mom (of 1 8/9)*

      Exactly what I thought reading this. I have a spouse, kid(s), and a faith community with a vibrant cycle of holidays–I enjoy taking time off to spend time with these things. LW, you have got to value yourself as a whole person and not just a worker bee, and you also have to value the people in your life who want to spend time with you, too. Or heck, value a hobby.

    2. Lea*

      Yeah I just schedule around my time off as much as possible, leave my team detailed notes on time sensitive stuff, and pick the rest up when I get back.

      Truly op does need therapy sounds like extreme anxiety, but they may also benefit from a company where they have more guardrails on leave? Like I have a certain amount that has to be used or it goes away and the entire culture is aware of this and supportive

      Of course if the job is otherwise great they probably won’t want to leave but ‘unlimited’ leave does feel like a trap

    3. Snow Globe*

      I agree. I’ve never, ever felt guilty about taking time off, and I always make sure to take every day I’m allotted. This hasn’t impacted my career at all, I’ve always had strong performance reviews and I’ve never had a manager indicate that my time off was an inconvenience-even when I took 3 consecutive weeks a few years ago. The world kept turning.

      LW, I say this just so you know that it’s not just a normal part of working to feel like you feel. I’m sorry that you are feeling so anxious, and I hope you get help to sort through your feelings about this.

    4. essy*

      Yes! Seconding all of this. OP, you are a human being first and foremost. We happen to have created a particular system where people have Jobs and are expected to work x hours a week, and our identities are often very tied to the work we do — but this is all something that humans made up, and it’s so specific to this place and time! I don’t know if thinking about it that way is helpful for you or not — but I hope, through therapy or otherwise, that you can come to take work less seriously and to value your life outside of work that much more. (And yes, PLEASE go get your surgery!!) And I’m saying all of that as someone who cares very deeply about the work I do. When choosing my career path, I figured that if I had to have a job in order to eat, then at least I’d pick something meaningful and interesting — but I never feel guilty about taking time off of work!! (Like, do I wish it didn’t impact other people’s workloads? Sure, but we have good PTO and they will also take time off and everyone is always just accommodating each other in that way!) I hope you can take all the advice on this page to heart and that things get easier for you. This sounds really, really hard!

  11. Carolyn Burnham*

    Please get in with a therapist and start working on your boundaries. If you died your employer would have your job posted before your funeral. No one should have to feel guilty for taking time off work and it doesn’t sound like your job is doing that. It sounds like you have a good team and things are covered and handled well when you are out. Please OP get some professional help with this ASAP as you will burn out hard and fast.

  12. Blue Pen*

    Although I don’t have as strong a reaction to taking time off work, I deeply sympathize with this LW. I was there at one point, and I probably still am to a certain extent. But IDK that I read “guilt” here so much as I read “fear.” I’m not sure where this LW is from, but I’m going to venture to guess they’re in the US; and if so, I think this letter illuminates how immensely precarious it can feel living/working in this country without any real safety net and how that can affect you mentally and emotionally—if not physically.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      yes! and it sounds like OP worked retail before and that can make you so screwed up. I remember getting called in to work when I was in another state and they got angry that I couldn’t come right away, and if you asked for time off you would get punished the next week with fewer hours, or hours that didn’t work for you.
      There’s a certain type of mentality, especially with retail work, that’s hard to break from. Especially if you live pay check to pay check and don’t have a safety net. And if you grew up in poverty or near poverty you can have the anxiety too. I call it the “if you have time to lean you have time to clean” anxiety. That if you are not working your but off that you are not worthy and that everything good will end.
      OP please try and find a therapist. Check with our eap or make a doctor appointment and get a referal. It’s going to take some time to refrain this thinking. good luck.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yup, my district manager at a part time job tried to get me written up because my manager gave me one day off to play a concert (approved 3 1/2 months in advance and I had gotten the shift covered by a colleague) because the manager didn’t check with her first. She scheduled an extra person for that day – which we didn’t do even at Christmas – so that I would no show (but we’d still have coverage) and get a write up. Didn’t work, though, because my manager was awesome.

        People called her office the Vortex of Evil.

      2. Laser99*

        I worked in retail as well. One boss would shriek at me if I tried to call in sick. Another insisted I had to find coverage myself, so I would be calling my coworkers and begging them. All this and ten dollars an hour too.

    2. Lea*

      Yes I do think that came through, and the fear of being let go for using too much leave may very well be valid sadly.

      In that case I would get a baseline for what people usually take and just set that as my leave instead of ‘unlimited’

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Sensible advice. Unlimited isn’t really unlimited. But the solution is to talk to colleagues and check in with the manager about expectations on this.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      That was my thought too. I was wondering if I should raise the suggestion or if I’d end up sounding like I was criticising the LW, when that’s not what I mean to say. It just seems like this is less about them feeling that they are inconveniencing the people covering for them or that they are failing to meet the needs of clients/patients/students/whoever they might be serving and more about fearing repercussions.

      And yeah, if somebody is taking way more time off than most people, like double the average, it could lead to their being “first in line” when there are layoffs, but taking a reasonable amount of time off, similar to what your colleagues take is not going to have that effect in the reasonably functional company.

      LW, I’m wondering if you have had some past experiences that are causing you to fear retaliation, whether this be a toxic employer that expected you to work 24/7 or a parent with high anxiety who made you feel that you would fail everything if you missed too many school days or a teacher who punished you when you were legitimately out of school or something.

      Because honestly, it doesn’t make logical sense to think that your employer would have no reason to keep you on if you took a few weeks off each year, when you have said it takes two people to replace you. If they fired you, they would presumably need to hire two people to cover your job, costing them more or hire one person and take somebody else off a project to help out. They’d then have lost you permanently, instead of just for a few weeks.

      If it is any consolation, I mentioned above having thyroid cancer. At that point of my life, I did not have a permanent teaching job. It was my first “official” year of my contract (this is complicated, but basically, although I had been in the school over two years at that point, the first two didn’t count towards permanancy as I was covering for somebody on a career break and wasn’t paid through the summer), which meant I had to reinterview the following summer to keep my job. So yeah, I was a bit worried that if I took too long off, it might effect whether or not they would want to re-employ me and give me a permanent contract. But it had to be done and of course it didn’t go against me.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Your first paragraph resonated with me. When I read the title of the letter I assumed it would be about the impact that the time off had on others – a teacher whose students had a substitute, or patients who have to see a different clinician for their care and lose continuity, or clients who have to wait longer to receive social services. But OP seems to have felt this way across multiple types of jobs and industries and it’s more about the concept of not working than any concrete repercussions of her time off.

        People in those roles have to learn to deal with any guilt and take time off, but the guilt is… more relatable to me? This seems to be tied up in disordered thinking about the employment relationship and the concept of working and the OP’s sense of self-worth. Which is why everyone is suggesting therapy.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I don’t read this as criticizing the LW at all and I think the response is very compassionate. Our minds make educated guesses about our emotional states based on physiological responses, the context, past experiences, etc. There’s no judgment in suggesting that someone consider that maybe another emotion label fits better.

      3. Aerin*

        The fact that OP mentions feeling this from their very first job makes me think it would be tied to family of origin or school. In addition to the excellent points of exploration Alison suggested, I’d add: were hobbies/rest framed as things you had to “earn” growing up? Were you lectured or punished if you did something fun or nice for yourself without having done enough work first? Did your parents spend a lot of time talking about how hard they had to work and what they had to sacrifice to keep a roof over your head, and was this often paired with expectations about what you had to do in return?

        All of those experiences are unhealthy and can be very damaging. Whatever lesson you learned growing up that makes you feel this way, a therapist can help you unlearn it and build a new framework.

    4. EarlGrey*

      it (the lack of safety net) truly is terrifying! But I wonder if thinking practically through the scenario of losing one’s job would be helpful. How do unemployment benefits work in your area, how much buffer do you have in your household budget, how much can your spouse’s income support, who else can you lean on for short term help, what’s the hiring market like in your field? The leap in your current thinking from job loss to losing EVERYTHING is understandable but not actually realistic! It sounds scary, but breaking down the actual what-ifs you would face if you were laid off will probably show you, you will survive it, it will be a problem for you to solve and not a disaster where you have no agency to recover.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’ve definitely found this kind of thing helpful, as someone who tends towards anxiety and catastrophizing. Thinking through the disasters means there’s a set plan for if disaster strikes. Though the biggest thing that has helped me is remembering that I am capable of making good decisions and handling problems if they happen. I have some trust in myself to muddle through.

        I also wouldn’t be surprised if the LW was someone who is used to being extremely competent and independent and may underestimate the amount of support they would get in a time of crisis. And may not be comfortable asking for help. That’s part of the disaster plan, too.

      2. Aerin*

        This is a great tactic. It also helps you think of The Bad Thing as not being the end of the world, because if it happens you will work through it and life will go on. It may be hard and suck, but time will continue to move forward.

        It also ties into Alison’s frequent advice for people who worry they’re about to be laid off or fired: if that happens, what would you wish you had done to prepare? Do that now. OP would probably benefit from at least keeping their resume updated and doing some casual job searching. Even if they don’t want to actually leave their job now, having a solid idea of the market is better than a nebulous fear of never working again. (And who knows, they might find a great position where it’s never a problem for people to take time off.)

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say exactly this. I read this as fear / abject terror wearing a guilt hat. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be fighting these feelings all the time. You’re right Blue Pen that the precarity of work in the US and other places can really mess people up. We know that people get fired for all sorts of nonsense reasons, so being cognizant of the power dynamic is sensible. That being said, it sounds like this stress and anxiety is a disproportionate reaction, since there’s nothing in the letter suggesting her employer sucks. It’s also causing major problems in the LW’s life.

      Like Alison and various commenters have said, professional help from a therapist is probably going to be absolutely vital here. You are suffering, LW, and missing out on important events in your life.

  13. LaFramboise, academic librarian*

    Dear OP, I agree with everything that Allison has said. Getting rid of guilt-based schemas is worthy if difficult, and you deserve to be free of whatever has happened to cause you to feel as you do. As someone who has benefitted from therapy, I heartily endorse discussing this with a good therapist. Best wishes to you and thanks for being brave and writing about your issue.

  14. ShineSpark*

    LW, I sympathise so much with how you feel. Earlier in my career I also struggled badly with guilt over taking time off. I never felt sick enough to call out unless I was incapacitated, and even then I felt awful about inconveniencing people. The “correct” amount of paid leave to take was a close to none as possible, even though my country has legal minimums on how much vacation time you have to be given. I’d book time off and work from home without telling anyone.

    I cannot agree enough with Alison’s suggestion to unpack this with a therapist. These thoughts aren’t healthy, but they are coming from somewhere. For me it was bad messages from my childhood about whether I was faking illness or relaxation being wasteful. Whatever is the root of this for you, I hope you can work through these feeling and find a better equilibrium. Because you deserve a vacation without worrying about work. Everybody does.

    1. Bast*

      Having worked for a firm where someone was praised as the example of a “model employee” for sending emails from her bed while recovering from heart surgery, we were made to feel significantly shamed for taking time out to be sick because nothing was ever “sick enough” even if it was never directly put that way. If Jane could work after heart surgery, what was a bout of flu? I hate to say it, but even long after leaving that job I still felt guilty for calling out sick.

      1. AnonORama*

        Yes, after having been lectured for taking an afternoon off (not even a whole day!) when I had a kidney stone, and compared to a woman who was answering discovery requests from her hospital bed the day she gave birth — it is hard to get out of this mindset. I still donate most of my sick time, and don’t take all my vacation, and that job has a lot to do with it.

  15. JaneLoe*

    I’m happy to see how Alison’s advice ended here – I am a mental health therapist and agree that this should be worked out with a therapist. OP – you can work through these feelings and get on the other side of them, but I would encourage you to find someone who can help you work with the physical sensations you describe (sometimes this is called “somatic therapy”). EMDR might be helpful as well. Good luck & take care

  16. stebuu*

    I don’t want to seem like I am piling on here, but this post was genuinely the most troubled I’ve been by an AAM post in my decade+ of reading and I hope you immediately get some pretty intensive therapy. I hope things get better.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I don’t think that you (and the others ) are piling on. I agree with you that the letter is extremely troubling and like you I hope that she gets the help needed.

    2. DyneinWalking*

      Piling on is a problem when it’s negative feedback, because it can make people overwhelmed and feel like everyone is against them and hating on them.

      But this isn’t hate and negativity! People are piling on to say that the LW should get help ASAP, that this is not normal, that they are hurting themselves. Piling on in this case is kindness, IMO. They need to understand that this is a mental health issue – and a pretty extreme one at that! – that requires professional help. And because part of the issue is the definition of what’s “normal”, more people jumping in to comment means that there is more evidence for LW to see how out of the norm this is.

    3. Hexiv*

      I don’t know if it counts as piling on! It’s not as if LW did anything wrong, it’s just that it’s painful to know that someone is suffering the way they evidently are.

    4. LizB*

      Agreed, I am super concerned about this LW’s wellbeing. Most people, including high performers and highly valued employees, don’t feel any kind of guilt about taking time off, let alone overwhelming guilt. Putting off SURGERY because you feel it would be bad to take time off for it is really really concerning. I really hope we get a positive update on this one.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I wonder if it is helpful for the LW to see the number of people on here who are saying that this is not their experience, at least not to the same degree. The opening of the letter basically says that the LW assumes that we all have these same feelings with taking time off. It may be important for them to hear that this is not a typical experience for people. Meaning that they do not need to expect themselves to suffer in silence until they retire (at 82 because of fear of stopping working).

      I am not a therapist, but many of my friends are. From time to time, they will ask the group random questions that they hope will help their clients. Like do you think [doing x] is weird / would it bother you if someone [did x]? We get zero context, because of confidentiality, but I’m assuming that the point of this exercise is to reassure people that people are a lot less concerned or upset by people’s harmless quirks than folks with anxiety believe. And it’s not just coming from their therapist, it’s coming from a group of people who have no reason to lie about it.

      I hope that the number of comments will help the LW to realize that their experience isn’t all that common and that there are options to do the work to help them have a better experience.

  17. 123456789101112*

    Hi OP. You are worthy and you are valuable and you are a full human who deserves to experience the full range of what this world has to offer. You only have one life to live and a few years on this planet. All of these things are true all the time, not because you’re employed and not because you work hard and not because you’ve “earned” it by being useful. You are worthy all by yourself. I hope that you’re able to get some help because it is truly painful to live life the way you’re currently live it. I want you to live without that pain.

    1. UKDancer*

      This so much. We have so little time on this earth and while work is necessary for most of us to pay the bills its not the only thing we are for. There is so much else we can and should do to feel fulfilled.

    2. not like a regular teacher*

      Yes, this! OP, it’s clear from your letter that these feelings are hurting you, and I hope you’ll give yourself a lot of grace as you work through them. Like all other humans on this planet, you deserve to live a full and happy life including time for relaxation; this is not something you or anyone else has to “earn.” Good luck <3

    3. Worldwalker*

      OP, your value to yourself is more important than your value to your employer. You are defined by the person you are, not the work that you do. “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” is the goal — not devoting your entire existence to someone whose interest in you does not extend beyond the work/pay transaction. If you’ve given them the fair day’s work, then everything beyond that is your own — and the fair day’s pay includes your PTO, by the way.

    4. Generic Name*

      YES. You deserve to exist. To take up space. To have needs. To have WANTS. To take a vacation.

    5. Karen Filipelli*

      I’ve read through this entire thread and this is the one comment that literally brought me to tears. I suffer from something similar to the OP (though nowhere near as extreme) and am coming off my first full one-week vacation in 12 months. I manage four people and, when I got back, I felt frustrated by people on my team who didn’t perform well and guilty for people on my team who had to over-perform to cover my time. I rarely take off more than a day or two at a time because the stress of coming back makes me feel unhappy. I needed to read your comment today. Thank you.

  18. Dawn*

    For what it’s worth, OP, while I don’t have quite the same reaction to missing work that you do (I still have more guilt than is really warranted) on other things this could absolutely be me, and it all very much stems from growing up experiencing emotional abuse from a parent and never being “good enough” for them or praised for my successes – only told that I could still do better.

    I don’t know if your situation is comparable, but I wanted you to know that you’re definitely not alone in these feelings and that in most cases they are definitely caused by something that is worth having a professional help you unpack (and it might be that whatever surgery you’ve been putting off might help alleviate some of this as well!)

    I hope that you’ll find out what’s at the bottom of this and get started on the path to a happier and healthier way of living.

    1. RVA Cat*

      100% this. It resonates with me as a childhood trauma survivor. OP needs professional help. This is why companies have EAPs. In the meantime, there are many podcasts that could be helpful – I’ve found Patrick Teehan’s “Our Whole Childhood” and his YouTube channel helpful, as well as Josie Ong’s Affirmation Pod for help with self-worth.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Oh some of it definitely the parents. Telling her it is normal to feel guilty about not working. Not to this extent its not.

      OP talk to a therapist. Folks on the internet can sympathize and support you, but this one needs the professionals to help you fix it.

      1. Baunilha*

        Yes, the parents’ response is a little worrying.

        I grew up hearing how proud my parents were that they went to work even when they were sick and never took a sick day. Fortunately my now retired dad no longer thinks this way, but I got lot of grief for missing work when I had a broken finger (!) when I was younger, and that stuck with me for a long time.

        And for the record, even my parents took vacation days.

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      The only guilt I feel when taking time off is when someone else has to finish work that I was supposed to be responsible for, and it’s just this feeling of “ugh, if I were actually GOOD at my job, I’d have been able to finish it in a timely fashion and Alex wouldn’t have had to work overtime,” so nothing like the LW’s, and I’ve been told that even that is excessive.

      did you learn growing up that your feelings and needs don’t matter? Or that you’ll be penalized if you try to take care of yourself first, or even at all? Or that you don’t have intrinsic value simply as you, but instead need to tie yourself into pretzels to justify being around?

      Sounds like my elementary school.

    4. Lab Boss*

      It fascinates me that I have some of the same reactions, but it sounds like I grew up very much opposite: extremely nurturing parents, tons of praise, etc. For me, that developed into a sense of “I’m very capable, I’ve had a very good life, I have no excuse NOT to always be performing, people are relying on me, they know I can overachieve so if I ever stop overachieving they’ll all be disappointed.”

      It’s weird how the brain can take two very different routes to producing some of the same coping mechanisms.

  19. Dino Smash*

    I have never felt guilt about taking time off. This year, I will be taking off three days to be a bridesmaid for my brother’s out-of-state wedding. He picked the first weekend of my job’s three week “all hands on deck” period. Luckily the policy does allow for family events that I was able to use three days of PTO to go. I’ll be missing the largest internal event my company does during the time I’m away. I don’t feel any guilt about missing it; a little bummed because I actually enjoy this event but no guilt at all. My family would think I was nuts if I didn’t come to the wedding just because of work.

    Please see someone to figure out why you feel guilty about this. My heart breaks for you that you’ve missed out on big life experiences for a job where you’re fully aware that you’re a cog in a machine that would be replaced at a moment’s notice. No job is worth this kind of loyalty that you feel guilty to taking time off. There is far more to life than work!

  20. Persephone*

    What jumped out to me was this line – ‘ My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job, but I don’t want to feel this guilty.’

    If your parents say that such extreme, dysfunctional levels of guilt are normal then I think we’ve figured out where the guilt comes from…

    1. amoeba*

      Yup. I really cannot imagine which parents wouldn’t be incredibly worried their child feels that way, instead of reinforcing it!

      1. Not-So-New Mom (of 1 8/9)*

        Thanking my lucky stars for having one parent of Mediterranean descent who would never take this attitude, lol.

      2. br_612*

        The parents could have anxiety disorders themselves. These things can be genetic. If this is how they feel they might not realize it’s absolutely not the average experience, definitely not to the degree OP is waking up with tears every day on PTO.

        I’ve realized as an adult my father probably had an anxiety disorder of some sort. And that’s been through dealing with my own anxiety issues. Sure some of his behaviors may have contributed to my anxiety, but it’s pretty clear now those behaviors were HIS anxiety showing, not him intentionally being difficult.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          Yep. Only as an adult married to a man with anxiety have I realized my mother likely has an anxiety disorder. I do not, but I’ve “borrowed” a lot of her worries that aren’t even things I personally care about because being around someone that anxious kind of gives you anxious habits even without the brain weasels.

          And I’ve also come to realize my grandmother likely did too, from stories I’ve been told. I feel so lucky that I missed that gene, because it is a bad place to live. I feel so sorry for this LW.

    2. Blue Pen*

      I commented already above, but this stood out for me, too. This is my mom. IDK if she intended to have this effect on me, but she always spoke about work as something that was precious and that you were “lucky” to be employed—or essentially, chosen—somewhere. Because of that, it contributed significantly to my perfectionism and feeling as though it could all be ripped away from me suddenly if I didn’t “control” for it.

      1. Merci Dee*

        My mother had much the same outlook. When I was growing up, she would complain if she thought someone was out too much at her job, and she always phrased it as “so-and-so was laying out of work”, which meant of course that they were being lazy and just decided not to come in that day. My mother was born in 1941, so she’s part of the Silent Generation, and part of the workforce that looked at employment and having their jobs as a “favor” that their employer did for them. Unfortunately, since it was a “favor” for the employer to give them a job, it was just as easy, in their minds, for the employer to take their job away. It didn’t matter how good their work was, how knowledgeable they were, or how willing they were to contribute — their jobs could be snatched away at any minute if they angered the overlords. And “laying out” was, apparently, something that always angered the overlords.

        I realized at some point during my second job after college that she had somewhat passed this thinking on to me as I was growing up, and it took some time and effort to get comfortable with the idea that I could take a day off just because I wanted to. I didn’t have to have any grand vacation plans, I didn’t have to be sick, I didn’t have to have a death in the family. I could just take a day off because we were in a slow period at work, all my tasks were caught up, and I thought it would be fun to hang out on the couch or do some shopping for the day.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I read that to mean that taking time off was normal. If you’re right that they’re talking about feeling overly responsible for cover, that’s …. alarming.

    4. Tio*

      Possibly. But it’s also possible OP has not shared the extent or intensity of their feeling with their parents and so they think it’s on a more normal level. But I agree there is also a good chance that they started this whole thing

    5. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

      When the OP said ‘My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job, but I don’t want to feel this guilty,’ I thought the OP meant that the parents said that taking vacation time was a normal part of having a job.

        1. LWH*

          Especially with this being confusing for people I think people need to lay off the armchair therapy telling LW their parents are the problem. We don’t know which way LW meant this comment, we don’t know anything about LW’s parents, and we don’t know if LW’s parents know how much this is distressing LW or if LW just told them “oh I feel bad about taking time off” without all the rest of this. Especially if it is a misunderstanding it’s going to be stressful for LW as someone who definitely overthinks things to the point of intense anxiety to be reading all of these comments about their parents who very well may have been trying to tell them that taking time off is totally normal and fine. I think a whole lot of armchair therapy needs to be weeded out of this comment section, it’s well meaning but I don’t think it’s actually helpful to LW, it may be doing the opposite.

    6. Throwaway Account*

      I came here to say that! Mom and Dad are a big part of this issue.

      I also got the sense from my parents that work is inherently good and you must be working all the time. Luckily for me, they did not make me feel that vacations are never ok, but I will say that I’m about to take 2 weeks off in a row, and I have never done that – never taken two weeks off in a row from a job (did take long visits to family when I was a SAHM). I have had to stop myself from apologizing constantly!

      OP, I hope you will get therapy for this. In case you need to hear it from an internet stranger – you deserve a holiday, you have earned this time off, you are a human and you deserve to enjoy your time off!

    7. bamcheeks*

      I was going to quote the same part too! LW, I think your parents taught you some really distorted and disproportionate ideas about the role of work in your self image, and I absolutely agree that you should unpack that with a therapist. You really, really do not need to be this miserable about it.

      Well done for recognising that it’s a problem. That’s step one!

    8. Alcott*

      Funny, I read that line as OP’s parents saying it’s normal to miss work and for people to have to cover you, not that the guilt is normal.

  21. Myrin*

    OP, I mean this in a very gentle and concerned and not at all mean or condescending manner (even though it might appear that way at first) but I’m going to say it in the hopes that it might help you on your way to realise just how unusual the way you talk about work is: in terms of relatability, this must be the most bizarre letter I’ve ever seen here in the decade I’ve read AAM.

    I think this might stem from the fact that I have never, ever, literally never heard anyone express something like that. You say “I genuinely don’t understand how folks deal with the overwhelming guilt of taking time off work.” and I have to say: I genuinely don’t understand your overwhelming guilt.

    I feel like there’s quite a bit of psychological digging to do here, and I have a vague sense that this part of your letter might be related to that: “My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job” because that tells me that either your parents don’t understand the full scope of your thoughts and feelings on this topic OR your parents are exactly like you in this regard and either instilled this kind of thinking into you from a young age (whether consciously or not) or you simply inherited it from them (or both).

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yes, my first thought was “… I don’t have any guilt?”

      but clearly there’s a lot going on here, and I feel like part of OP recognizes this is not normal or healthy.

    2. Helvetica*

      Yeah, I had similar thoughts. I’d understand it better if things were on fire if you returned from vacation or if your manager guilt-tripped you if you tried to take vacation, or if you workplace culture strongly discouraged being off and disconnecting but it does not seem to be actually causing any problems for your worklife, other than in your head.
      For context – I work heavily with some issues where especially in 2022 was an awful, maddening, stressful time and I felt guilty for having planned a vacation two months into a major situation. But you know what, my manager told me I absolutely have to go, otherwise I will burn out. She was right. In rest of my worklife, I do not feel guilty about being on vacation and disconnecting 100%.
      So I encourage you, like Alison does, to dig into this with a professional because you should not be feeling like this at all.

    3. londonedit*

      Yes, absolutely. This was my first thought, too. You’re being paid to do a job, you’re being compensated for the value that you bring to the company – and part of that compensation involves being paid to also take holidays and time off to allow you to live the rest of your non-working life in as healthy and happy a manner as possible.

      I *did* feel guilty about taking time off when I was freelancing – but that was purely from the perspective that I was working for myself, and I was always worried about where the next bit of work was coming from. So I felt like if I took a two-week holiday I might miss out on work, and I felt like I should constantly be working because if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning any money. But that’s not how being an employee works! One of the benefits of being an employee is having a regular salary every month and having paid holiday and sick pay and all the rest of it. Those are things you get in return for the work you do for your employer, they’re yours (where I live they’re legally mandated) and you deserve to use them.

    4. Joielle*

      Yep, agreed. And I’m a person who does tend towards the workaholic side of the spectrum so I totally get not taking a lot of time off. My work is important to me, I enjoy it, and if I’m not here there are things that pile up, others have to cover, etc – but even at that, I still have never felt this amount of guilt, not even close.

      I think it comes down to the fact that I know I’m highly valued in my workplace and people know I’m not a slacker, and taking a normal amount of time off will not change that perception. Hell, even if I did slack off for a while, I am very confident that people would see that as an anomaly and assume something was going on in my personal life, not jump straight to firing me.

      I agree that there’s a lot of digging to do here with a therapist, around the themes of confidence, self-worth, self-care, and catastrophic thinking.

    5. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Agreed. As I was reading, I exclaimed “oh my god” out loud several times. I have never felt even the slightest bit of guilt for taking time off. I always want more!

      This poor person has somehow internalized all the worst parts of late stage capitalism and carved them into her body. I hate so much that she wouldn’t let herself go to her grandparents death beds and also is still punishing herself every day for not going.

      OP, you are not holding the whole world on your shoulders. It’s okay to relax. You already deserve time off, you don’t have to earn it.

  22. Ferret*

    OP I 100% afree with Alison’s suggstions to get therapy – these are incredibly extreme emotions, not to mention the measurable impact it’s already having on your health (1 year delay for an operation!) and personal life.

    I have to wonder – when you have managed to take time off did you actually experience any backlash or negative consequences? Were you forced to attend school even when sick?

    It really is worth digging in deeper, because while I’d agree that a lot of people worry about leave on the basis that there might be a lot of work waiting for them when they get back I wouldn’t call that guilt and I’d disagree with the idea a lot of people actually feel bad for their employers when they take time off – maybe their colleagues sometimes but that’s quite a difference.

  23. juliebulie*

    I’m wondering if there is some person in OP’s early work history that may have modeled this guilty attitude. Or perhaps OP had an older relative who grew up during the Depression and infused OP’s young ears with tales of what it’s like to be in an EXTREMELY bad job market.

    1. Ink*

      No need for the great depression- just an area at or above average in the catastrophe of 2008. I was in elementary school and we squeaked through just fine, but it’s still a big influence on my feelings/ anxieties about the economy. Mine is focused on credit cards, but if a loved one lost their job and couldn’t find a new one that’s probably all you need to start the anxiety building up over that.

      1. Paint N Drip*

        Uncomfortable and true.

        My dad was in a ‘turbulent’ career and often worried about layoffs, was caught up in buyouts and company ‘marriages’, and generally went through a lot of the stress that we read about here on AAM. His job was a small part of that stress, but the work experience as a whole was quite stressful.

        In response to seeing HIS stress and lack of control despite being skilled and having longevity in his companies, I chose to work a job that is abundant. That means I won’t ever be scared to not have a job – the jobs are there. That also means I won’t ever have the benefits of having a niche skillset – nobody is poaching me, the growth opportunities are extremely limited, my earning potential is ‘enough to eat but you don’t like expensive things, right?’.

        We all play out these fears in different ways. Something to discuss with my therapist LOL

        1. Blue Pen*

          I relate to this! Job security is *extremely* important to me—might even be more important than salary, TBH—and while nothing is guaranteed, I work in an industry (higher education) and for an organization where layoffs are virtually nonexistent.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        While I don’t feel as the LW does, I grew up in the ’80s in Ireland and I remember being 9 and the teacher asking us what we’d wish for if we got three wishes and the only thing I could think of was that I’d get a teaching job when I grew up. Ireland in the 80s has something like 20% unemployment and mass emigration (we talked about raising the children of Ireland for export), so yeah, getting a job I wanted without having to leave my country already seemed like something hit or miss, something likely to be a matter of luck.

        Heck, the radio was playing songs practically daily about how the government was failing the people of Ireland by not preventing a situation where people had to leave to have any hopes of finding work.

    2. Blame It On The Weatherman*

      Even in the ’30’s depression or ’08 recession though, it’s wildly unrealistic to think that anyone’s job becomes endangered by taking their vacation time. This is some sort of fantastical belief OP has gotten stuck into that has no relation to the world around her.

  24. A New CV*

    The fact that your parents have said this is a normal reaction tells us a lot about where these feelings are sourced and I encourage you to really think about that. The hard work of therapy is a good place to focus your clearly strong, if currently misguided, work ethic.

    1. English Teacher*

      Yes, glad someone pointed this out! If what your parents meant by that is that the guilt, and needing to work constantly, is normal, they are wrong. Not saying anything about your family’s beliefs or background, just that statement is provably, factually inaccurate–people do NOT typically feel guilty when they take time off. It is NOT the working norm.

      Your life is not all about work, you do not live to work, and you are not only, or even primarily, a worker. You are a human. You deserve to go do human things, even during work hours.

      In addition to the recommended therapy, please ask some close friends OUTSIDE your family about their feelings around work and taking off. You might be surprised.

  25. Kara*

    OH my goodness. I want to repeat Alison’s 2nd to last paragraph in it’s entirety:

    … the feelings and responses you describe on this issue (waking up with tears in your eyes and feeling sick / not going when family members are dying or to be in your best friend’s wedding) are extremely disordered. They’re so far outside the realm of healthy thinking on this — and the impact on your life so severe — that it makes sense to bring it to someone who can help you do the hard work of sorting through it.

    This is NOT NORMAL. It’s not healthy. I have absolutely zero guilt about taking time off work. In fact, this week I’m taking Wed-Fri off to go on a girls-weekend trip with a good friend. I do it every spring and my co-workers know I do and my boss approves it every spring. He also knows that the last 4 weeks in our org have been stressful due to some new projects and has encouraged me to “go have a good time and don’t think about anything work related”.

    Not only that, but I’m going to be taking another 2 weeks in October as my partner and I go to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta and then spend time driving around the SW. And I’ll still take a few days over Christmas/New Years as well. Because they’re part of my compensation and not taking them would be throwing away money, essentially. And I will not feel a single whit guilty about doing so.

    Please please please please find a therapist to talk to about this. And I mean that in a genuinely caring way, not a snarky internet “seek therapy” kind of way. Whatever loyalty you may or may not owe your employer, the fact that you’re crying and sick about missing work ON YOUR HONEYMOON is just terribly sad and completely unnecessary.

    I hope you can resolve this and get rid of these feelings. It sounds like a miserable place to be.

    1. Dog momma*

      …and I’m wondering what LWs spouse’s take is on this…this must bf so difficult for both of them. it may be spilling over to other areas of their life

  26. Choggy*

    I absolutely agree this is something you should get a professional to help you get to the root cause of why you feel this level of guilt. You mentioned something which may be a part of why you feel this way – “My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job, but I don’t want to spend my whole life feeling this guilty all the time.” Have your parents always made you feel guilty about doing things just for yourself? To be healthy, you need that time way to refresh and regroup, disconnect from the day to day, and take care of yourself.

    1. Boof*

      Good point, i sort of assumed lw’s parents don’t know the extent of lw’s distress, but it’s possible they do and were the original source for these feelings

  27. Three Owls in a Trench Coat*

    Taking time off is part of job preparation. Taking time to care for yourself, rest on a sick day, relax, see friends and family, pursue hobbies, see your doctor, travel, etc. – all that helps recharge your brain so that when you’re at work, you are fully present and ready to go.
    If you’re ill, tired, stressed, or distracted by your personal life, you’re not giving your employer your best. It’s the same as making sure you sleep well. Bad sleep = bad performance. Good sleep = good performance.
    Investing in yourself is investing in your career.

  28. Ink*

    LW, replace “work” with “school” and I could be reading a journal entry from the absolute peak of my pre-treatment anxiety disorder. And if whatever’s causing this is this severe, I’m willing to bet that it’s showing up in other ways, too. Work is the focus, but work on managing this and you might find that cooking dinner instead of eating out, making and keeping plans with friends, handling minor inconvenience like a traffic jam, SOMETHING else will turn out to be much easier than you thought it had to be.

    Getting in to a therapist and then doing the work is hard, healthcare is a chaotic, expensive snarl at the best of times, but from an outside perspective… it’s past time to do it. Your primary care dr might be able to get you started even before you get an appointment with a therapist. In fact, if you’re absolutely against the therapist, talk to your dr anyway! I waited bc that gave me paralyzing fear vastly worse than my baseline symptoms, but it turned out that my regular dr could get the ball rolling without a therapist. I wish I hadn’t waited to talk to him.

    It’s not a magic cure, but you deserve help. Your family needs *you* just as much as they need your income. Good luck

  29. Old Cynic*

    I had a manager who was new to a managerial position at the time. I put in a vacation request and she called me into her office and proceeded to grill me about my travel plans, my travelling companions, etc. She then told me she would consider my request. I sat nervously for three days until she came back to my desk and told me she had decided to approve my request.

    Quite honestly, I think that was way out of line and vacation requests should be automatically approved unless they have some severe impact on the company that the company can’t figure out how to deal with.

    1. UKDancer*

      Well I have turned down a request which clashes with our company’s busiest period of the year when we have a major event. Everyone knows when that is (dates announced in advance) so we only grant leave then in exceptional circumstances.

      So sometimes people in my company don’t get leave exactly when they want but otherwise I’d absolutely want people taking their leave and encourage them to do so.

      1. Worldwalker*

        That would fall under “severe impact on the company.” I doubt if tax prep services grant time-off requests during tax season, for instance. But it’s doubtful they’d question the exact same request in August.

    2. Dino Smash*

      That was way out of line! It’s none of your manager’s business about where you’re going or who you’re traveling with! The only thing managers should consider is if the timing will affect business in any way; the details of your time off don’t matter. Please don’t let any managers grill you like this; it’s not their business!

    3. Blue Pen*

      I agree. I might be getting too granular, but I wish we used another term for submitting PTO instead of “requesting PTO” and “awaiting PTO approval.” I’m not so much “requesting” it as I am letting you know when I’ll be out of the office. I totally understand the need for advance notice where possible, but that should be the end of it. I’m not asking for permission or approval; I’m letting you know when I will be away.

      1. Doreen*

        That may be true for you , but it’s not the case for a lot of people. Most jobs require some degree of coverage. I’m not talking about someone needing to cover the front desk while the receptionist is at lunch . I’m talking about longer term coverage, like days or weeks – there are lots of places where all the people who do a particular job can’t take the same day/week off.

        1. Blue Pen*

          That’s fair! I understand there are certain situations or events that necessitate more forethought and planning, but I still think the general principle remains: as an adult, I don’t think I should have to essentially ask for permission to use compensation that’s afforded to me as part of my employment there. It just sets up a weird dynamic, and as a manager, I’m uncomfortable when a direct report comes to me with what sounds like a “case” they’ve made for themselves to take time off. They should never feel as though they have to do that. (And I would also expect my manager/employer to assume a good faith effort on my part to use sound judgment on when I take that time—e.g., barring an actual emergency, I would never tell them the day of a major event I’m leading that “I’m taking PTO today, sorry.”)

          1. UKDancer*

            I think it’s more that you have the right to the time off but what you need to do is get agreement as to when to ensure there’s cover and it’s a suitable time.

            1. Blue Pen*

              I agree. To that end, I would like to see it eventually reframed as something like “I’m submitting PTO through the portal” or “I’m sharing my PTO plans with you, let’s discuss coverage options for then,” not: “I am requesting your approval of my PTO for these dates.”

              1. Allonge*

                Does it help in the meanwhile to think of it as I am requesting your approval of these dates for my PTO?

      2. RVA Cat*

        This! It says something about our society when we identify with Red (and Brooks) from Shawshank needing to ask permission to go to the bathroom when he’s out of prison.

    4. Nea*

      Those aren’t manager questions, those are “your mother” questions and so far out of line that the line is in another zip code!

  30. Beth*

    OP, reading between the lines, it sounds like you’ve landed hard on the side of “I wouldn’t be able to afford to live without this job, I have to prove my worth to keep it.” It’s so, so normal to not be able to afford basic COL expenses without a job! But that doesn’t mean the power dynamic is automatically “I have to be super grateful to my employer, I have to prove my worth, I need them more than they need me.” First, your employer needs you too; that’s why they hired you. And second–I know I don’t know you or your line of work, but it sounds like you’re a diligent and experienced worker. If you were to lose this job for some reason, I bet you’d find another job quickly! You’re not dependent on this one job for employment.

    It also sounds like the unlimited PTO setup is a contributing factor here. One of the best-known disadvantages of unlimited PTO is that lots of people default to using less when they don’t have a ‘bank’ of saved-up PTO that they know they can spend with impunity, so you’re not alone in this. Maybe talk to your manager about what’s considered a ‘normal’ amount of PTO in your company? Having a benchmark in your head might help you feel less guilt about taking at least that much time off.

    1. amoeba*

      Yes, that stuck out to me, too! Like, yeah, of course you wouldn’t be able to live without a job – a lot of people wouldn’t, especially in a country with no good safety net! Almost nobody can, except the 1% or so who are independently wealthy! But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to live if you lost *this particular job* – people lose jobs and find new ones all the time.

      (And that’s all apart from the fact that never taking any time off seriously doesn’t even help you keep your job – they expect people to take time off, your potential replacement would take time off, and you’ll actually do worse work if you’re burned out!)

      1. DyneinWalking*

        “of course you wouldn’t be able to live without a job”

        And it can be turned around to the employers: How many would be able to make any revenue without their employees?

    2. anonymous anteater*

      Not only does OP’s employer need them in the normal sense, but when OP takes time off, they need one full time staff plus a second person to cover for them. This detail alone says OP is doing more than an average worker’s work. Why do they keep you on? Because you are so productive that it would cost them more to replace you with someone else!

  31. Cold and Tired*

    First, OP – take Allison’s advice to seek the help of a professional to sort through this. I see a therapist myself, and they’ve been a great help with learning how to short circuit my brain and its attempts to overwhelm me with anxiety over every little thing. I feel like you would benefit from having someone help you unpick why you’re seeing work the way you do and undoing some of those emotional ties.

    Second, just because most of us need to work to survive doesn’t mean that I’ve sold all agency to the company I work for. It is a business transaction where I give them x number of hours or amount of productivity and they give me x amount of money and benefits. If either of us is unhappy, either I’m let go or I quit and get a new job. What you’re describing almost feels like you’re trapped in permanent servitude to this company, and they’re benevolently allowing you to be alive, which is a really one sided relationship that isn’t reality. It’s also so strange that you’re worried about people covering your work when you’re gone, but don’t you ever cover for others when they’re out? So why isn’t it something that they’re just returning the favor when you’re out on vacation? It’s a give and take.

    I hope you can find someone to help you accept that it’s ok to be human and take a break and not feel responsible for your company in your free time. That level of commitment isn’t sustainable long term, and isn’t going to benefit your health. And get the surgery you need! Surgical outcomes rarely improve when you put them off this long so please stop delaying if it’s something you really need.

  32. Whale whale whale*

    “My parents say it’s a normal part of having a job”

    OP, please talk to a therapist and unpack this. There were many things my parents also told me were a normal part of having a job that weren’t. It takes times to unlearn. Best of luck on your journey with this

    1. pally*

      This would be my parent’s take on this.

      My parents (both grew up during the Depression) were all about “No matter what, don’t do anything that might result in losing your job. In fact, do extra (at no pay, if allowed). Do all you can. Make yourself indispensable. It might save you from being laid off. You’ll thank me for this advice!”

      It is not healthy. I bet it didn’t even save anyone’s job either. Probably wrecked more than a few people’s health.

      And, from my experience, this mindset is hard to unlearn. But unlearn it, you must, OP.

    2. Safely Retired*

      I would take that further to things we are told about LIFE that aren’t, or don’t have to be.

  33. TheBunny*

    OP as was suggested, please talk to someone. The level of guilt you feel about time off isn’t on par with the norm for how people feel about time off, as most people enjoy being able to get away. My heart breaks for you reading your letter.

    My husband works a job that doesn’t have PTO. He took the job because of the money but we take a trip every year that he takes unpaid…because we all need time away.

    I agree with contacting your EAP. I do think they could help. I wish you the best.

  34. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    I don’t think we need to be telling anyone else how to feel, let alone that they should feel guilty about events that they admit they sacrificed in order not to feel guilty about taking time off for. It sounds like the OP is in a rock and a hard place- they take off, they feel guilty about leaving work to other people and are afraid for their livelihood; if they don’t take off, they feel guilty about missing important life events. To be clear, I think the OP needs to let go of guilt and fear- I just don’t think replacing that with guilt and shame over something else is appropriate.

  35. Missing My PTO*

    I think it’s helpful to remind yourself that PTO is a part of your compensation package. When you choose not to take that time, you’re essentially cutting your own pay!

  36. Clearance Issues*

    OP, I have an anxiety disorder and sometimes I feel guilty about taking PTO too, I went to talk to EAP and I have a therapist, because that is not normal. In my company I can see PTO accruing as I work, and to me that says that the company has put these benchmarks of “I have worked enough to earn X time off.”

    I found several coping mechanisms that work for me. In the case of a pre-planned absence (like travel, or surgery) I make sure people know how long I’ll be out by at least a month in advance. In the case of something popping up (like an illness or death of a loved one) I make sure I know the policy and inform the appropriate person, since me coming to work in those instances makes me less effective.

    Please, talk to a therapist. Talk to EAP (Employee Assistance Program) if you have it. We are not supposed to feel this way.

  37. HonorBox*

    OP, two things I’d like to suggest… First, if your work has an EAP, check into it. I recently did, just because there were some overwhelming things happening outside of work. And it has been a great process. I look forward to my Thursday check-ins with my therapist and I’ve found myself much more at peace even though some of those overwhelming things have continued. It has also made me more peaceful, understanding and less stressed at work. Talking through this overwhelming sense of guilt might help you understand why it is happening and how to approach it so you can control it versus letting it control you.

    Second, this is something that I’ve said to relatives and friends: Very few jobs will ever give you an opportunity to have a “DONE” list. Your “To Do” list will always be there. And maybe that is counterintuitive when you’re feeling guilty. But reminding yourself that your coworkers, your boss, their boss also have an ongoing list of things that they’re responsible for, and yet they do take their time, can be very beneficial.

  38. 2024*

    I get this, unfortunately. We live in such uncertain times. For some of us, even one missed paycheck means losing our homes. I have a lot of the same feelings this person does. Especially when there is no one to help – no close friends, family that cares, or a partner – everything is a major source of stress.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      We always live in uncertain times. Being worried about money is different than feeling *guilty* about taking paid time off though. I hope you don’t suffer from extreme disordered thinking like the LW.

      I’d also point out that these are intangible, vague fears. “If” I take time off, I “might” get fired. “If” I get fired, I “might” lose my home. When you are worried, make a plan for what you will do in each disaster scenario. Make it concrete, instead of a vague dread. Give yourself real goals to work toward, like getting new skills to get a better job or saving an emergency fund.

      For example:
      If I get fired, I will apply for unemployment, call the Workforce Development Center, and immediately take a PT job at the grocery store while applying for 5 FT jobs a week. I will advertise for a roommate to help pay the mortgage. My emergency fund will last 1 month with no work, 2 months if I get a PT job, 3 months with a roommate.

      If my husband gets fired…
      If we both get fired…
      If one of us gets injured…
      If one of us gets laid off…

      I’m sorry to hear you don’t have a support network, but there are people who can help. You have to reach out to them though. Don’t tell yourself you have to do it all alone.

  39. FricketyFrack*

    There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m not a therapist, so I’m not even going to try, but re: the surgery, I also felt guilty about scheduling a hysterectomy because it will mean I have to take 3 weeks off for recovery (though most of the guilt stemmed from the fact that I have a 2 week vacation planned this fall, but I’ve also totally gotten over it). Then I realized that I was missing work due to my symptoms anyway, and when I am here, my productivity is reduced for almost half the month, so I may as well get it over with.

    So, while I think the LW should feel zero guilt about getting surgery, maybe it would help short-term to reframe it as a net benefit for the job. Better quality of life generally also means better employee, right? So get the surgery, and consider that the long-term impacts will be great for both you AND your work.

  40. Problem!*

    Let me guess— your parents never ever let you stay home from school for any reason either.

    If the company falls apart because you’re absent a handful of days that’s a management problem and not something you should be trying to fix as an individual contributor. As a manager I much prefer having an employee gone for a day or two in order to be able to work at 100% when they’re present, instead of getting half-assed work as they try to drag themselves through the day due to some puritanical masochistic work ethic.

  41. I should really pick a name*

    As Alison said, the guilt you’re feeling is far outside what would be considered normal (personally, I don’t feel guilt at all. If work piles up when I gone, it’s annoying, but I don’t feel guilty about it.). So I’m not sure if anything I can say will really help, but I’ll try.

    In the USA, employers are not required to provide vacation time (please correct me if I’m wrong).

    If they didn’t want you to take vacation, they wouldn’t give it to you. They are at the very least acknowledging that if they want people to work for them, they have to provide vacation as an incentive. This is something that they’ve decided they’re okay with doing.

    You are not taking advantage of them. You provide them with labour, they compensate you with money, health benefits, and paid vacation time. It is a business arrangement between you and them. They are not employing you out of kindness. They are employing you because YOU are useful to them.

  42. Claire*

    Do not listen to your parents on this. If they are telling you it’s normal to be so guilty over taking vacation that you make yourself nauseous, they too should be in therapy.

  43. elodieunderglass*

    OP, I am not suggesting that you have this condition, but I wonder if you would benefit from reading around the topic of “Moral Scrupulosity.” People who live with this condition become disproportionately distressed and guilty when they feel they are not living up to their internal standards of moral correctness, even if the reasons for doing so are part of ordinary life. I am not in any way suggesting that you have this condition. However, one practice I’ve heard about for people who do have this condition is to reflect on “challenge questions” that help them understand their fears and values, and it’s possible that this will help you to explore your intense feelings of guilt.

    For example, one challenge question suggested by the OCDLA website is: “What do I fear it will say about my character if I [take time off]?” Clearly, you have some fears around your job perceiving your character badly, and therefore discarding you, if you take time off. That’s some deep stuff that is worth unpacking – but given the context you’ve told Alison, it seems as if there are possibly some distortions here, since you have little evidence that your job would fire you for taking time off.

    Another one is “Who or what suffers if I make my choice based on my fear” – it’s quite clear that you have been making choices to placate your fear of losing your job; but your loved ones would have dearly liked to see you, and that your job doesn’t suffer from your absence at all (managing staffing levels is a normal part of management.) Perhaps you can challenge your guilt in a constructive way, not by ruminating on regret, but by reflecting on your sense of duty to others. You clearly value being a good friend and kind family member, so does your guilt – and insistence on not taking time off – help you to live these values?

    I have a sense that tips like “being lazier” or “caring less” wouldn’t help, since those aren’t your values at all – and while I’m not overly scrupulous, I’ve never been good at “caring less” myself! But instead, maybe you’d like to do some reflecting about living YOUR values, and how your perceptions are holding you back.

    Obviously, discard this if it doesn’t seem relevant and best of luck to you.

    1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      I’m not the OP, but this comment gave me a lot to think about in my own life. Thanks, elodieunderglass!

  44. ENFP in Texas*

    PTO is a benefit that your company chooses to offer as part of your employment. They expect you to take it. They have staffed for it, they have budgeted for it, and you are not doing them any “favors” by not taking it.

    The only ones you are hurting by not taking your PTO are yourself and your family.

    Take your PTO. Take care of yourself and your family. Your job will still be there. They are not going to fire you for taking the PTO that is a part of your compensation package.

    Work/Life balance is so very important!!

  45. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Disclaimer: I cried as I wrote this.

    It’s such a cliche, but it’s always relevant and timely: no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they’d worked more.

    My parents were like you. They had both full-time jobs and a small business on the side. They were raised to believe that if you weren’t at school or work during the day, then you were lazy. The permanent damage that mentality caused *still* wreaks havoc on me to this day. My mother went to work when she was sick or I was sick. When I lay in the pediatric ICU, my father never missed a day of work and my mom brought her work to my hospital room and used my room phone to make work calls and only took breaks to meet with doctors who didn’t know if I was going to live with or without a major organ. My parents missed every play, recital, concert, game, and award ceremony, only sparingly going to the events that occurred at night. They missed the parent/student college prep meeting because they refused to end a meeting at their small business that went past 7 PM. They were so obsessed with work that they missed my developmental disability diagnosis that crippled me until I got diagnosed **in my mid-40s**. They’re not sorry either because, “If we didn’t work as hard as we did, you wouldn’t have a roof over your head and food to eat.” (Never mind the fact that I saw their colleagues and bosses at the aforementioned events!)

    My parents worked nonstop until physical limitations forced them to retire. Today, they’ve amassed all this money that they cannot use, literally **millions of dollars**, for pleasure, and their bodies are destroyed. They can no longer walk because they sacrificed their bodies to physical labor and refused to do any self-care, like working out or staying in bed when they were sick or getting a massage or physical therapy, because it was “self-indulgent.” Even as grandparents, they wanted to talk about the family business as my newborn son played on the ground in front of them. I don’t bring my son around them anymore because he doesn’t want to interact with my parents even though they want him to sit and play while they continue to talk about a business they don’t even own anymore. We don’t have much of a relationship either because they don’t really know me. Even family interactions that don’t produce a profit are seen as “self-indulgent.”

    You know what the sad thing is? Although they regret everything they missed, my parents would still make the same choices all over again, yes, even when those choices made them so unhappy. (All they ever complained about was work and money.) They look down on me for choosing to play with my son on a sunny afternoon over working on the weekends.

    I hope my story is a cautionary tale to you. I understand that you have a compulsion to never take time off, but if you don’t, you may end up living like Ebenezer Scrooge who had nothing else in his life but his job and his money. In the future, he died rich but very unhappy and alone.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I’m so, so sorry. I had a somewhat similar experience with my parents, who burned their entire lives and our relationship on the altar of Work.

    2. Myrin*

      Oh Snarkus, I’m so, so sorry. You were already established here when I started reading AAM and you’ve been a staple in my experience of this site for very many years so this has made me quite emotional even if I know you only in an “internet stranger” sort of way. Big jedi hugs if you want them!

    3. bamcheeks*

      I had a colleague once who told me that her mother was like this and said that she worried about repeating the pattern with her own kids and then shrugged and said, “but it’s what you’ve got to do, isn’t it?” I felt SO sad for her— she recognised the impact it had had on her as a little girl but still didn’t see an alternative. Hurray to you for changing the pattern!

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I read a fictional book once about the daughter of a man like this who felt so excluded because he constantly put work before her that she tried to get his attention by doing the only thing that seemed to impress him, working hard firstly at school and then at her career and when she couldn’t attend his retirement do due to work commitments, her mother asked “how am I going to tell your father you aren’t coming to his retirement do?” she replied, “you know what you can tell him? Tell him his boy turned out just like him.” (From “Cat’s in the Cradle.”)

        I find the line both really funny and really sad. And that is really sad about your colleague.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        For the first couple of years at my first job, I was furious at leadership because they took time off during the workday: doctor’s appointments, kid stuff, vacation, sick, etc. How could they do all that and still make over $100k/year while I was working my ass off in tooth pain because I only saw my dentist on Saturdays? Who does that? That’s what the weekends are for if you’re not working!

        Then I realized my parents were full of shit. We were never on the brink of homelessness. We always bought plenty of groceries on a regular basis. Taking a day off doesn’t rip a hole in the space/time continuum.

        I genuinely thought I was going to get in trouble for taking time off because I had the flu. When I saw my employer acting as though time off was normal and accepted, I slowly took more and more time off until I got to a rhythm.

        Now I’m fine. My parents, however, still aren’t.

  46. Bookbear*

    So I have scrupulosity, which is a religious manifestation of OCD. Hearing about your irrational guilt about taking time off as if you were robbing your employer is setting off alarm bells about some of my own personal struggles. Your comment about your parents saying this was normal also gives a clue. My father has undiagnosed OCD (also scupulocity) and being raised by someone with OCDthat is untreated can give you skewed views of the world or “guilt”. I for instance can rationalize that a decision or action is fine, but my OCD makes me physically ill from the constant intrusive thoughts about it. I had to attend cognitive behavioral therapy in order to find healing and I am managing my OCD much better now. I don’t know if you are religious or not, or if you have OCD or not, but speaking to a therapist will definitely help you with these misplaced feelings.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      Bookbear – I had not heard of “scrupulosity” before, and it is quite enlightening. It is making me rethink some interactions with a college friend from back in the day. I am glad you are getting the help you need.
      Thank you for sharing.

    2. elodieunderglass*

      Oh, I also commented about scrupulosity! I am not contradicting/undermining your points, which are extremely good – I just wanted to flag that “moral” scrupulosity doesn’t need to have a religious component, and can be experienced by people who have no religion at all. Apologies if this is something you already know, I just didn’t want the OP to discard your comment if they aren’t religious.

      1. Bee*

        I’ve also seen people talk about this manifesting in not being able to look away from or stop posting online about the many horrible things always happening in the world, to a point where it takes over your life. It seems like it attaches to something that is important to you and feels bigger than you! OP, you may just need some talk therapy, but as you select a therapist, it’s worth looking for those who include anxiety and OCD among their specialties – they’ll be best placed to recognize the thought patterns that are troubling you so much.

        1. Genevieve*

          Oh wow I never thought of my dad’s approach to world events as OCD-related, but, yup!! Thanks for the Tuesday morning revelation! And he (and I) both have OCD (mine is diagnosed, his is just…very obvious).

        2. Relentlessly Socratic*

          OMG a friend has OCD and anxiety, and I never understood why they keep sending me news articles about all sorts of bad-newsy things about the world (don’t want to get too specific in terms of outing anyone accidentally). This helps me understand them a little better.

      2. Bookbear*

        Thanks for your comment! I’m honestly not very aware of non-religious scrupulocity as the support organization I use is designed for Catholics struggling with it. I hope a good therapist could point OP to a non-religious support group if needed!

        1. Genevieve*

          Wow, I’m so glad that there is specifically Catholic support for scrupulosity, because Catholicism can so easily lend itself to that (obviously someone with OCD can latch on to all kinds of things, but as someone from a large Catholic family that also has a lot of mental illness in it – whooo boy).

  47. KWu*

    “I know I wouldn’t be able to afford to live if I didn’t have a job.” — this is something that could be addressed with financial planning, such as an emergency fund that would cover all your expenses if you were out of work for some time. Also, perhaps regular networking and resume updating to assuage that fear that even if you lost this job, you would be able to find another comparable one.

    However…OP, would you actually no longer feel guilty if you won the lottery and never had to worry about money for you or your family ever again? The intensity of these feelings really do suggest that there’s a lot more buried here about what you “have” to do in order to “deserve”/”earn” rest and relaxation.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I don’t think having a savings account would make the OP feel better. It would just be replaced with another anxietly like it would not be enough, she wouldn’t be able to get another job and the savings would run out. Or if her healthcare is ties to her employment (like 99% of americans) then it would be healthcare costs, etc.

  48. MI Dawn*

    OP, I understand about the guilt, though I never felt it as strongly as you do. I had a manager who would lay a severe guilt trip on anyone taking PTO early on in my career and it really messed me up. I felt very guilty for YEARS about taking any PTO.

    However, as Alison pointed out, the severity of your guilt is not usual. Most of us still feel a little guilty about taking prolonged time off, knowing we are leaving additional work for our coworkers. But, think of it this way – you do them the favor of covering for them when they are gone, and all they are doing is returning the favor.

    Talk to your EAP if your company has one – I have found them to be very helpful.

  49. Not-So-New Mom (of 1 8/9)*

    > I know I wouldn’t be able to afford to live if I didn’t have a job. And I don’t just mean fun things like trips and hobbies, I wouldn’t be able to afford food, housing, or other basic necessities.

    This true for most people. Most people are not independently wealthy.

    Along with the suggestions for seeking help for your mental health, LW I wonder if it would be possible for you to find a higher-paying position or change another aspect of your life (e.g. living situation) so you could put money into an emergency fund, if you don’t already have one. You should not feel like you’re constantly teetering on the brink of disaster. The guilt is very disordered, but I wonder if some of this is coming from real financial pressure, and if so, think about ways you could alleviate that.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Yes, this also stuck out at me. The VAST majority of people I know (maybe all) wouldn’t be able to afford anything without working! Certainly not expenses like housing and groceries. I’m wondering if OP grew up in a wealthy environment? (It didn’t sound like it from the letter but that one sentence just sounded really out of touch with how most people live.)

  50. Marta*

    The thing is, if a layoff or RIF of some kind is happening, a guilt ridden workaholic is often just as likely to be let go, laid off, etc as a leave-at-5pm-every day “slacker”

  51. Code monkey manager*

    Echoing other comments that this is absolutely not a normal level of guilt, but what helped me most with a much lower level of guilt was realizing that not taking PTO was actively harming my company.
    1) Alison touched on this, but by not taking PTO I do worse work. I need rest to be at 100% and if I’m not taking that rest I’m not giving my job the 100% that they’re paying for.
    2) By not taking PTO I am raising my risk of sickness or burnout, which will mean my company will have to find coverage without warning, instead of being able to plan coverage, which will be much harder for them.
    3) I am preventing my company from identifying single points of failure and disaster planning. The best way to test whether the company would be okay if I got sick and had to not work (see 2 above) is to take planned time off and find out what knowledge is missing in my absense. If I don’t take PTO, I’m actively interfering in my company’s ability to successfully plan for emergencies.

    And one other thing that comes up for me, although I don’t know if it comes up for you… is fear that I AM replaceable. That it WILL be okay if I take PTO. And if it will be okay, if there’s no disasters without me, if I’m not NEEDED… then I have fear that I have no value. Weirdly enough, for me this is mostly based in hubris–I need to accept that I am not a superhero, the world does not depend on me, and it’s okay that I contribute some value without being irreplaceable.

    Also therapy has helped me a lot.

  52. NotAnotherManager!*

    OP, as someone who’s been supervising for quite some time now, it actually stresses me out more when people will not take their PTO and never give themselves a break. Generally, they also tend to make more mistakes from burnout or stress, and we are results-oriented, not but-in-seat-hours oriented here. Your missing major life events would stress me out more than your taking a few days off. We have a system in place for coverage, and PTO is part of every person’s compensation package.

    The way other people deal with this is that they do not experience this level of guilt. Do I feel bad when I’m out and something blows up that a coworker has to deal with? Sure, but it’s more of a “thanks for handling that, can I grab you a fancy coffee in appreciation?” when I return or a nice note to their boss. (Plus, I remember that I’ve been on the other side of that equation, and it all seems to come out in the wash in the end.)

    Your anxiety over this is impacting your life, and I hope you have the resources to get the help you need to work through this and start living your life rather than sacrificing your entire life for your job. Use your EAP or health plan to find someone to speak to about this, and do not delay your own health care for work.

    1. londonedit*

      Definitely. I remember back in 2020 my employer ended up asking everyone to please use their annual leave before the end of the year – people didn’t want to use it in lockdown because they wanted to ‘save it in case things go back to normal’ or in case they could book a foreign holiday later in the year or whatever, but eventually it was like nope, you’re just going to have to use your holiday because otherwise everyone is going to burn out and this year is enough of a nightmare already.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, we got the same in lockdown. People didn’t want to take their leave because there was nothing to do but management insisted and they were right. A lot of us were very stressed (from worry about family or the stress of not knowing what was going to happen and being unable to leave the house or go anywhere) so we did need to avoid burnout. I remember I spent 3 days watching the extended versions of Lord of the Rings and most of Buffy, doing a large counted cross stitch and doing online dance classes. I wasn’t sure I needed the leave, but I felt better for taking it.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      YES absolutely. If I found out that any of my team members felt like this, I would be really concerned and probably a little upset in the “what could I have done better to help clarify that taking time off is 10000% okay and fully encouraged, how badly have I mucked up to not be expressing that?” (Which is not necessarily reasonable on my part per se either, because heaven knows I am doing my best to demonstrate that vacations are good and fine and normal by taking them about every 3-4 months myself and I have approved every single PTO request submitted in three years, but brains do brain things.)

  53. RussianInTexas*

    I’ve never been paid enough to feel even a modicum of guilt taking every single day of my PTO every single year. And I never ever do any work while I am off. Whatever. They’ll survive. The company will not go under because I am not there*.
    Partner’s job is vastly higher paid with a LOT more PTO (cyber security architect). He takes all of them. All 27 days + 2 personal days + 10 paid holidays. It is extremely unusual for him to do any work while out. He might check e-mails on the evening before coming back, and that’s the extend of it. He suffers of no guilt either.
    *do let me know if the company burned down and I don’t have to go back*

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Also, at old job, we got a very nice PTO package, which did not roll over, but would also come pre-loaded of the first day of the new year, so you have access to all of it immediately. By the middle of the fiscal year, managers would start begging you to take days off. Please take your time off. Pretty please. They did not like seeing the unused PTO hanging on the books.
      So they did complain if you didn’t take it!

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        What I suspect happened to our umbrella owners is that they saw too much unused PTO, and have basically told us to use it or lose it. And cutting down to only 40 hours rollover.

        That is hard for us because we are a small division and for 2 or 3 positions, no complete back up.

        Needless to say, we weren’t happy to be losing the PTO.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          We would have an issue of everyone who had kids taking time off at the same time, and a big bulk of it around November and December. Management really liked for the PTO to be more spread out through the year. Again, we had 25 days + 8 sick/personal time off days + 9 paid holidays, so it was not that necessary to hoard the days for Thanksgiving week, for example.

  54. Beige Alert*

    OP – I have read this site for about eight to ten years, and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment. This level of guilt is something that needs addressing and I really hope you manage to speak with someone about it. I’m lucky to have a generous leave package and recently I have decided to use about a fifth of it specifically on me – every other month, roughly around the date of my birthday (so think the 18th of every other month), I take a day’s paid time off just to do whatever the hell I want. Lounge around the house, get a haircut, go for a walk, watch a film, tackle a house project, or whatever I fancy doing. I keep the rest back for family emergencies/sick kids, taking a family holiday, going to those important life events like weddings, etc. I figure if they can’t manage without me, that’s their problem, and it makes me more valuable to them.

    If I didn’t work, my family would end up starving and homeless (despite being a dual income household). I need this job, but I need to stay sane to perform it. You always come first before the job. Always.

    1. HonorBox*

      I love this. I made a similar comment to a coworker not that long ago. I mentioned to him that there’s nothing better to me than taking a random Tuesday and Wednesday off every now and again. You don’t need a structured activity…just watching a movie, playing a sport, hitting the store at an off-peak time…and it can do a lot to get you rested.

      In addition to diving deeper into this subject, OP, maybe dip your toes into the water a little bit and start taking a day here and there. It’ll show you that nothing falls between the cracks when you’re back in the office the next day.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I do this sometimes when I’m feeling tired and know a difficult piece of work is ending soon. I take a day off randomly, potter around the house tidying a cupboard or something I’ve not been able to do, have a really long candlelit bath, give myself a facial and then get a new book on the kindle and a take away. I always feel so much better for having a day to myself just to get myself together and then feel better the next day.

      2. londonedit*

        Yes, absolutely. Most of the time I use my annual leave for going somewhere or doing something specific, like a holiday abroad or an extended Christmas break or going to a friend’s wedding or whatever. But a few times a year I like to just book a random day or couple of days off with nothing specific planned, so I can just potter around at home, maybe go to a museum or for a walk, spend a bit of time reading, have a nice long bath, watch whatever crap I feel like watching on TV. It’s just a bit of switching-off time for my brain and body, which I think everyone needs sometimes! It’s great to use holiday for trips and fun things and events, but that’s not necessarily proper *rest*.

  55. Garblesnark*

    Hey, OP. I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time. Can I offer you a different perspective?

    It’s been my experience that taking time away from work offers me a perspective I cannot get any other way on how the business functions. Wherever I am working, and no matter how critical my role, I try to take a complete, consecutive week off at least once a year. I can schedule the week for a less busy time, sure, or make sure it’s not the same week someone else is taking off.

    When I take the week off, I make a coverage plan with my team for how things will be handled in my absence. Sally will take over this task, Joe will do that one, and Aly understands that this other paperwork won’t be completed until after I return.

    After a week has gone by, I return to my job. I am presented with an invaluable opportunity to assess how the organization functions in my absence. Did Joe forget immediately how to do that task and it went undone? OK, that means more people need to be trained on the task, and we need better reference materials. We would never have learned this if I hadn’t taken a week off! Did Sally run into a problem I didn’t predict on the report that we need to make a workaround for? Great! Now we know what to plan for next time.

    Part of the reason these vacations are so important and valuable is that vacation is not the only reason people don’t come to work. Sometimes medical events can’t be rescheduled or put off. I’m sorry for the sour note, but sometimes employees die, and because those employees never took a vacation and stress-tested how the organization fares in their absence huge losses are taken because their institutional knowledge is irreplaceable. In a few cases, a key employee dying or being hospitalized has caused the entire company to fail.

    I understand that your workplace is counting on you. It sounds like you do great work. Your workplace is also counting on you for these other things: 1. to stress-test the organization, in the form of taking time off so they can have a chance at having solid plans for when you won’t be there. and 2. to take care of your body and mind, so that you’ll be able to work in the future. That probably looks like getting this surgery.

    Best of luck.

  56. Susan Calvin*

    Oh OP.

    Me, I’ve been raised with a strong sense of ‘if you want it done right, do it yourself’ and work in a field with no life threatening, but potentially very expensive emergencies. My spouse is much worse, being self employed (so literally not paid vacation), and raised with ‘hard work’ as a moral imperative.

    All that said: While there were certainly many years where we didn’t travel, and many more where I didn’t take my full allotment of vacation days (European standards though, mind you) – neither of us has ever felt anywhere near as strongly about this as you. Please take care of yourself, and your health.

  57. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    LW, in addition to adding my voice to everyone here advising you to get support working through these feelings, I want to add that you’re not alone. While I don’t pretend that my guilt around PTO feels the same as yours, I came to my current unlimited-PTO job from a long history of food service, gig work, and other jobs that have no PTO built in — having the option to take a vacation feels like such a luxury to me that I struggle to know when it’s appropriate to use it, and I still tend towards using it for sick time and nothing else. Capitalism does a number on us all in the way it makes us feel like our number one job is to generate value for the company generously employing us — but that’s not the case. The truth is that (in a good employment situation), you are in an equitable deal with your employer where you trade your labor in exchange for compensation, and that equitable trade stands in for any debt of gratitude or obligation one should feel towards the other. You do not owe your employer more than your labor, and they do not owe you less than your compensation package.

    Also: I highly, highly recommend therapy and medication for stuff like this. I won’t go into details about the situation that lead me to explore those options, but once I allowed myself to believe that I was perfectly allowed to use medication to moderate my symptoms, life has only gotten better. Mental health medication is just like crutches, glasses, or any other device of medical assistance; you’re allowed to make your life easier to bring you up to a comfortable experience of life.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      How true is OP’s take that “I definitely hear folks complain about people who take too much time off (and those people are always first on the list for layoffs!)” in an unlimited PTO culture? I have never worked in one and so that just sounds absolutely wild to me. I have never ever worked anywhere were people didn’t take every single day they were entitled to, and if they missed out on booking the time off for any reason, (like saving it for a special occasion that didn’t happen before cut off dates) they expected to roll it over, take it last minute or they were understandably as upset as if they’d left money on the table. Everyone understood this would be annoying and would sympathise. If I only take four weeks instead of five, and the fifth week is unavailable because of cover availability or whatever, I expect my boss to work with me and help me get my owed week. Every (good) boss I’ve ever had understood this completely, and had good policies in place aimed towards us getting our due; but I really see OP’s point as to how would that work in an unlimited PTO situation? I also find it kind of endearing that OP thinks she costs her company money when she’s out on holiday because she’s so efficient she’s worth the cover of two people. I’m sure they’re not going to resent getting the dual cover her efficiency requires on just several occasions a year, when during a far greater weeks, they’re benefitting from OP’s double efficiency.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        Unlimited PTO is its own beast for anxious people in that, while we all know the concept of “too much” exists, there’s no hard and fast line and so we don’t know when we’ve crossed it. Like, we all know that regularly taking three months off would be too much (though the concept of unpaid leaves of absence does very much exist), but what if I took four consecutive weeks? Would that be too much even if I took no other PTO all year? What if I took one day every other week, adding up to about 3 1/2 weeks total — would that be too much because of the frequency?

        In practice however, those anxieties do not reflect the reality of my own workplace’s attitude towards PTO. While I have had colleagues whose use of PTO raised *my* eyebrows, I never heard management complain — furthermore, when that colleague’s work rolled to me during their PTO, it was never outside of what was manageable for me during work hours, nor was I expected to take on things that only they could manage. I have literally never had a day-off request questioned for any reason — I imagine that might happen if I put in a request for an absence of two weeks or longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the request wouldn’t be approved. Our culture very much seems to assume that we are all adults who can manage our workloads and have the right to determine when we need a break. I also take way less PTO than the rest of my team, which I only know because we alert each other via calendar invite when we’ll be off to ensure no one is looking for us when we’re out. (I don’t say this as a bragging point, but to illustrate that my own anxiety keeps me from taking full advantage of my compensation at the same level that others do — I’m confident that I could take more PTO than I do now).

        All of which to say: the uncertainty of unlimited PTO is probably a contributing factor, but perhaps it might be useful for LW to think of themselves as having a self-assigned limit to get used to the idea of taking, say, up to four weeks per year.

  58. sparrow*

    This letter is breaking my heart. I’m very worried for you, OP, and I’m hoping you’ll take the advice to talk to a therapist about whatever is going on that is making you think this.

    For what it’s worth, I have bouts of anxiety about taking time off too, sometimes! Not quite on this level, but I have spent a day off worrying that something urgent came in or my boss thought badly of me for asking off too close to the date. I guess the difference is that I recognized those thoughts as anxiety, not rooted in the realities of my situation. I actually get a ton of PTO and my boss encourages me to take as much of it as possible, which means booking long vacations in advance and taking off last minute if work is slow. Just this week, she heard that my best friend and her son were coming to visit me next month and encouraged me to get whatever time off I wanted to take while they were here on the calendar. PTO is part of my compensation and she wants me to use it, which is how it should be. And a few years ago, when I needed to have surgery (and had the luxury of scheduling it)? There were no questions, just matter-of-fact scheduling and backup plans, and everything went fine while I was gone and I came back with no issues.

    Please talk to a therapist, and also get your surgery scheduled.

  59. Ellis Bell*

    OP, we all have a jerk voice inside our heads; one who isn’t particularly interested in our wellbeing or happiness, or success. One of the ways I deal with my jerk voice is to pretend it’s talking about someone else, or about people in general. So, your jerk voice is (wrongly) telling you that you aren’t entitled to exist in a state of rest without really justifying it or without having proved your usefulness that day. So, how would you feel if your jerk voice started to apply those rules to your loved ones? The rule that your spouse is no longer allowed to take their time off, or your colleagues (possibly your direct reports or mentees?) What if the rule extended to them? Would you want to defend them and say they’re human beings who don’t have to earn every pre agreed thing they’ve negotiated for fairly, a second time, every time? Of course you wouldn’t hold such an uncaring rule over anyone else, so why do it to yourself? I really hope you take all the time you need (and I mean that literally) to beat your jerk voice, because it’s a very extreme saboteur who will physically wear you down and who deserves to be minimised and ignored. There’s no way you can be successful or happy with the rule that you aren’t important enough to take what everyone else takes for granted.

  60. TJames*

    There’s a sentence in here that might be key. “My parents say it’s a normal part of having a job.” No, feeling guilty about vacation is not a normal part of having a job, but she may have some of these ideas put in her head as a child that are still affecting her.

    1. Nea*

      That’s a HUGE part of it, I’m sure – LW’s parents are reinforcing a really awful doom spiral.

      Our parents know how to push all our buttons because they installed the buttons.

    2. LWH*

      I hate repeating the same comment but I also don’t expect everyone to read every single new comment on here so: it’s very possible that LW was saying *taking time off* is a normal part of having a job. It’s unclear. Let’s not jump too fast to blaming LW’s parents.

  61. Volunteer Enforcer*

    OP, I can empathise with you so much and am sending Jedi hugs if you want them. I got help and learned to take care of myself when I had the same problem to a lesser extent. Please take care of yourself as you are never replaceable at home. Peace and wellbeing to you.

  62. Firefinch*

    OP, I felt somewhat like you early in my career, but then I realized that “the company” will never care about me. Our coworkers, and some people at the company, probably do, but the company never will. The company pays you for a certain amount of your knowledge, time, and ability to complete tasks. The payment isn’t infinite, so the hours you work shouldn’t be.

    I look at it this way: If I died, my company would give me between two lines and a nice paragraph in a newsletter, and then go on about its business as though I had never existed. Really influential or popular people get a PowerPoint for their friends to contribute to. My family would be devastated. They love me and they care about me. They are the ones who deserve the best of me.

    You know that your grandparents and your friend care about you more than the company ever will, and I think another poster was accurate that it’s more fear than guilt. In any case, therapy is clearly the answer, and I’d argue that it’s urgent, because your quality of life is really suffering. Work does give us a lot of validity, but the fact that you are reluctant to get needed surgery is beyond normal worries. Start with your EAP, and get a referral.

    Also, I’ve been working in a federal agency for 13 years now, and no operating unit I’ve ever worked in during that entire time has been fully staffed. Not once, not ever. I was in the private sector before then, and as soon as the recession hit, boom, out the door! They feel no loyalty to you; you shouldn’t preempt your loyalty to your family for them.

    I’m also a manager, and I want my team to take their leave. I have managed teams where every team member had family affected by a civil war or natural disaster. I NEED to have my team members take care of themselves. When they don’t, the work suffers. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your team, to take care of yourself. Since you are struggling with this, please, please get therapy.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      It took me a while to realise companies really don’t care about loyalty, certainly not to the point of caring about you like they’re your forever community who will be the first resource in hard times and supporting you to the level of your loved ones. I think the OP’s loyalty is even more extreme than that though, and you nailed it with the word “fear”. The fact OP is thinking about layoffs when (I think?) they aren’t being threatened, or are imminent is pretty interesting. It’s like that possibility has created a fear where the OP has no expectations of care at all, not even the basic concerns acquaintances have for the basic, easily met requirements of wellbeing. I think it is genuinely really scary for all of us to come face to face with the idea companies are never going to be so impressed with us they’ll adopt us forever. Few of us can make ends meet without a job, however it’s also really freeing to fully accept there’s truly nothing you can do to lock in a job so that’s it’s permanent forever. But, unless OP’s bosses are truly horrible people, then of course they want her to take the breaks she’s due and have some kind of a life while she’s working for them. Why on earth would they not?

  63. Jared Carthalion, True Heir*

    I agree with everything Alison said, especially seeing a therapist. I also want to add that going to see a therapist and getting help for yourself will /also/ help the people around you, your family, and your company! Which I’m saying because even though you deserve help and health completely on your own, you seem to have decided that not only are you and your wellbeing worth less than everyone else, but that it is necessary to keep thinking that way because your and your family’s wellbeing depends on it. So you need to know that seeking and finding help (including that surgery) will also help the wellbeing of your family, your relationships, and your company too. (An example if you’re not convinced: sometimes our own guilt or fear about something will come out looking like anger or frustration at others – usually the people closest to us – hurting them and our relationships with them. Talking to a therapist to work through our own guilt and fear can help us understand how our own scary feelings impact not just us but the people around us and to make things better for all of us.)

  64. deesse877*

    I work in a field–academia–where similar attitudes are normalized. You’re supposed to be always working, and if something doesn’t go right, then well of course you, yes YOU, are fully responsible. Most peers and virtually all superiors believe this, and faculty routinely perform Stakhanovism publicly–oooh, look at all the committees I’m on and all the dissertations I supervise, I am Superprof.

    Universities are small, though, so I can see really clearly that the guilt is a management tactic–it’s something specific administrators impose because that’s a cost-effective way of meeting their goals. Even when it feels like it is your own thoughts keeping you up at night, it isn’t–it’s the person in HR who laughs at sick leave requests, or the supervisor who accepts complaints at face value. They’re the ones who want you to always be working, and they’re the ones who lay the guilt trips. I think the same is true of OP’s work–they’re just less able to see it because they’re more removed from the decision-makers (in retail at least, and probably in other positions).

    This is weird and scary to think about–that they can live rent-free in your head. But it’s also power. You can kick them out and reclaim your mind.

  65. Janet*

    OP, it sounds like you are afraid to do these things for yourself so do them for your work:
    Your workplace wants you to take time off so that you don’t burn out and they want you to go through with that operation so that you will feel better and thus do better work.

    A good boss doesn’t want you to feel guilt about any of these things and it sounds like you have a good boss. Let them prove it.

    1. HonorBox*

      Agreed. There are indeed places that don’t offer paid time off. But for those who do, there is an expectation (sometimes, like in banking, even a demand) that time is taken. So take them up on what they’re offering!

  66. Nea*

    OP – as someone who has also had life-changing surgery, I think your two issues are intertwined. If your health situation is involving chronic pain, lack of sleep, reduced mobility or energy, then your physical health is directly affecting your mental health.

    I strongly feel that it’s more important to get that surgery even before you get therapy. Physical problems taking up all your mental processes mean there’s no way to have a clear perspective on anything else.

    1. the Spanish announcer table*

      I agree with Nea. I had my thyroid removed several years ago and was struck by how much getting my hormones back in check improved my whole mental situation.

  67. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

    OP, you remind me of my father. He did NOT like to take off from work. One time, our family took a four-day vacation. Another time, we went away on Saturday and returned home on Sunday, but he didn’t miss any time from work. When there was going to be a family wedding on the other side of the USA, he absolutely refused to take time off from work. My mother had to scream and scream at him to take time off, because going without him was unthinkable, because she didn’t want to have to tell our relatives that he just didn’t want to go, AND she didn’t want to sit at home and miss the wedding. He finally agreed to take time off.

    Except for those three times, we never took a family vacation. I used to think that he just didn’t like us and preferred to be at the office instead of spending time with us. OP, please don’t turn into my father.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Sorry you went through that.
      So many men were conned into making “the provider” their whole existence. Many of them died before they could retire, or before they could enjoy it.

      1. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

        Not really, because my friends and my sister’s friends and my cousins all went on family vacations every year with their father. I remember one time my mother explained to my sister and me that our father had a very important job, and if he took time off from work, then the company would go out of business, and lots of people wouldn’t have jobs, and they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills, and their children wouldn’t have any food to eat, and we didn’t want that on our conscience, did we, by asking him to take us on a vacation. I have no idea why she tried to cover up for him. And then another time, she screamed at us, “We can’t go anywhere because of you kids!” I didn’t understand that, because, as I said, I knew of lots of families that took vacations with their children. When I was in my twenties, I went on a cruise, and I saw people with babies, and I wondered how they were able to take babies on vacation, but my parents couldn’t take their children on vacation.

        Eventually my father retired. My parents still didn’t go on vacation. Eight years after he retired, my mother got very sick, and that’s when my father decided that the two of them would go on vacation. The plan was for them to go to California at the same time that I went to Portugal. When I got home, my father told me that they had to cut their vacation short, because my mother was so sick. He said that they weren’t able to go to San Francisco, and he really wanted to go to San Francisco. I wanted to say that they could have gone to San Francisco before my mother got sick, but I didn’t. Then my mother died. My father lived for another eleven years, but he never went anywhere during that time, not even to San Francisco.

        I have a cousin who doesn’t travel because her husband (who is 81) is still working, and he doesn’t like to take time off from work. They have attended family weddings and such, but they always fly home on Sunday, instead of staying for Sunday brunch, because he has to be at work on Monday. I have suggested to her that she could fly home on Monday, but she doesn’t think that her husband would approve.

  68. Bast*

    OP, have you ever worked in a job where people were routinely penalized for taking time off, or were fired while on vacation? It is concerning that OP feels that they are putting their livelihood on the line for taking vacation, and it brings to mind a job I had where people were routinely fired on vacation, because HR didn’t want to deal with firing/laying people off in person. It was a terrible thing, and made people anxious about taking a vacation, particularly if there were layoff rumors already flying around. Granted, they were not fired BECAUSE of the vacation, that time was just selectively chosen to avoid confrontation, tears, etc, but it did make me nervous any time I took more than a day off at a time.

    I have also seen more than enough posts on here where there seems to be unexplained expectations around taking PTO, and it only takes one job like that to make you nervous — ie: you have “unlimited” PTO, but are looked down on for using more than a week or two, you “get” three weeks, but are given a hard time for using more than two, etc.

    I still agree with trying to get some help to work around the issue, but even if there was one job in the past that made it difficult, or made you feel like your livelihood was in danger for taking a vacation, that can stick.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      It sounds like OP has – they reference that they were in retail, which is NOTORIOUS for that.

      1. Bird Lady*

        Can confirm. I was rushed to the ER with what we thought was an appendix issue, but luckily turned out to be a massive kidney stone that was cutting into my soft tissue. (Lucky because they used sound waves to break things up and I passed the stones rather than needing surgery.) I was co-manager at a luxury retail brand, and called my boss to say I was being rushed to the ER and would not be able to work my closing shift. While I was being diagnosed, my manager kept calling my phone to ask when I’d be into work claiming after the fact he was revoking the approval of my sick time. Thankfully my husband is a lawyer and had my cellphone. He basically threatened to sue the company since I had followed procedure, had medical documentation, and had texted my boss so had the original written approval.

        I never took another day off while in that job. I was never allowed to by my manager. When I quit, they paid me out months of PTO.

        1. Bast*

          That’s terrible. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Clear proof companies like that do not see their employees as people at all.

  69. LondonLady*

    OP I used to have similar feelings, about taking leave, saying no to additional tasks, or claiming expenses. Therapy years later helped me unpack that this was about low self esteem, controlling parents, and needing to prove myself worthy, diligent and unselfish at all times.

    You’re allowed to take time off, employers expect it and you absolutely should. In terms of the expenses, a kindly boss explained to me that the company needs to know the true cost of the activities it undertakes and my not claiming expenses was unhelpful for their budgeting. Plus other employees might understandably not want to follow my bad practice!

  70. Thursday Next*

    You mention that you don’t know how you would live if you didn’t have a job, and therefore you can never take time off in case it offends the employer – but you have successfully switched jobs (in fact, upgraded jobs!) at least once. So maybe try to keep in mind that while jobs are necessary to pay the bills, you are clearly capable of finding/landing jobs when necessary. You are employable and probably even in demand! Hopefully that knowledge will help you feel a bit more secure (but not in a way that necessarily ties you to your current company).

    I’ve seen several comments along the lines of “the company wouldn’t think twice about laying you off if necessary, so they don’t deserve your guilt.” I don’t think this (while realistic) is helpful for OP’s mental health; I think the focus is better placed on how OP has the ability to survive without this specific company even in that worst-case scenario, move to the next job, and simply keep on keeping on. That realization could be a source of comfort/security/independence.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      Agreed. I wondered if a strategy that Captain Awkward has laid out a few times would help – namely, you think about your absolute worst-case scenario, and you actively plan what you would do IF it were to happen. Knowing what you would do and that you would be okay if shit actually hit the fan can take some of the power out of those dark and scary thoughts. If it would make it worse or if you start to try it and it freaks you out, don’t push yourself, but it might be helpful to actively plan out, “Okay, say that my company owners decide to move to Bora Bora tomorrow and they’re closing the company. What do I do? Step one, apply for unemployment. Step two, update resume and reach out to network. Step three…”

  71. Nonprofit ED*

    I have an employee who never wanted to take vacation or time off even when she was sick because she was always concerned about how her not being there would affect her co-workers.
    I finally told her that when her co-workers call, text or email me that they are sick, need a day off or want to take vacation they never mention how it will impact her when they know that she will have to cover them. It was an eye-opener for her! Now she takes time off when needed and because she is a considerate person she doesn’t abuse it. I really appreciate that about her and always approve her time off because I don’t want to lose a good employee because they are burnt out due to covering for everyone else.

    1. HonorBox*

      This is a terrific point. And just as coworkers aren’t going to have concern or worry over how their time is going to impact you, there’s a good chance that a customer isn’t going to give you a second thought when they’re out of the office.

  72. She of Many Hats*

    OP –

    Alison posed some thoughts to dig into about early life expectations demanding you be less and/or not care for & about yourself. Another thing to delve into is if you were constantly described, praised or rewarded for being perfect, always there, the best at something since then you see yourself as not being worthy of the reward of time off because it means you are not meeting those impossibly high (internal) expectations. “Good Girls” sometimes face this issue as they grow into expecting to be “Super Women” and not allowed to be anything less by their own expectations.

  73. I sleep in regularly*

    I don’t say this to make you feel bad, but just to challenge your worldview a smidge. I have NEVER felt guilt about taking time off, unless I KNEW my absence would negatively impact the population I serve.
    Please work on this issue so you can truly enjoy your life! I want you to feel good about yourself and not deprive yourself and your loved ones of important time spent together.

  74. Pizza Rat*

    LW, your PTO is part of your compensation. You have earned that time off and are entitled to take it, whether it’s for a sudden family need or a trip to Tahiti.

    For the latter, would it help with your guilt if you provided significant notice? I tend to ask for long vacations about three months in advance. It’s harder for management to say no because this gives them plenty of time to find coverage.

    Good luck! I think the advice from several others about talking to a professional could help as well.

  75. CommanderBanana*

    I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but it may be worth exploring the possibility of anxiety disorders and/or OCD with your therapist. I had some similar issues in young adulthood that were the result of unmanaged anxiety, but I didn’t even realize anxiety could manifest itself that way until I talked to a therapist.

    1. Scan Fan*

      I am frustrated by comments in the format “I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but here is my armchair hypothesis of your diagnoses.”

  76. I edit everything*

    My partner grew up in a family where PRODUCTIVITY was the highest virtue. Even hobbies should be in some way productive or edifying. We’ve been together for 30 years, and they still have problems taking days off. Every time we take a vacation, I know to expect some kind of breakdown on the second or third day, an emotional/physical reaction they have to not being at work. Every. Time.

    They tried putting off a medical thing until this summer, but everyone around them, yes even at work, could see that it was something serious and insisted they go to the doctor. We’re still not sure what’s going on with them, and tests continue. I just wish they’d taken action earlier.

    Regret, I think, is the most tenacious emotion, the one that follows us like a stalking cat, leaping out at any moment.

  77. Tupac Coachella*

    OP, I’ve done some grappling with these feelings as well, so maybe what I’ve learned about me will be helpful to you. YMMV, take what helps and leave what doesn’t apply behind.

    When I feel intense guilt about taking time off of work or not working enough (like being bare-minimum productive when the workload is low and I’m feeling sickish), it usually stems from one of two assumptions: that hard work is an inherent moral good, and that I owe the company loyalty in the same way I give loyalty to people. Both assumptions encourage me to think of giving every second of the productivity that I “owe” as a moral imperative, and that leads to lots of false logic. Nothing the company does for me is a favor, and vice versa. I work hard to hold up my end of the deal, and they give me money, vacation time, and professional opportunities in return. It’s a good deal for both of us, and my employer doesn’t expect more than what is actually my job (not the amped up version that I project onto myself). They expect me to meet deliverables and to show an interest in promoting the goals of the company within my scope. Doing this well is my responsibility, and the rest is related to MY goals, not something I owe them as some kind of show of gratitude. As much as I like my job and my employer, we have a business relationship. We are not friends.

    When I was too emotionally invested in my work, I felt like I had to give and give to show my love, and also to prove that I’m a good person who works hard and is therefore worthy of being loved back by my employer. This is not how it works. Your employer doesn’t have to love you, they have to pay you. This is actually really freeing! You can save your love for your family, your friends, your hobbies, your dreams, and use your employer for money and intellectual/professional growth (if you want that-additional limiting belief that creates unnecessary guilt: “it’s immoral to work solely for money”). They’re fine with that. If you’re doing your job well, you’re still holding up your end of the bargain. They don’t expect more than that, and if they do, they’re wrong. Realizing that got me to finally leave a pretty toxic work dynamic. Twice.

    Good luck OP. This type of guilt isn’t normal, Alison’s right about that…but you’re far from alone.

  78. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Here’s something I learnt the hard way: if you’re having thoughts that are so distressing and so invasive that you’re missing out on general life stuff then it’s a sign something is seriously wrong AND THERE IS HELP.

    It took several medications and more therapy hours than spent in server rooms (and I work IT) but it’s at a much more manageable level now.

    The hardest part is that first hurdle – admitting to a medical professional that you are in dire need of help. I had and still have a set of very serious mental issues that left untreated these days would be life threatening and without that help years ago I doubt I’d even be here.

    I say this not to scare you, but with love. It’s better to get help now while you’re still (sort of) functional than leave it till it becomes a medical emergency. Nervous breakdowns are not fun, trust me.

  79. FG*

    ” My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job”

    In addition to whatever psychological or medical diagnosis might be in the cards, this screamed at me. If your parents also feel this way, they, too, are not in the range of normal. That would explain a lot about how you got here.

    1. Alcott*

      I don’t think the parents said the OP’s extreme guilt is normal. I read it as the parents are saying that taking time off and having people cover for you is normal, so there’s no need to feel that guilty.

  80. kennqueen*

    It sounds like OP has clinical anxiety. I also prided myself on perfect attendance. Guess what? Contracted a viral infection from one of my students and it traveled to my auditory nerve. Did not want to take the time to treat properly and lost hearing in my left ear. NOT TAKING TIME OFF CAN HAVE SEVERE CONSEQUENCES!

  81. MigraineMonth*

    Mental health care is absolutely the place to start, but you might also check out the book Laziness Does Not Exist. It’s about the difficult lesson that we truly do need rest (and not in a shallow “self care” bubble bath sort of way).

  82. Sherm*

    If it’s helpful, remember that vacations aren’t some new thing that lazy people thought of. Vacations are as old as work itself (with some of those vacations in olden times being way longer than what we would consider standard these days). So either 1) People throughout the centuries and around the globe were wrong about the value of vacations, or 2) People were RIGHT about vacations, that they serve an important, even necessary, function. I’d say #2 is a whole lot more likely.

  83. DrSalty*

    This sounds honestly like something a therapist could help you work through. The vast majority of us also need jobs to live but don’t feel this intense level of guilt over taking PTO.

  84. Eff Walsingham*

    I used to tend somewhat in this direction, only in my case it was more like: “It’s harder and more time-consuming to pass my work on to others, plus I’ve had experiences where whoever was supposed to be covering for me messed up and blamed it on my allegedly not having informed them properly, etc.” Hell, I worked at places where the person supposedly covering my half hour lunch managed to sow chaos in my absence!

    But by now I’ve worked at 2 places where it’s required that everyone in my position take 2 consecutive weeks off once a year, because that’s how fraud is detected if it’s occurring. It’s nothing personal. everyone has to adhere to the policy. Then it’s on each employee’s manager to perform whatever checks they deem necessary to ensure there’s no shirking or hanky panky with data going on.

    Ever since then I’ve relied on my vacation to make my bosses miss me. Almost always, the patchwork coverage solutions for my temporary replacement have proved irritating for my colleagues, and they say they’re very happy to see me back. I’m glad Alison advised therapy for this LW, because a hard-working employee should feel more confident (in a healthy workplace) that their company would value retaining them over bringing in someone new and untried.

  85. Madre del becchino*


    My daughter experienced anxiety like this during her second semester at college. The downward spiral was stunning: she would call me constantly (her college is four hours away from home) in a state of extreme distress, nauseated, crying, saying that she was so behind on her work and was failing. She obsessed about an instructor for a class she dropped not being notified of her dropping the class and giving her zeroes for undone work/not showing up to class. She worried about finishing a project that wasn’t due for *six weeks*. The kicker? She wasn’t behind on her work at all and was doing well — but her brain was telling her otherwise. Having been through major postpartum anxiety myself, I recognized the signs; after consulting with her advisor and mental health professionals on campus, she took medical leave for the second half of that semester. She came home, got on medication for the anxiety, and worked with a therapist who specialized in working with students on academic/performance anxiety. She returned to college the following fall semester and has done well since; she is finishing her third year now and, although she still experiences anxiety, she has tools to help herself cope with it.

    I wish you all the best. You deserve to live a life where anxiety does not have the better of you. <3

  86. Office Plant Queen*

    Something else to think about (among everything else mentioned here) is whether you’ve ever had a good model for taking time off. I currently have a boss who I’m not sure uses all her PTO, and still jumps in to answer emails when she’s supposed to be out – and not critical stuff only she knows! It’s usually time sensitive and something I don’t already know the answer to like she does, but something I could find an answer to within a reasonable timeframe. Her behavior has made me start to feel guilty for taking time off and I hate it. It’s one of several reasons why I think she’s no longer the right fit for me as a manager and that I’m looking to move on soon

  87. Pretty as a Princess*

    Add me to the list of managers who … monitors PTO accrual on the regular and encourages people to take it. On my teams we are explicit about the importance of taking the time to rest/recharge/focus on your life outside work, and also that PTO is *earned compensation* and we want you to benefit from it.

    I wonder if the OP has these catastrophizing reactions to other kinds of situations? I am not a therapist, not trying to diagnose anyone, but I have dealt with anxiety, manage people who openly disclose anxiety that has manifested in significant anxiety responses, and have a child whose neurodiversity expresses itself in catastrophizing in a number of situations. I’d be surprised to learn that this is the only place in OP’s life where they are having a response to “routine” situations that is preventing them from living their day to day life.

    My hunch about the reaction from the parents is that it is more along the lines of trying to tell the OP “Taking time off work is a normal thing” or “taking time off work and feeling a little antsy beforehand is a normal thing” as a way to reassure them that this is not a big family-endangering situation. Eg, trying to reorient the OP in the rather routine-ness of the situation (taking time off work) instead of dismissing the scope of OP’s reaction as normal. With my kid, before we understood their particular neurodiversity, we tried to help with reassurances that they were in a pretty routine situation and that the consequences that they were churning about were not things that would happen. It turned out, that didn’t work – we had to learn how their brain was wired to learn how to de-escalate their reaction. I know plenty of people for whom the reassurance that the situation itself was routine and would come with routine outcomes would be what it took to unlock the anxiety reaction. But it wasn’t that way for my kid, and does not seem to be that way for the OP. My read is that the parents either aren’t aware of the full scope of the reaction, or aren’t equipped to really address it and so they are trying to help the OP but focusing on the wrong part of the problem.

    OP, your life sounds really disrupted and I hope that you can talk to someone who can help you lift this reaction and feel joy in your time away (that you have EARNED)!

  88. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Oh, OP. These are a lot of comments giving you workplace appropriate hugs and encouragement. I truly second their love, and also want you to find someone to work through this anxiety/fear/guilt thing. I understand that it can be terrifying to feel like the bottom could fall out underneath you and I also hear that people around you are actually there to catch you whether you believe it or not.

    I would like to encourage you to release the burden of having every day off be the be-all and end-all of all relaxation and recovery. No vacation cures things, but they can be a bit of a reset button. Maybe giving yourself permission to take two separate days off in a month to just have a Tuesday to yourself could help you feel a bit more relief and get more comfortable about taking time. Maybe it’s on the days that you schedule for therapy (and then maybe a nice walk in your favorite park and/or a cup of coffee and a book). You like your evenings and weekends. Maybe a Tuesday day off could be as good.

  89. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I can’t stop feeling incredibly guilty for missing work. My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job

    I’d love more clarification on this. OP, did your parents also feel guilty for missing work? It would seem like maybe that could be the root of your guilty feelings as well. Does it help for AAM and everyone here in the comments to tell you how so many of us do not feel guilty for missing work? In any case, I do agree with the suggestion that you should talk to a professional about this, who can help you figure out how to realize that you deserve work-free days just like everyone else does. Best of luck!

  90. Library IT*

    I definitely agree with everyone recommending therapy/anxiety meds/etc. But what stuck out to me was : “I feel like if I was just able to do two weeks of work in one, I could take a week off guilt-free without passing all my unfinished stuff to my team. It typically takes two people to fill in for me while I’m out”
    OP – can you try to think of two people having to fill in for you as you have already done two weeks worth of work in one? I don’t want to give focus on you having to “earn” your time off, but until you have figured out a permanent solution with a therapist or doctor, this framing might help you start to calm down on your time off.
    I would also maybe do some reading about topics such as vocational awe. I work in higher ed in a library and I know lots of people who just don’t take their vacation time. Or work over holidays. Work won’t love you back! You do a service for compensation. Part of that compensation is vacation time. If you don’t take your vacation time, it would be like you gave back part of your paycheck!

    1. DyneinWalking*

      “I feel like if I was just able to do two weeks of work in one, I could take a week off guilt-free without passing all my unfinished stuff to my team. It typically takes two people to fill in for me while I’m out”

      Good catch. That sounds like a viscous cycle, to be honest. After all, once she manages to cram two weeks of work into one, that becomes the work she can do in one week – so she really needs to achieve twice as much of that, except then that’s the amount she manages in one week, so double that again

      Every time LW takes longer than a week to double her work load (which is going to be always, because only total slackers could pull that one off) that week becomes the new baseline. I’m sure her work load and efficiency increased massively since she started to work, but since the change is gradual it doesn’t count in her eyes. If she’s always aiming to increase her most recent productivity, no wonder she never reaches the point where she’s “allowed” to take time off.

  91. constant_craving*

    “It typically takes two people to fill in for me while I’m out, one of which has to be pulled off of his regular duties completely, so I know me being gone is costly for the company. If I cost too much, take too much time off, or become too inconvenient, why keep me on?”

    So you normally do the work of two people. You think they want the expense of hiring two people all yearlong, instead of the much smaller expense of covering for you during a vacation week?

    Therapy is a great way to start breaking down these faulty lines of thinking and replace these catastrophizing thoughts with healthier thinking patterns.

    1. Carmina Unionizer*

      Same! The LW is saving the company basically a full-time salary by being very good at their job! There’s absolutely no guilt to be had here.

  92. Medium Sized Manager*

    As a manager, consider this my permission/blessing/plea: take your PTO!

    Sometimes, I find it helps to look at the business case for taking PTO instead of the “I personally deserve this as a benefit” side of things. I have a team member who is also anxious about taking time off, and I often tell her to do it for me if she can’t do it for herself: a good HR/company would be concerned if nobody on my team took PTO when PTO is essential to avoiding burnout. Avoiding burnout is essential to avoiding paying lawsuits or medical benefits to treat burnout. So, as a favor to me, take the PTO and (try to) relax. Bonus points if you take it throughout the year so my entire team is not out in December.

    We also don’t carry over PTO, so I stress that people lose money if they don’t take their PTO, which is sometimes effective.

  93. Gingerbrave*

    One reason for this feeling is a workplace that dumps the work on the people who show up that day. It can create a cycle of distrust and hostility. In one nursing job I had, a fellow nurse stated at a staff meeting:”If you call in sick, I am going to want to see the tape marks from the respirator”. And our manager just nodded her head.

    I’ve had jobs where you were expected to carry the absent workers load 100% with not a hint of stress. We were told we were not even allowed to alert the teams to a prioritization of emergencies. So that can pile on and create a feeling of dread.

    1. Andromeda*

      Oh my god, that sounds terrifying. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.

      (I worry this might make OP’s anxiety worse, though. She seems to be worried that her own workplace is secretly penalising people who take time off this way without telling her, and stories like these lend credence to that fear.)

  94. Erin the Brit*

    I’d suggest you identify a “work ally”; someone at your work who you trust both personally and professionally (and respect personally and professionally); a peer if at all possible. Someone you can have a coffee with, once a fortnight, and talk to about this anxiety and get an in-work barometer.

    I have colleagues who I go to to “sanity-check” my take on certain things (like the person I spoke first to when I saw religious [evangelical] literature in the break room. We discussed it, and I decided to put the issue in front of a more senior manager – no feedback as of yet.)

    I have colleagues who come to me when they’re struggling to say “no” to unreasonable requests, and I offer strategies in setting boundaries and communicating limitations, offer to support them in meetings if I’m going to be present, etc.

    I imagine that even just sitting with someone who’s taking 2 weeks off, just cos, and hearing them talk about it openly, shamelessly, with no fear or guilt or anxiety might help reset your preconceptions.

    Also, ditto the therapist, maybe stop discussing these issues with family members who’ve historically fed your anxiety,

    re the surgery?
    Your value as an employee is only expected to go up over time, so the lowest-cost time to take time off for the surgery AND RECOVERY is right now.
    How long you are expected to continue adding value to your employer is also, statistically, likelier to be greater the more carefully you take care of yourself.

    Would you drive your car with bald, half-empty tires, never check the oil, never get it serviced and expect to get maximal long-term value from it? And that’s a car, not a person. As a person, you have functional utility, but also inherent value. So you should be caring for yourself more than you care for your car. Put on your own oxygen mask first and all that.

    If you then go on to have kids, how will you value them? How will you want them to value themselves, and each other? You can start practicing the self-care that you’d like to show them straightaway.

    Jedi hugs, and all the best wishes.

  95. CzechMate*

    I’m so glad someone asked this question, because I have this problem as well. I thought about writing to AAM about it, but Alison once answered a question of mine and I assumed that she wouldn’t want to answer multiple questions from the same person.

    Part of it has been a) being in the US and working at jobs where PTO was EXTREMELY limited for many years, b) having someone at my current work whose excessive PTO really has become an issue (making me paranoid that I might become THAT person), c) parents who never took time off (and if they did, it was A BIG TO-DO).

    OP–if it helps, you’re not the only person with this issue. I really appreciate everyone else chiming in with their feedback as well!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      but Alison once answered a question of mine and I assumed that she wouldn’t want to answer multiple questions from the same person

      In case useful for the future: it’s not something I could normally even notice because the mail volume is so high (but if I did notice, I wouldn’t care).

    2. CzechMate*

      Adding to my own comment, as many here have suggested going to therapy. I personally have been treating GAD for years and, for the most part, my anxiety has disappeared, yet guilt around taking time off has stuck around. I think that much of this is about ingrained work culture and upbringing rather than anxiety alone. My father was the child of factory workers, and he managed to be a successful white collar professional despite not having a college degree through non-stop work. My mother worked in human services, so time off had very direct impacts on people’s lives.

      Yes, let’s all seek mental health counseling, of course, but US folks should also recognize that there are significant structural factors that affect this as well.

  96. redwinemom*

    Because you mentioned that your parents also think that guilt is a normal part of having a job, I want you to recognize that that does not make them bad parents or bad people.

    You can still love them – and still work with a therapist to help you feel less guilt.
    I’m sending good thoughts to you.

  97. Alan*

    I grew up in a Christian religious tradition where you have no value as a person unless you obey and are a member of that group, and even then, no one is going to take care of you. Compassion is weakness. Somehow I dodged the OP’s particular anxiety but I’ve got plenty of others. This is on the parents, who perhaps were victims of their own upbringing and dysfunction.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. Most people are only a few generations from that mentality as our ancestors were peasants or even enslaved.

  98. Sherman*

    Oh my goodness OP, please PLEASE heed the suggestions to look into your EAP! I don’t know if you want children (and regardless), as you mentioned in your letter about missing out on seeing your grandparents and your friend’s wedding as MOH, I can promise you you will NOT look back on your life and wish you’d worked more hours; you’ll wish you’d spent more time with the people you love and who love you. I used to fret maybe a bit more than others did about work stuff, but at some point I realized I will never regret not working myself to the bone or not putting in a bunch of overtime, but I will regret not spending as much time as I can with my kids and my spouse and just enjoying myself when I’m not working.

  99. Andromeda*

    OP, also: please do not take the “why on earth are you so anxious?” comments as another, opposing stick to beat yourself with. Except for if it helps you sort through them, it doesn’t matter where these feelings come from. None of this is your fault and you’re not a bad person for feeling this way about time off. The feelings that you are having sound really really really rough, and up till now you clearly would not have gotten the proper relaxation time that you needed during any holidays you could have taken! So put any guilt over “not being normal” or “all the things you missed” to bed if you can.

    Genuinely, the most important thing is that you look after yourself and end up in a position where you feel stable, happy and comfortable at work, no matter how long that takes. It can happen! You totally deserve that! Because everyone does.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      “None of this is your fault and you’re not a bad person for feeling this way about time off.”

      Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I was trying to figure out how to phrase this and you said it better than I could. OP, struggling with this is in no way a value judgment on you. You’re human, humans have brains, and sometimes those brains go a little fritz-y and need some assistance getting back on track. You are worthy of getting that help, and of taking time off of work guilt-free, and of getting surgery when you need it. We’re all rooting for you!

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        This. LW, you are no more a bad person than you would be if you caught a cold or broke your arm; disordered thinking is just a mental injury or illness that can and deserves to be fixed.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, we’re not being critical of you, LW, so I hope it doesn’t feel that way. We are just saying that you seem to have internalised some views that aren’t helpful to you (which we all do, in one way or another).

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Agreed – and OP, anybody with a brain can get their brain stuck into deeply harmful thought patterns (definitely been there myself), so you need to work out how to reboot your brain out of those patterns. One technique which may be useful to you is something I read in the advice column written by Eleanor Gordon-Smith (paraphrasing here):
        Don’t just examine the belief, examine why you have the belief. Is it something that someone told you or something you observed, or a combination of the two? How has this belief served others you know who have it? How has this belief served YOU? Is it good for you and the people that you care about? Examine the roots of your belief, mentally unpack as much as you can, then put back only what is useful and kind to you.

        This is something that’s probably best done with a therapist due to the memories it might dredge up, but it’s also something you can do on your own by writing down the answers to the questions above. It’s amazing how completely illogical things which you’ve believed for years can look when you actually write them out by hand. You did the first stage of this unpacking when you answered Alison’s questions, so you may already be thinking about some of these questions.

        Good luck, and you deserve to take some time off, especially to get surgery. And you deserve help, you deserve rest and you also deserve healing.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      Yes, all of this!

      I cannot emphasize enough that these comments are overwhelmingly coming from a place of kindness. People are recognizing that you feel bad, LW, and they do not want you to feel bad.

      I’ve really struggled with anxiety for my entire life and sometimes people are like “You don’t have to feel that way” and what I hear is “you are choosing to do this to yourself,” but I think what they actually mean is “You feel like this is necessary for you to live a productive, socially acceptable life, but it is not. This suffering is not obligatory.” Changing it is hard, but possible and worth it.

  100. CheesePlease*

    Hey OP – that sounds really hard

    Just a friendly friend here to say that rest is a human right. Bodies and minds need rest. Rest is not earned. You don’t need to “make up” for taking time off. This is how a company is structured and if they can’t cover your work while you are gone, that is their fault and not yours. Especially if they are giving you PTO.

    Maybe think about how you perceive others taking PTO. Do you judge your partner this way? your boss? your friends? do you think they should be working instead of being on a honeymoon / visiting friends / tending to their health needs?

    If you are much harder on yourself than others, please make an effort in therapy to quiet the mean voice in your head

    1. DyneinWalking*

      Rest is a human need, just like food. You don’t apologize for being hungry and needing to eat, and employers that allow you to eat during the day aren’t extending you dark forbidden sinful pleasures. Employers that allow you to eat are simply acknowledging the fact that hungry employees do bad work and that starved employees are dead (and therefore no use to the employer). Similarly, any reasonable employer doesn’t provide PTO and sick leave as a gracious gift, but simply because overworked, sleep-deprived, frazzled do bad work and burnt-out sick employees drop out of the work force entirely and possibly die from the complications of their untreated health problems* – after which they are no use for the employer anymore, either.

      *Exaggerating, but not that much. Untreated health problems can definitely kill you, though most of the time they probably “just” result in some permanent disability.

  101. Emily*

    This stood out to me — when you talked about missing time with grandparents and the wedding, you wrote “I will never get those experiences back.” You already understand the impact this issue is having on your life, and you don’t like it. That is a huge step, and it will help you a ton when you start work with a therapist.

    I also want to respectfully state that it may not be helpful to focus on taking a vacation as a benefit to your company. I think you need to focus on decoupling your self-worth from work, and that means caring a lot less about what matters to your company, and more about what matters to you.

  102. The Baconing*

    OP, I felt this deeply in my early adult working days. I had to unpack these feelings with a therapist. One of the concepts she helped me focus on is that we should work to live, not live to work, and it’s okay that work is not our central focus. I was so wrapped up on the idea that work needed me or else “something bad” might happen that I had no line of sight on the fact that work happens whether I am there or not and, as Alison said, I earned my time off just as much as I earned my paycheck.

    It’s hard to rewire yourself, though, especially if, like me, this has been your way of thinking and feeling for your whole life. I get that, and I wish you all the best in finding a professional who can help you find your way.

  103. Somewhere in Texas*

    I’m a vacation avoider as well, but I have gotten better with time (and identifying what made me start thinking like this).

    But one thing that might help is reframing that when you are out someone else is learning parts of your job. This makes them a stronger worker; you have someone to talk through things with and this massively benefits the company. Furthermore, if it takes multiple people to fill your role while you are out–that sounds like job security to me!

  104. ArtK*

    Oh my! Nothing substantial to add here but my warmest sympathy. Dealing with guilt is very hard.

    Is guilt a normal part of working? For many people, a small amount is common. Life-crippling im-going-to-lose-my-job-if-i-get-necessary-surgery guilt isn’t. At all.

    I echo everyone else that you need to take time for yourself. Get therapy, either through your insurance or the company’s EAP, or both. There are therapy modes that can deal specifically with the kind of catastrophizing you go through when thinking about missing work.

    All the best to you. I hope you can find a solution.

  105. ConstantlyComic*

    Oh wow. Today is the second day within the past few months where I’ve come back from PTO to discover that I missed a conversation that ended up screwing over one of my coworkers (in a way that I could have avoided had I been there), so seeing this headline was like a shot right to my head.
    That said, OP, I think I’ve got a less severe version of your mindset, so I can tell you it’s not healthy. Please, please, at least take off the time you need for the surgery and recovery.

  106. Book bug*

    Hey Op,

    If it takes two people to cover for your when you’re gone (one of which is completely taken off of his duties), then you are already doing 2 weeks of work in one. you are so efficient and providing so much benefit to the company that it takes more than full time hours for anyone else to match your output.

    That doesn’t mean you never take time off. It means that you are basically giving your employer a deal and more than they pay for by being a rock star. It means you more than deserve your breaks.

    I also just want to ask you how you respond to coworkers taking time off? Do you resent them for needing cover while on vacation?
    If you think your coworkers deserve vacation and are doing nothing wrong by taking time off, do you think you can try to be as kind and flexible with yourself as with others?
    You deserve no less than your coworkers.

  107. CheesePlease*

    Also, good companies don’t give out PTO as part of their compensation package but secretly hope their employees work every weekday all year without a single day off. PTO is not a trap like your brain is telling you. If you are taking a reasonable amount of time off (honestly up to 30 days in a year is ok in many many industries) it is not a negative thing!

    I hope hearing this helps you.

  108. Combinatorialist*

    In addition to the other excellent advice, it seems like having a financial plan for what would you if you lost your job might be helpful. Look up your state unemployment benefits to know what you would be entitled to and for how long. Look at your budget and see what could be cut back on. How would you deal with health insurance? Can you afford to increase your emergency fund? Having a plan can often ease anxiety even though we hope the plan is never used

  109. AnonInCanada*

    Joining the chorus here: please look into a talk with a therapist about this. You need to understand that it is completely within your entitlements to take time off, and you should not feel one iota of guilt about it. You work to live, not live to work! Take the time you need to re-energize yourself, for the sake of your physical and mental health. Even if all you’re doing is loafing on the couch binge-watching (insert favourite TV series/YouTuber here), to be able to completely break free from your job responsibilities for a few days will make you feel a lot better in the end.

  110. Anonymous Engineer*

    It might help to develop a more antagonistic mental relationship with capitalism/the shareholders of your company. Imagine them sitting back counting their money and cackling in glee for everyday of PTO you don’t take – because the company budgeted for you to take it and you’re giving them free money if you don’t. If your office is too understaffed to easily cover for you when you’re out, that’s not on you, that’s on the company for choosing to staff at bare minimum levels to reduce expenses. Your coworkers are putting their own oxygen masks on first by taking the PTO they need to be healthy humans – they shouldn’t begrudge you for doing the same. It’s not them vs. you – it’s all of you vs. the system!

  111. AXG*

    As a manager, I love when my team takes time off and encourage them to do so. I joke (though it’s not really a joke) that if I have someone who hasn’t scheduled any time, I start sending nastygrams to get them out of the office.

    I’ve found that time off helps the employees come back more refreshed and more excited about work, so it’s a win-win. Yes, there are times that PTO puts a burden on the rest of the team, but it’s another good opportunity for team members to support each other and invest in each other. A little pain for me today but I know that you’ll cover me in the future.

    Take the time! I’d rephrase it as “I have to make this worth it / I have to justify this” into “This time will refresh me and help me be better / My company wants me to take this time off.”

    Best of luck!

  112. MechE31*

    I think I had a slow transition somewhere around 10-15 years into my career where I realized I’m being paid less for what I do and more for what I know. I know the value I provide to my company along with the knowledge that as long as I provide value, I’ll have a job.

  113. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I don’t have guilt to this level, but a recurring thought I have is, “I’ve seen a lot of people lose their jobs, and that scares me because I need money to live, and if I lost my job knowing I hadn’t been giving 150% at my job, I would never stop blaming myself for my laziness, so in order to not hate myself for the rest of my life in case I do lose my job, I’m going to give 150% until I die.”

    Therapy will help!!

  114. Objection*

    Oh my goodness, OP please talk with your EAP or a counselor or doctor about these feelings. I am not a doctor or therapist, but I am someone who regularly deals with work-related anxiety (and talks to my doctor about it!). My time off saves me from spiraling into a black hole of anxiety. Early in my career I readily worked weekends, evenings, checked emails after hours, etc. But that didn’t make the stress go away. I now have pretty strict boundaries with my time off. I look at it this way – I am not 911. There is no emergency in the true sense of the word that I can personally solve. My team knows how to contact me if something is truly urgent. But I also make clear to them that I have these boundaries not only for myself, but because I want them to practice that for their own well being. I have an entry level employee who is less than a year out of college, and as she was making plans and requesting time off for a family vacation, she offered to bring her work laptop with her. I told her absolutely not. You say no one would complain if you didn’t take time off. But what about your family and friends? They may not complain either, but they are likely disappointed when they can’t celebrate and experience major and minor events in life with you. Why should your employer be more important than your loved ones? Please also look to your own manager(s) and coworkers. I’m sure they all take time off, and I’m sure you don’t complain about it. Taking time off is such a normal part of working. Be well; I hope you can work some of this out and feel better.

  115. KimG*

    I’m so glad Alison didn’t shy from therapy.

    Your company doesn’t expect to receive your tireless work- they expect you to take time off for those serious occasions, and I cannot tell you how disturbing it is that you would put off a surgery. Please schedule that ASAP. If your partner hasn’t read this column, please show it to them. You mentioned feeling sick and crying on your honeymoon, and that should have been alarm bells to them regarding anxiety quite honestly.

  116. Ashley*

    OP – For all the great therapy suggestions and going to your company EAP plan, I know that isn’t feasible because many companies doesn’t have EAP and in many parts of the country trying to find a therapist is extremely difficult right now (not to mention be able to afford one). That said, try and at least find a work mentor (not necessarily at your company) and talk to family members that take time off. How do they manage some of this?
    A small step you might try is taking a 4 day weekend around Memorial Day, or some other long weekend. You may have to build up to a full vacation, but start thinking about days where being out probably isn’t a big deal.
    For the financial piece, not having a safety net is scary! So think about what happened during COVID – if you were retail you were probably off for at least a few weeks. How did you manage that? How would you manage now? Who do you have in your life that would help if you were not making money? Something that has helped a family member’s anxiety about this stuff was to eliminate debt and control spending. This looks very different for different people but with their income they were able to get it down and there does become some freedom. Also, think about how hard it would be to get a second job if you were laid off. Could you afford to live on your state unemployment? I am not saying go full blown worst case scenario but plan them out a little bit and come up with some plans.
    Also really try and schedule the surgery. For all the guilt of time off people are usually nicer about being out for medical stuff even if they are jerks about other time off. Improved quality life is medically necessary … it will get worse not to mention more likely to be more expensive with raising prices.
    I hope your partner has your back and can help you work through some plans … to me a good plan can really help with some of my anxiety spirals. Good luck!

  117. Rara Avis*

    I’m in education, which is notorious for feelings of martyrdom in its employees. I’ve missed 18 days since January for medical reasons. I teach a niche subject and they can’t find a sub who can teach it when I’m out. So my classes are about 4 weeks behind where they should be. But I don’t feel guilty at all. It’s a “put on your own oxygen mask” first situation. You are entitled to time off. The people who cover for you when you are out will need help in turn. It’s okay to rely on them, and then to cover for them in turn.

  118. Lilly Valley*

    Oh OP, my heart broke for you reading this. This is so deeply, horribly painful – because something somewhere has taught you to think like this, and it’s so wrong. I know it’s scary and shame-inducing and hard, but please please please do try whatever you can to get therapy for this. You deserve to feel safe and secure and worthy. This level of guilt/shame/anxiety/fear is not normal, not even close, and you do not have to live like this. Rest is important, it’s necessary and it’s healthy. You deserve to be rested. You deserve peace of mind. You are worth it. Please do what you need to so you can believe that.

  119. Lizzay*

    The American way of working is so frustrating. I know exactly where LW is coming from (tho not to the same extent). About 10-15 years ago a friend of mine became a naturalized citizen, what I consider a pretty big deal! So I got in early, took lunch at my desk, stayed late that night, and yet, when I mentioned I was taking an hour or so out of the middle of the afternoon for a naturalization ceremony, my manager asked if that was “the best use of your time”. Message recieved & I worked myself into total burnout – crying at my desk during covid multiple times a week, etc. We Americans do it so wrong! Which is a big part of why I got a job outside the country. :-)

    1. Lizzay*

      And naturally, all we did was work – upper management would say “we want you to take your time off!” and then the actions were the complete opposite. Everyone would at a minimum check their email during vacation, if not ‘jumping online real quick to do something one or two mornings’. It’s all b.s. And we didn’t even have a stock-purchasing plan!

    2. Jiminy Cricket*

      We do it so wrong. We get it drilled into our heads early on that work is not only more important than anything else it is morally superior to anything else. We should be thinking of work as an interruption to our regular lives, not the other way around.

      1. Lizzay*

        Yeah, and all the corporate talk about mental health & work/life balance is just that – talk. During covid I told my boss I was burnt out & having a hard time dealing. He nodded & sympathized… then told me I wasn’t on track to hit my billable hour goal that year, and here’s more work.

        We were also understaffed for years & upper management got so used to it that it was just normal to have essentially 1.2 jobs instead of 1.

    3. Boof*

      I think sometimes Americans are considered “Lazy” by other countries for, say, not wanting to spend a lot of time and effort on personal chores. But i think the numbers say an average American works more hour per year than most other countries, second mostly to mexico? We’re not lazy we’re tired from working so much! (I’m not gonna say it’s wrong tho I’d personally rather work hard and pay more for delicious take out than work less and have more time to cook my own food but the calculus isn’t exact and everyone’s preferences will vary)

  120. Jiminy Cricket*

    Your life outside work is valuable. The people in your life outside work are valuable. You and your mental health are valuable. Keep repeating that to yourself!

  121. KimG*

    What do you think your company will do when you don’t take any time off or schedule surgery? They will not repay you in any way. You won’t get awarded anything, and probably not paid for your great attendance, which is all it is.

    All the rest you are not taking and once in a lifetime events you are missing for this thankless job is likely exacerbating the stress and anxiety and compounding it. Meanwhile, your medical issue could be getting worse. The way in which you are neglecting your own health is alarming. Please schedule surgery and therapy or a call to your PCP who can give you a simple anxiety test. I haven’t heard of many surgeries that you can just wait on…forever. This is not healthy or normal. We are not made to be sacrifices for our jobs. Which is literally what you are doing.

  122. Still WFH*

    So this was me when I was working for a non-profit that I loved. I had a big job, and was doing things I felt were really important. I went 11 months without taking a vacation. It was unhealthy and so I did something drastic. I went completely offline for a three-week backpacking/hiking trips solo through a couple countries I had never been to. I took my email off my phone and did not check in with my office. You know what happened when I got back? Everything was fine. There had been a couple crisis, that was the nature of the work, but my staff handled it. At the end of the day, everything was fine. I was much more relaxed and as a manager, it made me much better about making sure staff took time off.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      This is inspiring! I’m a very new backpacker and already dreaming of doing something big and faraway sometime in the near future.

  123. EtTuBananas*

    I think you should speak to a professional about this, as the amount of guilt you are experiencing is definitely outside the bounds of typical.

    I used to feel guilty when I took PTO, and I think you cannot discount the influence of personal relationships! It was a LOT harder to take PTO at my minimum wage retail job than at my corporate jobs, because I knew that a) I’d have to do the additional labor of finding cover and b) I knew that my coworkers would be very inconvenienced by it. And today, I know that if I take a week off, the other coworkers in my small department will be more on the hook. That may be something work examining, OP.

    Finally, one thing that changed my attitude was when I started protecting the sanctity of my PTO. At a former job, I took a camping trip with my spouse, where I completed all necessary work early, left documentation, and told everyone at my small company that I would be in the woods and have no reliable service.

    I was contacted by my colleagues every. single. day. Multiple times. All were asking my opinion on small issues (note: my input was not critical in any way). The sheer annoyance of not being able to be left alone both prompted me to quit that job eventually, and to ferociously guard my time off since.

  124. KP*

    Oh OP, I want to give you a hug. You don’t have to feel this badly. And I don’t say this like, “don’t feel bad about using your compensation”

    I mean in general, in your life. This is an immense amount of guilt and stress and nerves that you’re carrying and you don’t have to. You’re not a bad person. I don’t even know you and I can tell that from you letter.

    This is just to say, I understand. I can rattle off my diagnoses that have caused this type of catastrophizing for me in the past. But I’m telling you, you don’t have to feel like this.

    And I’m proud of you for reaching out for help. Listen to Alison. Keep going. You can do it. It will be difficult but you’ll be happier on the other side.

  125. Csethiro Ceredin*

    OP, I don’t have any different advice for you (EAP or therapy) but I just wanted to send a virtual hug.

    You are a person, not a cog in a wheel, and you have value as a person. You’re more than your job and you deserve to have more in your life than your job. I’m sure your employer would heartily agree!

  126. Tobias Funke*

    Link included so this will likely go to moderation: OP, this is a resource I have used to explore my own thoughts and beliefs. Learning what they are can help you to figure out where they work for you (because some of them HAVE to be working – look at all you’ve achieved!) as well as the ones NOT working for you (like the beliefs you shared in this letter).

    Check it out and see what you come up with! https://www.guelphtherapist.ca/handouts/Core-Beliefs-Worksheet.pdf

  127. Someone Else's Boss*

    What a beautiful and well thought-out response by Allison. I have an employee who has trouble taking off and I’m sending this to her. One of my favorite mentors used to say, “You deserve to enjoy the life that your job affords you.” I’ve always carried that with me. We all have value.

  128. Immortal for a limited time*

    Oh, my goodness. Please understand that your employer could not legally prevent you from taking time off work and your sense that it’s bad for business is simply a false construct. Some industries enforce time away, such as to ensure that employees in a position to commit fraud are prevented from covering it up by not allowing their work to be observed or taken over. (Not that your unwillingness to take time off implies you are doing something shady — just that there are very good reasons why employers want their employees to use their allotted vacation time, beyond those that Alison mentioned.) If I were your manager and I found out you had not asked for to assist or grieve your grandparents out of a sense of duty, I’d be offended, honestly! You are enough, and your work is enough. Overthinking it is helping neither you nor your employer.

  129. ARRRGGGG*

    I had a supervisor once who put this in the proper perspective for a young me who was worried about taking time off, “Those days are part of your salary. When you waste them you are now working for free. Don’t do that.”

  130. 653-CXK*

    During my time at ExJob, I took off ET (Earned Time) whenever I found it convenient because I knew there would be people who would be trained to work on what I did. The only times I couldn’t take it off were January-March (year-end financial settlements) and the day after Thanksgiving (extremely popular day off; required a skeleton crew), but all other times were fair game.

    Then came the first few months of CurrentJob. Having taken off a virtual ten month vacation due to finding a new job after being let go, I was petrified of taking time off. There was also a ton of work I had to do, and everyone depended on me. I took my first vacation in 2019, and I was terrified that I would come back to dumpster fires I had to douse.

    I’m now in my 5th year at CurrentJob and everything has calmed down considerably. A lot of the work I did has been distributed to other people, I have backup in case I’m out, and for the first time in a long time, I took a mental health day (a day off for no reason other than to recharge).

  131. Monday*

    There are so many lovely, thoughtful comments so far, I hope you get a chance to read them all OP. For my part, I would like to maybe offer a theoretical perspective from your coworkers.

    My team is small, and we have a big workload jump at the end of the fiscal year in March (think, half of all the contracts we process for a whole year come in March, and half of those come in the last two weeks). This year my team was already understaffed (supervisor acting as manager while they find a replacement, and one coworker on mat leave). So we had 4/6 people, and then one coworker’s father passed away. He had to take off the last two busiest weeks of our work year.

    And I didn’t begrudge him at all. I am so glad he was able to be with his mother, and the rest of his family. The three of us working ended up having to do a combined 70 hours of overtime to get everything done, but we all did it together. Nobody was mad at him for having to take time off.

    This week he is back, and another coworker is on a holiday, our supervisor is taking Friday off for a weekend trip, and I’ve got some time off booked for a move. We’re a team, and part of that is we take the time off we need to work better as a team. I don’t feel mad at my coworkers when they’re sick or need surgery (as happened this last fall), I am happy for them that they are getting the rest they need. I even enjoy covering for them! It’s fun sometimes to do different work and see what they’re working on. It’s good experience for me, since I’m more junior than they are, but it’s also interesting!

    I hope you can get some comfort from my perspective, I hope you are able to get the help and the rest you need.

    1. Dave*

      I had a co-worker who unexpectedly lost a parent. I was perfectly okay putting in extra long hours for a few weeks so they could spend time with their family. I was exhausted when they returned, but I was honestly glad I could give them that time. As a bonus they were extra awesome when I was on vacation a few weeks later about taking care of stuff for me and not leaving a pile.

  132. LadyM*

    First, I agree with anyone that some type of therapy is in order.
    Second, I never felt this way (starting my professional life in Europe it was perfectly normal for people at all levels to take 3 week vacations and nothing ever collapsed); however I recently came across a tiktok (I know, I know!) where a situation like this was described and a point was raised – PTO is part of your compensation package. You don’t fell bad for cashing your paycheck, why should you feel bad for taking PTO?
    Last but not least – I had a manager who said – if I ever need to deny someone taking PTO either they are not paid nearly enough or I’m doing bad job managing them and the rest of my team.

  133. Blame It On The Weatherman*

    OP Just to reiterate, the vast majority of people don’t “deal with” feelings of guilt at using their PTO because they don’t HAVE those feelings, nor should they.

    When you go to a restaurant, do you feel guilty about eating the food you’ve paid for instead of scrambling back into the kitchen and washing dishes for hours for free? That’s the level of off base your mentality seems to be here.

    Missing real life things – things FAR more important than work – is really messed up and I hope you’re able to get help. I’d encourage you to dig deep and reorient your sense of what your life’s purpose is – because it certainly doesn’t entail feeding yourself ever more vigorously into the meat grinder of capitalism. Companies will try to exploit you enough as it is, don’t do their work for them by exploiting yourself!

  134. el l*

    OP, only one to add – agree with all the sympathy, and with Alison’s beautiful response.

    As you sort this out, be aware that you WILL occasionally run across people with really toxic attitudes towards PTO. “If they can do without you for a week, they can do without you for good,” or a proud boast of “We kept operating, even during COVID!”. Both are attitudes I’ve personally heard working in a finance-adjacent field.

    Where you’re different from the vast majority is not in occasionally feeling guilty about taking time off. We all do, there are all sorts of annoyances to sort out, what if the office hard case speaks up, and so on.

    But we all learn to ignore those thoughts and comments. Because the PTO is worth it to our lives.

    You need your surgery. You need a life free of this particular intense anxiety. You need to be there for important moments for your family and friends. And letting you off per contractually agreed terms is their problem, not yours. You wouldn’t work for no pay, would you? Well, PTO is part of your compensation just the same.

    PTO is there to be taken for all your needs; use it. And ignore anyone who says otherwise.

  135. KitKat*

    OP there is a ton of good advice here, and I hope you have time to read it. I wanted to expand on one point Alison made:

    > This is not a reason people get fired or put on layoff lists.
    I’m a manager and have been “in the room” for layoff planning several times in my career. I have never, not ever, *not one single time* heard anyone bring up “how much PTO so and so takes” as a reason to move them on or off of the list. I have never, not ever, *not one single time* seen an otherwise good employee fired for taking banked PTO.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Comments like this make me wish this platform functioned just a bit more like Reddit so we could upvote this all the way to the top!

  136. BellyButton*

    Op, I just want to give you a big hug. I actually look at people’s PTO and if they aren’t using it I call them and find out why. Are they being told they can’t, is there not proper coverage, do they feel like you feel? It isn’t healthy, and it is really out of whack. It isn’t healthy for people never to take time off. You need it, for your health, for your family/friends, for your mental health, you have earned it- and ultimately it makes you a better employee because you aren’t burned out.

    I was thinking exactly what the response said in the last paragraph “did you learn growing up that your feelings and needs don’t matter? Or that you’ll be penalized if you try to take care of yourself first, or even at all? Or that you don’t have intrinsic value simply as you” This is therapy level guilt.

    Good luck, OP, please take the rest of the week off.

  137. FL*

    The company is not doing you a favor by giving you a job that you need in order to live, they are exploiting the fact that you need a job to live in order to extract value from your labor. Even a company with generous salaries and compassionate policies has chosen those policies in order to retain the employees they want, not as charity to their workers. Some commenters are suggesting ways to reframe taking care of yourself as doing good for your employer, but I really hope that OP can ultimately accept that taking care of yourself is something you are entitled to for your own sake, and not view their entire life and identity as owned by their employer.

  138. Girasol*

    OP isn’t alone! I have always felt that way too but I know why. In some of my earliest jobs as well as more recent ones, I’ve been guilt tripped for taking time off. It’s true that good managers want (and should want!) employees to rest and recharge. But the world is full of bad managers who try to shame people for taking time off, hinting that they’re lazy, disloyal, selfish, or that their reasons – from weddings to surgeries to funerals – are fictional. Poor managers say sneaky things like “You have X amount of vacation time each year but good employees don’t usually need that much.” Coworkers can bad-mouth people who take time off: “Must be nice! I haven’t had a day off in three years!” When you hear that sort of thing often enough, you feel like slime for taking your fair and earned vacation days. Has OP thought about who gave them the idea that vacation is shameful? Why did they say what they did? Thinking back, was it really right for them to say that?

  139. wavefunction*

    OP, even if you don’t take any other PTO this next year, please schedule that surgery. I ached for you reading about the experiences you missed. You can do this for yourself, and you deserve the best quality of life you can manage. If you need to sit with a therapist while you call and schedule the surgery, do so. (If it’s taking a while to find a therapist and your spouse or a friend can offer this support, please ask them.) You don’t have to suffer like this, and I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this overwhelming guilt.

  140. FamousBlueRaincoat*

    Dear OP,
    I hope reading this comment section brings you comfort rather than compounding your feelings of guilt. So many people here are cheering for you, and this could be a real turning point in your life so great job for doing the very hard part of asking for help!

    Something I have learned in my time as an HR person who works at a large corporation, which from a practical standpoint may help you reframe the way you are seeing this issue:

    Companies not only build PTO into their budget for the year, but they accrue for people to use all of that time and it actually messes with the accrual if people do not use it. It means that the accounting team is likely carrying large balances of PTO accruals on their books from year to year, because in the event that employee leaves the company, the company will have to pay out that time (in many states, at least).

    So think of it like this: You have rendered services to the company at a certain bill rate. They have the invoice and have sent you a check for the full amount due, but you aren’t cashing that check. That creates more of a hassle because they don’t know if you are planning on cashing it now, or next week, or never. It would be much easier from a bookkeeping standpoint if you just go ahead & use the time!

    Maybe this helps, maybe not but I wanted to give you that perspective so you can view this less as a moral issue and more as a logistical one. Even companies with unlimited PTO are very likely already accruing for the expense whether people actually use it or not.

  141. Medieval Peasant*

    I’ve said this before to the less experienced, more brainwashed victims of toxic corporate culture that I work with: Paid time off = wages earned. PTO is budgeted into your contract and you are expected to take it. You are not stealing time or money from the company by using your paid leave. If you don’t take it, it won’t carry over, and you are only stealing time from yourself.

    At least, this is what holds true in my sphere. I can’t speak to all industries, but if you have PTO, and you need it, use it! If you still feel bad, just remember, the company sure doesn’t feel any guilt about layoffs or stagnating wages or wage theft, so why should you feel any guilt about taking time off? The only reward for working yourself to death is more work.

  142. LivesinaShoe*

    OP, I’m not going to add to the chorus of what others have said, but I was struck by the “It takes two people to cover for me” part of your letter.

    In addition to not taking time off, are you also taking on much more than is reasonable for your position? You may want to look into that at some point also.

  143. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP, I am on board with everyone recommending therapy. The way you feel about this is definitely not typical, and is a sign that you have some processing to do about how you look at your own needs.

    As a manager, I have had to shut down people who have said they were going to try to work half days while traveling for vacation. I said, “you need vacation to keep you from burning out. If you are working every day, even if it’s just half a day, that’s not vacation. If you burn out, that’s a much bigger problem than doing without you for a few weeks–both for you and for the team. I need you to rest and recharge and take care of yourself.” I really do prefer it when my team members take care of themselves and take their vacation time!

  144. Spicy Tuna*

    Not so unusual. Feeling horrible about taking time off was something that plagued me throughout my time working for “the man”

    It was particularly bad at my last job where my boss was even worse about taking time off – in 9 years of working with him, he took one week off for a family vacation and one week off when his dad died. He didn’t directly give anyone a hard time about using vacation time, but would “comment” – so when one co-worker’s wife was having their 2nd child, co-worker booked 2 weeks off and my boss honestly couldn’t understand why.

    I never got a handle on this problem of mine but now I’m self employed, so all of my overwork just goes to benefit me directly, but I don’t recommend! This year alone I worked myself into bronchitis and shingles and when I had a colonoscopy, I only took off for the actual time I was getting the procedure. Trust me, it’s not healthy and if I were younger, I would look into getting help but I think it’s too late for me.

    1. Myrin*

      That sounds so tough and I really want to emphasise that it’s never too late! And this is not just me spouting platitudes, I truly mean that! My sister was an inpatient at a mental health clinic when she was 19 and three fourths of the people there were late sixties and older.

      There was a man there from our hometown whom I knew vaguely in that he was my childhood best friend’s other good friend’s uncle. He was, at that time, in his fifties and my sister had a good relationship with him while in the clinic and learned that he was in a really, really bad state mentally; it especially manifested in him neglecting himself. He was allowed to leave at around the same time as my sister but we saw him around about a year later and he looked great! My sister stopped to talk to him and he said that despite some intermittent lows, he was doing really well, they laughed together and were talking about a new hobby he took up and had a great time with.

      So really, it’s never too late. Big virtual hugs if you want them!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, I want to second this! Spicy Tuna, I don’t know how old you are/how many more years you plan to work, but even if you plan to retire in the next year or two and you think treatment will take that long (or maybe longer?)–I still think it’s not too late. These patterns (in thought and action) probably won’t magically go away just because you’re no longer working for money. They may change a little, and may be less consequential, but they’ll still be worth addressing. Seeking help can make your remaining working years and/or your retirement years better, and that’s worthwhile!

        Here’s another internet stranger who’s rooting for you.

    2. DyneinWalking*

      I want to push back on your first sentence “Not so unusual”. Nope, it is unusual. The fact that you and you boss also experienced this doesn’t make it that prevalent in the general population. Personal anecdotes are never a measure of the general population.

      Being on the extreme end of the spectrum doesn’t make you a bad, broken person, but it does mean that you are dealing with an unusual challenge that the majority of the population does not face. You and the OP deserve help for this – and late is better than never! It’s like saying that you spent your whole live limping and in pain, so what’s the point of getting crutches now?
      But if a year of therapy and medication could enable you to notwork yourself into illness, wouldn’t that alone be a huge improvement your life even if you can’t eliminate all the other unhealthy habits?

  145. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    LW, I’ve been thinking about this letter all day and I just wanted to add that if the idea of talking to a therapist makes you anxious you already have a great place to start with this letter itself. Print off a copy bring it to your first appointment, hand it to your therapist and say “I wrote this.” Then just close your eyes, stare out the window or do a crossword while they read it.

  146. Tracy*

    I’m literally the only person who can do my job at my workplace. When I am gone our capacity and income drops by 50%+. I do not feel guilty in the slightest for using ALL my vacation time despite the people pleasing my mother has deeply instilled in me and bullying from previous bosses for daring to have a personal life. I am going away for multiple weeks this year and they will just deal with it best they can knowing that I can find another job a million times easier than it is for them to replace me.

    I would HIGHLY recommend finding a good therapist to discuss this guilt with. It’s not healthy to live this way and I say that as someone who missed all my grandparents’ funerals while I was in grad school because I was guilted and bullied by admin when I asked to at least go to the wakes.

  147. Rebecca*

    OP, did you grow up with any poverty, or with family members who experienced poverty?

    I recently started working for myself, and even though one of the benefits of that was to have MORE time off, I’m not established enough yet to be confident that money is going to continue coming in the way I did when I had a salary, so sometimes I feel guilty about not working because I think I should be taking advantage of the fact that money is coming in NOW and taking time off might mean putting my family’s financial future at risk. I have to schedule days off and force myself to take them while I get used to this new normal.

    Your comment that losing your job might mean disaster for your family made me think of this. My father grew up with poverty and I could see some habits that lingered for him, long after ‘money is tight’ didn’t mean ‘not being able to feed his kids’. Have you maybe picked up some habits like this?

    1. thatsjustme*

      It is really remarkable how deep the wounds from poverty go for so many people, myself included.

  148. Samwise*

    I recommend therapy. And use sick leave for it, don’t pretzel yourself trying to find a therapist who can meet evenings or weekends.

    Late afternoon is nice because then you don’t have to go back to work while you’re still processing. Or first thing in the morning, but give yourself an extra hour of sick leave afterwards to take a walk or do yoga or have coffee — something pleasant.

  149. Nat20*

    I have also stuggled with (admittedly more mild) guilt about taking time to relax. So I want to add something someone told me that has helped tremendously: you do not need to earn rest. Read that again: *you do not need to earn rest.*

    When you think of rest as something you earn through work, you start to think of it as something you “deserve” or not, based on whether you’ve earned it. And so the guilt comes in when you don’t feel like you deserve it.

    But relaxing and taking time off is something you deserve by default because you are a human – not something you have to earn by doing “enough”. And in your case it sounds like there’s never enough you can do to earn it, which is even worse! Try to stop thinking of rest as something you have to earn and is therefore something you deserve or not, and instead think of it as essential and non-negotiable to your wellbeing as drinking water. You don’t have to “earn” water.

  150. merida*

    A close friend of mine used to have a very similar mentality, so I’ll tell OP what I told my friend in the hopes it helps:

    – It might come down to misplaced identity. My friend had an engrained perspective that her core identity was in her job, working hard, and always being the best at what she did. I had to point out that a.) having your identity be in your job is actually not healthy, but also b.) taking time off to refresh and come back to work more focused actually IS how to be a better employee (I pointed this out because taking time off for the reason of “you’re a human and you need rest” did not sit well with my friend).

    – Your company will survive without you. My friend had to let go of the idea that her company would drown without her. She was a great employee and they relied on her a lot, however, in all reality, even she was just an employee and is replaceable. That can be a bitter pill to swallow if feel very loyal to your company, but at the end of the day not even the best of companies will love you back or be as loyal to you as you are to them. Anecdotally I’ve noticed that the people who understand this idea typically tend to be people with better work/life balances and therefore happier overall in their life.

    – If you start a habit of taking not taking PTO because you feel guilty your company may recognize that pattern and begin to take advantage of you, if they’re not already. You probably don’t want to start a precedence that work always comes first in your life, because your company will expect that habit to continue.

    – You are worth more than your job. You are worth more than your paycheck that you bring home to your family. You are worth more than your accomplishments. Repeat that again and again. And again. You aren’t “costing the company money” you are just… existing, and you’re a human and allowed to exist. But if that still doesn’t resinate with you, companies offering PTO is a cost of business. A job is a business transaction, and you are only holding of your end of the business transaction by taking PTO.

    But also… OP, it sounds like financial instability and the resulting anxiety is a big part of this. Part of CBT in therapy that can help with anxiety is acknowledging what would actually happen if the worst case scenario became reality. If the worst case scenario is that you lose your job (it likely won’t be because you used the PTO that was given to you – but the reality is that technically any one of us *could* lose our job for any number of reasons, most of them not being our fault anyway) – do you have any amount of a support system or plan that could keep you afloat for a short amount of time while you search for something new? I don’t know how much support you have available to you but I think allowing ourselves to think through what would actually happen (and realizing that, statistically speaking, the world probably won’t end the day we lose our jobs) can help us overcome the anxiety of that happening. I echo the suggestions of therapy to work through this, because that mindset shift won’t happen overnight. And having another person’s perspective can be SO helpful.

    P.S. if the financial side of things is the crux of your anxiety over PTO, do you have any standing to ask for a raise? It sounds like you might!

    P.s.s. you got this, OP. Echoing the commenter who said they want to give you a big hug. <3

  151. Anonosaurus*

    OP, my heart goes out to you. you sound tortured by something that is a normal aspect of working life. . that must feel really difficult.

    Please schedule your surgery. You only have one body and it’s essential to take care of it. Once you are back in full health, you will be better able to perform well at work, if you prefer to think of it that way. And you’ll probably have more energy to tackle this tremendous barrier to having a full life. what you describe as guilt, I wonder if it’s actually shame – shame for being a person who has their own needs to meet rather than serving others, shame at falling short (as you may see it) of your parents’ standards of behaviour? Shame is pernicious. It is also something you can overcome. Your life could be so much easier than this. please get the help everyone is encouraging you to find.

  152. aarti*

    Manager here, and I am adamant about my people taking time. If June comes and I dont see a full week on the calendar I get on them. I don’t care if you are sitting at home for a week. I need you to have a break. I need you to step away. You will come back more cheerful and happier.

    1. Bast*

      I wish more upper managers had this attitude. In many places I have been at, not using all of your sick/vacation time was seen as “dedication” and “loyalty.” They didn’t necessarily begrudge people from using the time (except at one particularly awful place) but they would make a point to bring up how Susie hasn’t used a sick day in 5 years, or how Tom only used half of his vacation time this year, and never did more than a long weekend.

  153. Cordelia*

    OP, does this only apply to you or do you think other people who take time off from work ought to feel guilty? Are they letting their company down? Your new spouse – should they have felt guilty on the honeymoon? How about the person who did become the maid of honour? if the answer to all these is no, which I’m pretty sure it’s going to be, why is it different for you? You are being incredibly hard on yourself, and I agree with all the other commenters advising therapy to help you figure this out. Good luck, I really hope you are able to work through this

  154. Ms Independent*

    OP, from my experience, something happened to earlier in life that is still dragging on and skewing this mindset about PTO. I grew up fast with a manic depressive mom. At age 6, I would walk alsone to the store with a list of groceries to get for that day. Usually that was just milk, bread and maybe something from a deli. It was ingrained in my that I have to do everything I can to take care of my family and ensure we have food and roof above our head, and that I do it unconditionally even if it’s to detriment of me. Fast forward to 2020 when I reached my boiling point with major neurological health issues. I had to drop everything I was holding and focus on my health. I got a life insurance, added additional insurance (at a high cost), and arranged finances in case something happens to me. Then I left the company I worked for 15 years and focused on my well being. Even under the less ideal circumstances, it was liberating to have time for me. It took me two years of therapy to unravel everything from my childhood to today. Now, I pace myself, take breaks, PTOs, etc in regular intervals.
    Think of it this way: on a plane they tell us to put your mask on first, then help others. That’s how I view PTO today. I am much better as a mom, as a spouse as a worker if I take regular breaks/PTO.

  155. communist comrade*

    Hi OP, sending you hugs because this really hit me- I used to feel guilty too. It took me years of work, seeing a psychiatrist and starting 2 anti-depressants, and becoming an administrator myself to work my way out of it. In the US especially, it’s so easy to fall into this mindset for a few reasons- for me it was 1) the capitalist machine driving people to work themselves into the ground for the benefit of people who are already super-wealthy, 2) growing up with a father who was a severe workaholic, preferred work to spending time with his children, 3) having said father hold me to extremely, unrealistically high standards throughout my whole childhood and me internalizing that and starting to expect it of myself, 4) subsequent spiraling into a state where I craved being “the person who could do it all” or “the person everyone could rely on”, I couldn’t handle delegating even the smallest of things for fear it would be done wrong, I trusted no one else to work as well as me, and 5) severe, untreated depression since the age of ~8.
    Now that it’s (mostly- it’s probably going to be a lifelong thing that you have to work with and on) behind me, here’s my advice- 1) please find someone to talk to- a psychiatrist, a therapist, a counsellor, anyone who is not connected with work or your personal history and can help you look at the situation objectively, 2) medication if it’s recommended for your case, because just like every other organ, sometimes the brain and nervous system need a little help to work to their best capabilities, 3) thinking about how you would advise a beloved friend or family member- would you tell them that they should miss a loved one’s funeral, skip a wedding, and refuse to take vacation? treat yourself with that same kindness! you deserve time off, to attend events or have vacations or just to have time away from work and be a person, 4) consciously making it a priority in my life to focus on things that are important to me that aren’t work- family, friends, hobbies, activities, experiences- you are a wonderful human being and you deserve to spend time on yourself, doing things you enjoy!, and 5) Now that I’m a manager myself and am in charge of time off and scheduling, I realized that I want my employees to take their time off! I want my employees to have time away from work, to relax and recharge, to spend time with people they love and doing things they enjoy, because life is not all about work. I don’t want them to be nervous to come to me and ask for time off because they have a doctor’s appointment or a concert or they just need a few days to chill out and take care of their mental health. I want them to feel comfortable taking time off, and not to worry about finding coverage or finishing work ahead of time, because it’s my job to figure that out- and even if it means some things aren’t going to be done as fast as usual, or some non-essentials will have to wait a little bit, it’s not a big deal. It’s not going to get them fired, it’s not going to get me fired, it’s not going to cause the company to shut down or go up in flames. Every single one of my employees deserves to have a life outside of work, and that includes me- I’ll even push my boss (the company owner) to take time off when he’s working himself too hard. Work is just something you do to live, it’s not your sole function of life. You are important on your own and you deserve to have time off.

  156. Carole from Accounts*

    I grew up with financially abusive parents, and I recognize so many of the feelings OP describes from my own journey. So many of my hopes and dreams and security was wrapped up in having stable employment (a reliable paycheck was the antithesis of my upbringing in which money and things were withheld for minor infractions and any disagreements), I really felt that I had to do everything to make my employer happy because they were my protector and only source of independence. So I’ll just reiterate: please look into therapy. I’m still untangling a lot of the attachments like OP describes but it’s been so worthwhile for me! Jobs come and go, you absolutely can’t place attachment to employment like you’re trying to.

  157. Wendy Darling*

    I have definitely struggled with a lower-key version of this (although fortunately never to the point that I wouldn’t take time off to visit a dying relative or go to a friend’s wedding), and it is definitely a brutal combo of low self-worth (“did you learn growing up that your feelings and needs don’t matter? Or that you’ll be penalized if you try to take care of yourself first, or even at all? Or that you don’t have intrinsic value simply as you, but instead need to tie yourself into pretzels to justify being around?” all hit and are things I have been addressing with a therapist), growing up in a society that puts huge value on the protestant work ethic/hustle culture, and the general precarity of being a millennial meaning I am constantly terrified that if I am not perfect I will lose my job and never get another (not realistic!).

    One of the things I find helpful to remember is that every time anyone studies how time off impacts productivity, they find that more time off makes people more productive. Companies have done things like gone to a 32-hour 4-day work week and employees actually got MORE done. The 40-hour work week was adopted when people mostly worked in factories doing physically but not mentally taxing labor, and that’s not what most modern jobs are like.

    Other things I try to remember:

    – I do not resent my coworkers for taking time off when they’re sick or need a break. I help cover for them, and they will do the same for me.
    – If we’re staffed at a level that someone getting sick or taking a vacation is a catastrophe, that is a failure by people above me to staff realistically. It’s not my problem or the sick/vacationing person’s problem.
    – PTO is part of my compensation. If I don’t use it I am essentially leaving money I am entitled to on the table. If the company didn’t want me to take PTO, they shouldn’t have offered it as a benefit (and then I would not have taken the job!).

    1. RVA Cat*

      Seconding all of this.
      Xennial here – maybe when that catastrophizing about losing your job and never getting another, we should think “Have you considered piracy?”

  158. McS*

    To be clear, a good manager WILL complain they arif you don’t take enough time off. If yours doesn’t, they aren’t very good at their job and that is not your fault. If they don’t complain about mistakes in a report, would you assume they want the mistakes to stay there? Or would you do it right anyway? Taking vacation is the right way to do your job.

  159. Overthinking it, probably . . .*

    This sounds like anxiety – not guilt! (Maybe shame too, but not legitimate guilt) Guilt is what you feel when you do something you shouldn’t or when you don’t do something you should. Neither applies here. (That sounds like I think only people doing bad would feel guilty, BUT good people can legitimately feel guilt too, if there is multiple “shoulds” and they have to prioritize ONE. For instance, someone – not you – might feel guilty about leaving their sick child, but must go to work to stay employed. OR someone else might feel guilty about staying home to care for the sick child – leaving the office at a particularly bad time, but have no other option). But if you feel bad when you do what you “should” – give prior notice, or pre-request the time for surgery or vacation, or call in when sick – THAT’S anxiety. You need therapy, (Seriously, not saying that in a mean way.)

  160. another cat lady*

    I also struggle with similar guilt, though nowhere near to the same extent. It’s gotten worse as I’ve risen through the ranks, though– once I started supervising people, I started to feel like I needed to work the longer hours, take less time off, etc., and generally absorb the excess to protect my reports. Which I still agree with, mostly, but I don’t know where the line is, I think. And my peers vary quite a bit– my boss takes off 2 weeks every 2-3 years, and otherwise just doctor’s appointments. One colleague with my same title uses ALL leave, another uses most of it. I don’t use much, usually 1 week and a few days here and there per year (we get 5 weeks per year).

    I’m curious what others think. Fellow managers, do you think we should be taking all of our leave to set a good example, or less leave so we can cover and enable everyone else to take off?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I’m not a manager, but from my perspective as an employee, I think managers should take most/all of their leave. I’m in an industry where most things can wait a few days or a week if they absolutely need to have a specific person’s input. And aside from those situations, taking your leave:

      (1) sets a good example for employees (they should take their leave too)
      (2) shows you trust your employees to make (certain) decisions in your absence (and if you don’t, that’s a signal for training or performance improvement plans)
      (3) prevents you from burning out (and no one wants to work for a burnt-out boss)

    2. It's me, Margaret*

      I’m a manager and I think we should take our leave to set a good example. And that we should work on systems, processes and staffing levels so that everyone can take their leave. It should never be a choice between “I take my leave” or “My team takes their leave”.

      1. Boof*

        / It should never be a choice between “I take my leave” or “My team takes their leave”./
        This! Managers should take their leave and model good practices! But if taking whatever leave is standard burdens your team a lot, then there’s a bigger problem (and the problem isn’t that you took a normal amount of leave) and the ideal is to fix whatever staffing issues or process that’s preventing everyone (managers count as everyone) from taking time off

  161. OrigCassandra*

    Adding my voice to the chorus: OP, you are a lovely worthwhile person and you deserve to live like one. Letting your job take you over to this extent isn’t something you deserve. I hope you find a way to step back from it.

    I want to suggest one other thing that can feed into this fear: Have you seen colleagues mistreated or trash-talked by your management? Perhaps for taking time off? Or for being sick? If you have and it’s feeding your fear — let me be the first to say that management sucks.

    I have lost several colleagues because of a deliberate underpayment strategy from a former department chair, who didn’t expect this particular type of colleague to stay for very long and welcomed that because it would be “cheaper” overall. I am not that type of employee, but I’m close enough to it that hearing that spooked me. I’ve taken a lot more (metaphorical) bullets for this place than even I (and I share a number of the risk factors for excessive guilt discussed in this comment section) think is healthy.

    I’m working on it. Stepping back from some stuff. Trying to remind myself that I can’t care more than they do, because that’s the fast road to burnout.

    I hope we can both find a better balance, OP.

  162. NoName*

    Just decided I also need a therapy appointment. I don’t have OPs issue at all, but from reading the strongly worded advice here I realised that not everything can be fixed by a mindset shift.

  163. RebeccaNoraBunch*

    Oh my goodness. If you got hit by a bus they would be listing your job by the end of the business day.

    Please don’t feel like you are cheating your company by taking time off or that you have to “earn” your evenings and weekends!

    1. daisycakes.*

      On this post, I’ve kind of been leaning away from the “the company doesn’t care about you; you should reciprocate” sentiment not because it’s not true, but because I don’t think it’s a sentiment that will reach this particular LW or ease their troubles. But you’re right about the hit-by-a-bus scenario. Jumping off that, LW, if it helps, maybe consider this: your company has a plan for if you are no longer employed with them—you should also have a plan for if you are no longer employed with them. Best case scenario, you won’t need it, worst case scenario, you have a structure in place to guide your recovery and you aren’t left frantically scrambling to develop Plan B on the fly. Your employer is not the only source of work/livelihood in the world—this is not some one-and-only-opportunity-for-employment-no-do-overs, and you are obviously employable. If you lose your job at this employer, you have countless chances to regain your footing.

  164. wowzers*

    You aren’t putting your job at risk by taking vacation. As everyone else has said, your reaction to relaxing isn’t within a typical range, and it does sound like something that needs medical attention and mental health expertise. In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d share reasons why I’ve fired people or laid them off. The reasons why I’ve fired people has to do with crimes (e.g. fraud) or poor performance or poor behavior (e.g. sexual harassment, drunk driving). The reasons why I’ve laid people off in the past had to do with what the work needed, the budget we had available, and the skills a person had or, quite frequently, the end of a grant funded project. In no cases of firing or laying off in 15 years has an employees use of their vacation days been considered. I know it can seem like people who take vacation get laid off, but people who don’t take vacation also get laid off. Your brain is having you interpret layoffs through a lens that isn’t true.

    Good wishes to you, and I hope you can feel better soon!

  165. Myrin*

    I have to come back a second time hours later because this letter is haunting me. I guess I’m still having trouble figuring out where the “guilt” part really comes from but I have a very uncomfortable suspicion. Hear me out:

    You say “I know I wouldn’t be able to afford to live if I didn’t have a job. […] I wouldn’t be able to afford food, housing, or other basic necessities. Any time I’m not working during work hours, I feel extremely guilty for taking advantage of my company.” and, OP, do you think… your company is saving your life? Do you feel like you owe your literal life to your workplace?

    Because, I mean, in a way, a very roundabout way, that’s true, but that’s also the case for the vast majority of us. And they’re not actually offering time off for free! I want to make that very clear – this relationship is symbiotic, not parasitic. You are not just taking from them, for whatever meaning of “taking” you might use here, they’re very clearly getting something from you or else they wouldn’t have hired you (or anyone, for that matter). In fact, they’re getting so much from you that they have to replace you with literally two flesh-and-bone entities like you when you’re away!

    I really, really hope you’ll be able to take Alison’s wonderful advice as well as the lovely comments to heart, OP. I believe I’m speaking truthfully when I say that we’re all thinking of and cheering for you.

  166. Yup*

    I literally just started listening to The Happiness Lab podcast. The first episode is about how work isn’t making people happy, and the second is about how money (beyond making a living wage, of course) isn’t making people happy. It’s a great listen so far–with tips on how to do the happiness work!

  167. layniek*

    This letter resonates with me to a certain extent. I haven’t had this level of guilt about PTO, but I have felt guilt about PTO and had to work through it.

    The root cause of it for me was a period of my life (of several years) when I was dealing with a chronic pain disorder and missing a lot of work at the last minute because of it. I felt guilty because I was using more PTO than I had, so having to take days unpaid, and leaving my team in the lurch regularly because I had to call in sick at the last minute. And my bosses made it pretty clear they were unhappy with me because of it.

    I’ve finally found an effective treatment for the chronic pain disorder, so now I can take PTO like “normal” people. I can schedule it in advance and not worry about saving it up for illness. I don’t have to take days unpaid. I very rarely have to call in sick. And it took awhile after this became my new normal for me to start thinking about PTO as something I can plan and take without feeling guilty.

    There were a couple of factors that helped. I do have a therapist who reminds me it’s important to take time off for my mental and physical health. My company has a use-it-or-lose-it policy for most of your PTO, because they do want you to take it. (You can only rollover 1 week of PTO to the next year.) And leadership at my company is really visible about setting an example on this – they take their PTO and encourage everyone else to take theirs.

  168. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

    “I felt too guilty to leave even when my grandparents were dying from Covid or when my best friend wanted me to be maid of honor at her wedding.”

    I think it’s worth digging into why you describe taking time off as “too much guilt” but missing incredibly valuable moments of your life and relationships is only “regret”. I don’t want to sound harsh but… does the guilt of not being there for your friends and family not outweigh the guilt of leaving coworkers to cover for you? Are you feeling like you owe more to your colleagues or like those relationships are worth more to you than those with your family? Do you feel guilty about missing out on family time? Are you more concerned about what your employer thinks of you being present in the workplace than your friends/family about being present in their lives?

    I think if you reframe which people and relationships are a priority for you (including prioritizing yourself and your health) you’ll find it easier to deal with some amount of guilt when coworkers need to cover for you or you take more time off.

    And I’d try to check in and make time for friends and family. It’s likely that missing out on things has damaged your relationships and you’ll need to put in work to fix that.

  169. thatsjustme*

    Yeah, my first thought was therapy. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I hope the OP can see the upside: You don’t have to feel this way forever. It’ll take some work to untangle everything, but you’ll feel so much better once you do.

  170. It's me, Margaret*

    OP, I’m just going to add myself to the list of managers who WANT people to take leave. There’s one person in my team who’s reluctant to take leave, and I worry about her. I feel guilty that we’re taking advantage of her, and I’m worried she’ll burn out.

    Most importantly, people in my team deserve to have holidays, or time to blob, or time to spend with their families. Work matters, but the rest of your life matters more. I want people to take time off to help them remember that.

  171. DJ*

    I agree if possible have therapy so that your guilt doesn’t impact on enjoying your time off or lead you to miss experiences you’ll always regret.
    If you can’t afford therapy perhaps buying a good book on cognitive behaviour therapy will help as that will contain exercises on identifying and challenging your thoughts and emotions around this!

  172. Boof*

    Can’t diagnose over the inter But i agree with Allison op; the level of anxiety you feel despite apparently intellectually knowing it doesn’t match reality + the amount of impact it’s had on your life is concerning for an anxiety disorder, the kind that might really be helped by medication; they don’t usually make a night and day difference, and therapy would likely still be really helpful to redirect your mind from returning to the same anxiety ruts it’s used to, but hopefully it gets better to where you enjoy a well deserved vacation instead of feeling worse than you do on the weekend!
    I am curious; you mention hearing comments about others who take “too much time off”, but truly, what do you think about a good coworker who takes a standard vacation week? Do you think “that slacker!” or “hope they’re having fun!”? If the latter, hopefully you can realize others have the same good feelings about you taking a break like you do for them! If you have negative feelings about your colleagues taking standard time off, then maybe you do need to work harder on the cognitive behavioral therapy part; and/or you’re in a toxic environment that begrudges their employees time off and you should move on to something even better (i know you said you like your current job; but maybe one that had explicit have to use it or get paid out, not unlimited pto would be better)

  173. limit the unlimited*

    While of course there will be huge variation across different jobs (and even within the same job, factoring in things like seniority or geography), can anyone suggest a guideline to what they would be consider a reasonable amount of time off in your ‘standard office’ job? This “unlimited” time is such a trap for so many people! – and while it seems like it’s only the tip of the iceberg in this letter, perhaps it might help OP at least a little to have an actual minimum “acceptable” number to aim for?

    My personal estimation (which others may consider way off base!?) of how much would be OK in the course of a year is something like this:
    5 days/1 week – this is not really adequate, but is the absolute bare minimum that even the worst and stingiest employer in the world should not kick up a fuss over;
    10 days/2 weeks – this is the minimum that any *actually decent* employer would not find objectionable;
    15 days/3 weeks – this is pretty reasonable!

    …that’s just for vacation days; ill health and other emergencies should allow for more leeway (OP, please do look into getting that surgery ASAP!).

  174. ThatOtherClare*

    My dear letter writer, I must admit I was a little confused by the concept of overwhelming guilt, but when you described the situations in which you feel guilt it all became starkly obvious.

    What you’re describing isn’t actually guilt at all, it’s fear. You’re afraid of the consequences of taking time off. You’re worrying “What if people punish me by mentally downgrading my reputation, moving me up the secret lay-off list, giving me a poor reference, or just straight up firing me?”. You’re not thinking “Oh my poor company making a financial loss from my absence, I feel so bad for it”.

    Guilt and fear can be hard to distinguish sometimes, but take it from an older lady who’s very experienced in both: guilt feels a lot more like depression and a lot less like stress and anxiety. Guilt is the bags of stone on your shoulders on a cold wet miserable afternoon; fear is the sick feeling as you look over your shoulder for the tiger stalking you whilst the thunder cracks overhead.

    When you’re feeling guilty, somehow you almost think experiencing consequences would make you feel better. “If only my sister got angry at me for ruining her favourite sweater! She was so nice about it that I feel even worse!”. You’re not secretly thinking you’d somehow feel better if you lost your job for taking holidays (lol), you’re desperately trying to bargain: “What if I did two weeks of work in one?” – in the hopes of pushing the dreaded possibility further away.

    Fear of losing your place in society, being ‘kicked out of the cave’ for not following the social rules is very, very normal. Especially</i< if you've worked in a lot of harsh and unpredictable environments like retail – where your ongoing employment really does sometimes depend on whether your supervisor has had enough coffee this morning or if Uranus is in retrograde today.

    On the bright side, you’re not an unusual case! If you decide to take all of the advice above and speak to a professional, they’re likely to have a lot of experience helping people with similar problems, and they’ll be confident in their ability to help you see some real improvements pretty quickly.

    I’m sorry to hear the way your past jobs have treated you. You deserved better. I wish you the best of luck in overcoming your fear, dear letter writer. I’m already looking forward to reading your shining update. You’ve got this! We all believe in you, and we’re cheering for you to get to your place of safety soon.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      Please forgive the HTML fail in the middle there, clearly my proof reading wasn’t up to my usual standards today.

  175. KrazyKat44*

    Content warning: possible thoughts of suicide and Lots of self hate.

    LW I know exactly how you feel. I lived with this same guilt for years when I was in Highschool and in my early career. I was putting the weight of the whole activity/company on my shoulders as if it was my own burden to bare. I was the first to be at the band room after school so I would bring out all the instruments for my section for everyone, just so we didn’t have a lecture about how we weren’t ready to practice. I fully believed the whole “It will go on your permanent record” crap. I believed if I didn’t make up for what others lacked in a group it was my fault. I took the weight of every mess-up, down fall, and slack/laziness of others on myself.

    I didn’t get therapy for this but I wish I had. When working my first job in fast food, I didn’t need to worry about bring in a paycheck. I didn’t have bills or anything until the last year or so of working there (paying $70 a week for a car). I let my boss mentally and emotional abuse me, I let her skim my checks so she didn’t have to make others do overtime (12 to 16 hour days – 6 to 7 days a week) just to make her look better. I started there with the an old manager agreeing that I don’t work Sundays (she started making me work Sunday nights) I let her call me in on my one (ONE!) requested day off! When I got sick and had to call out (ER Docs orders – fast food with strip throat) She used the excuse that she knew would work, “Well I can’t guarantee you’ll have a job when you get back.”

    I believed I would never get hired again, anywhere, if I was fired from my job. My first job after high school. I could be dying in my bed and I would just worry about how I’ve hurt my coworkers, how I’ve burdened them, or let them down. but over time I realized my coworkers started to hate me because I was putting in too much, I was so stressed it was hurting them, I wasn’t as efficient as I could be. I was letting them down by working myself to death. I would push them to do their jobs harder and myself twice as much. I didn’t rely on them to do their jobs so they just didn’t do it and left it to me. I finally started having health issues – panic attacks, blacking out at work, I couldn’t sleep, chest pains, ect. My boss was telling me something was wrong with me cause my work quality was slipping, I wasn’t doing her duties for her anymore. I went to the doctor and they said I was perfectly healthy but my mental state was causing my body to ware itself out. My boss said that’s not true I’m just over thinking things, something bigger is wrong, and that it all started when I started dating my now husband.

    I stopped and looked at my job and were I was. I was letting my job rule my life, I wasn’t living, I was depressed, unhappy, unstable, constantly sick, and always thinking if I put in more effort things would get better. My job was ruling my life and I wasn’t living at that point. I was alive but there was no signs I was living outside of work. My coworkers would call out all the time, I would complain to myself that they were making my job harder. They were but they were in high school no one else cared but me. because I was forcing myself to make up for them not being there. I was letting my boss force new requirement that no one else had to do, regulations and rules no one else had to follow. I had my hair in a low ponytail one day as my boss always did, instead of a bun and got reprimanded for it. I was told she could do it cause she would keep it behind her, but I did too. Nothing I did was ever enough, yet I still felt the need to put in more work, effort, never call out, don’t be the burden.

    I finally snapped. My body shut down, and I realized I need to put myself first. My boss went insane, I would call out and feel the guilt but I just ignored it. I knew if I didn’t change I was going to kill myself. I had to keep reminding myself that my job is there to pay me to make a living. My life is not about my job or the company or my coworkers.

    MY LIFE HAS TO REVOLVE AROUND ME! My loves, my interest, my happiness.

    I have to have a job. I have to pay bills. But if theses are the only things I do, and nothing is left over for me or the people I love what’s the point? What good is a job or all the money in the world if I’m not happy, if I never see or do the things I love? Solomon had everything he could ever want but none of it brought happiness. What good am I doing or what benefit is it for me or others to do these things, to never rest?

    I had to start calling out and taking time off. I got a new job, I was encouraged to take time off, to rest, I still did heavy amounts of OT but I wasn’t stressed. My health got better. I used the time off I had to do things I loved. I would still apologize about calling out but the guilt lessened. I was so much happier knowing I was starting to live and not just exist. I had coworkers, and after another job change had PTO time I could finally use, That encourage me more so to use it. People take time off but they aren’t bashed for it. They say “enjoy your time off” with smiles and waves. They ask about how it was, and never mention it being a bother at all. I still find myself asking if things were ok while I was gone, or if anything happened, and almost always nothing did.

    Find a therapist, yes. However if people are getting bashed at work for taking time off, ask why. are they constantly calling out or is it just normal amounts of time off? is it because they are unreliable or just because of the work culture? are you putting the weight of the whole company on your shoulders? The Company doesn’t care about you. They don’t care if you put in more effort then anyone else, other then to abuse that and wring out every oz of life out of you for as little as possible.

    Are you happy? Do you truly get anything out of your job? Is it a “Job” or your “Life”?

    They will fire you for the most stupid thing in the book and not bat an eye. Coworkers call out just to spend time in bed resting. Why are you not allowed to do the same if use are using time that you are being paid for? you get paid to take PTO, USE IT! You want to be a good employ? Don’t want to let your coworkers down? You want to be important for your job? Use the time off, you are given, to be the best you can be, to be happy.

    Your job doesn’t care! your coworkers shouldn’t care! Unless you are out excessively (depends on the job) then its fine. You are not so important to your job that it will fail or the place will go out of business just because you are not there. I use to believe I was so important to my job it would fail if I wasn’t there. THAT’S NOT TRUE! They can and will replace you. You are a number and people can take your spot if you quit, get fired, or die. IT IS A JOB! NOT YOUR LIFE!

    Go Live! Stop letting your job control you and be happy. Get the help you need. Ask your family and friends if they feel like you care more about them or your job. Choose your life and happiness, not the job that doesn’t care about you.

    I know this was long and can come off as very harsh, but I truly went through this. I still fight myself about it from time to time. Now I have people around me that remind me that I have to take time for myself and loved ones. I’m not so important to my job that I have to be there. I make what I need, do what I have to. I still work hard and put in high effort, but I remind myself of the pain and how much I hated my life back then, and make sure to take the time to rest and recover.

    LW you can do the same. You can take time off. you can not go to work and not think about it. Its ok to take that time for yourself and others. It is okay.

  176. Kella*

    Hi, OP. I don’t know if you’ll get to my comment because there are so many but it’s here for you if you want it.

    I also have had debilitating anxiety around not meeting certain expectations. I have absolutely woken up in a panic realizing a mistake I made at work the previous day or called my boss in tears because I was so embarrassed that I needed to ask for help on something. I resonate with the feelings you’re having a lot. It’s something I’ve been working to fix for years.

    Three things I wanted to touch on with you: First, you said “My parents always say it’s a normal part of having a job, but I don’t want to spend my whole life feeling this guilty all the time.” I couldn’t tell whether “it” in this sentence is the guilt or the taking time off. If it’s the guilt and your parents are saying it’s normal to feel so guilty, absolutely start there with a therapist. If your parents had an intensely survival-based relationship with work and modeled that for you, that could have had a big impact on your ability to relax during PTO.

    Secondly, you said, “It typically takes two people to fill in for me while I’m out, one of which has to be pulled off of his regular duties completely, so I know me being gone is costly for the company. If I cost too much, take too much time off, or become too inconvenient, why keep me on?” But according to your own logic, if they fired you, they would have to pay for TWO people to replace the work that you were doing indefinitely, instead of just a week. That means it would be far more expensive to fire you than to keep you on, even with time off.

    Lastly, I want you to imagine for a moment that you are right and that a company full of perfect employees never take any time off outside their normal off-hours. Is that possible? How would people get married or go on honey moons? How would people give birth to their children? How would people get diagnosed with and get treated for very serious illnesses? How would people tend to the affairs of their recently passed parents who live across the country? Is there anyone who works enough to deserve the kind of time off involved in having those aspects of life?

    These examples are extremes and the bar for taking time off is actually much lower. But I wanted to point out that this expectation you are placing on yourself to never take time off is actually an impossible one. And I hope that someday you’ll be able to see that whoever gave you that belief may have been speaking their truth, but they were lying to you and they were wrong.

  177. Rachel*

    OP, this isn’t “guilt”—this is fear! Anxiety stems from fear, and it’s absolutely crushing. I’ve been there: I had a severe anxiety attack after ignoring it for so long and had to call out of work fifteen minutes before I was supposed to start a shift. My manager 100% understood and was glad I got the help I needed.

    I absolutely second the advice to find a therapist to help you sort through these feelings. And it can be a process to even find one, so don’t feel too hopeless if it doesn’t work right away. You deserve to not feel this way. <3

  178. Unfettered capitalism sucks*

    My partner is like this, but does not wake up with tears in his eyes, because he does not take off work. And if he is laid off, he works on the house. No vacations, because the guilt and anxiety are too intense. (which would cause fury, not tears, as he is just that way.) But his reasons are clear, if totally not healthy.

    He grew up in extreme poverty. He thinks vacations are for the wealthy. He thinks he has to “survive”, even though he grosses 6 figures some years, or close to it, in a blue collar job. He feels such guilt and anxiety the first 3 days of a vacation, I won’t travel with him. He stays home, because he would ruin the vacation. By the time he can relax, I want to kill him myself, so no vacations – I go on my own.

    When he was a young teen, if he wanted a roof over his head, he had to build his own room on the house. He had to take care of his mom, like a substitute husband, though she worked a low wage job, because his father was an addict. He was the oldest and the responsible one. Everything in his mind revolves around “survival”, even though he owns a home now (or the bank owns it and he pays the mortgage) and makes a living wage. He simply can’t relax unless he is fixing the house or at work. Or, as the OP, after work or weekends. But a trip – no way. “Wasting time” he thinks.

    He would not miss funerals or a wedding, but simply can’t deal with the anxiety of falling back into poverty, which he does not express that way. He simply frames everything he does as a matter of “survival”. Work or die. Provide yourself with a repair to the roof – never pay someone to do something you know how to do yourself, even if you have the money and don’t have the time to do it yourself. Better to save the money while the thing does not get repaired, because he will get around to it when necessary, than to pay someone to do what he can do. He knows he is just one too-long layoff or one bad medical bill from losing his house; in construction, your health insurance depends on working a certain number of hours. He saves and saves, so he has enough to pay the mortgage during a long lay-off, but in his business, people who take vacations do get laid off first. And he never feels the savings are enough, because he needs them to supplement his pension if he is ever going to retire. Any penny he might pay a roofer is a penny he might need later to survive. Always survival. No home, food, necessities if he is not constantly working.

    Although, not taking pto does not stop him from getting laid off, due to seniority in certain union situations. He is always early, not on time, and will work 7 days a week if called upon to do so, or 6 10 hour days for months, but is still not protected from layoffs. It doesn’t help that where we live, only for the construction industry and no other, if you live out of the city, you have to be a woman or poc to work in the city. Which is another reason he can get laid off suddenly – if the next job after the one he just finished is in the city, he can’t work. Or if they sneak him on because they need him, if one of their other jobs is done and they have a woman or poc available now, he will get laid off and the other person take over his job. He’s all for women and poc getting a leg up in skilled construction, but it sucks for him when he gets laid off because of this law.

    I think, though I can’t say for sure, that besides crippling anxiety, and shame from being told as a kid both that he was stupid and useless and a burden, and that he was absolutely necessary for his mother’s survival because dad came and went and put all his money into the crack pipe, that he will just never feel safe using PTO to relax or go on vacation, because he can instead take it in the form of cash, which he does and banks it. I wish he would go to therapy, but that is a no go. I think he fears homelessness and poverty more than burnout.

    I can’t say this is OPs issue, but they sure sound similar.

  179. lauren*

    have an employee that never wants to take time off. It is not a virtue. He gets burned out and it shows in the way he relates to co-workers and internal clients. It creates problems with team
    members who think that maybe they aren’t
    supposed to use their PTO. I know for a fact that when layoff decisions are made, nobody gives a damn about whether someone did or did not take vacation days.

    When he was my direct report, I finally had to
    tell him that if he did not schedule his mandatory 5 days off i would do if for him.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. The only difference it makes for layoffs is whether they add unused PTO to your final paycheck.

  180. Loki*

    OP, you say if you had already worked the work of two weeks in a week, you would feel fine taking off one week.

    It takes two person-weeks to replace you for a week of your absence.

    You *are* working the work of two weeks in one week. So by your own logic, you deserve that time off.

  181. Dog momma*

    If you have that much guilt over time off for a honeymoon , needed surgery! or deaths in the family, its time to seek help. There’s no reason to feel guilty over time off especially in these situations. Everyone needs to regroup/ recharge and no one is indispensable. If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, or just quit your job, they would figure it out.
    Please make an appointment with a therapist to figure out why this bothers you so much.

  182. MeepMeep123*

    A lot of what OP describes is “layoff anxiety” – if I take time off for a surgery (!!!!) or for my honeymoon (!!!!), will the company feel I’m disposable and lay me off? I thought like that at my first job out of college. When they did go through layoffs, they did so in such a terrible way that it cured me of company loyalty forever. I went freelance after that, and haven’t looked back since.

    Self-employment is a great cure for “layoff anxiety” – yeah, you might lose a client, but you won’t lose all your clients at once. And if you work as hard as OP is working (doing the job of two people!), you get more money and more clients and your business prospers. And you control your own workflow, so you can plan for things like surgeries or honeymoons ahead of time.

    I’d highly recommend this option to OP, along with copious therapy.

  183. Jess*

    I could have written this. I never feel rested after I come back from PTO because I spend the whole time worrying about how much work is piling up while I’m out. I feel worse coming back after taking a day of sick leave because I know people think I’m lazy. Nothing I do is ever good enough; I will never be caught up on my work; I am only as useful as my last important contribution to the company.

  184. Properlike*

    OP, have the benefit of my therapy (solutions-based): this is anxiety masquerading as control.

    I wonder if, like me, you grew up in a precarious financial situation. Your way to control not getting laid off is to never do anything “wrong,” and you’re hypervigilant in being prepared for the worst so it doesn’t take you by surprise. If you don’t take time off, it’s one thing they can’t fire you for. I see it in your “if I lose my job, I starve” line.

    That will probably not happen. There is unemployment. There are friends and family. Sure, it will be rough going, but you are exceedingly capable in this position and can find another job. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hard, but you have gone straight to the Very Worst Things that you assume *will* happen, and it’s likely not true. Anxiety is fooling you by thinking it’s preparing you. It’s not. Part of talking back is to make a list of back-up plans (just once – mine is going back to classroom teaching) and then know there is one, but it’s nothing you have to deal with. Build your emergency fund.

    And get therapy, because you don’t have to feel this way. <3

  185. Anonymous Today*

    I am late to this one, but I would recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    Separately, while this may not be reassuring in the usual sense, the OP needs to realize that even really good employees get laid off or even lose their jobs. They may work in a department or division that is no longer needed for whatever reason. There could be a company wide layoff and every department will lose 10% of their workers and the OP could be part of that. (I know someone that happened to and they excelled in their job.) And a random change in management could lead to the OP being let go because she reminds the new manager of their great aunt Matilda who called them “doofus”.

    Finally, I would encourage the OP to make “Let It Go” from “Frozen” their theme song.

    Best of luck.

  186. JilltheReader*

    OP my heart goes out to you. I too have felt guilty for taking time off. Please know that there is a huge difference between calling in last minute and scheduling time off in advance. If your previous employer would not allow you time off to visit your grandparents or be in your friend’s wedding, they did not deserve you as an employee. Please schedule your surgery, and know that time away makes you a more productive worker. Hugs.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      O.P., I don’t have any advice to add because Alison and the commentariat have already done such a great job. I just want to say that I hope reading Alison’s advice and these comments will help you realize and, if possible, internalize the fact that it is neither healthy nor necessary to feel the kind of extreme guilt you are feeling in regards to taking time off work (or just about anything in life, really).

      I know that sometimes just hearing someone tell you something you’ve needed to hear can make a difference. A whole bunch of people have just given you permission and encouragement to take time off work when you need to without being riddled with guilt.

      You really DON’T have to feel this way, and there are resources that can help you heal from this, as many people have outlined. Please avail yourself of these resources,and please give yourself permission to take a reasonable and healthy amount of time off work without feeling guilty, because you are entitled to that, you have earned it, and you deserve it!

  187. Fern*

    OP I understand how you feel! I struggled with this for several years. I worked in the food service industry for several years and didn’t call out unless I was truly too sick to work. (The was before the pandemic) I was very aware of how everyone else had to work harder when someone wasn’t there and I didn’t want to be resented. I remember being too sick to get out of bed, and being in tears because “What if it’s busy today and everyone has to pick up my slack?”

    I had other things I was struggling with along with the people pleasing. After getting an office job with a schedule that was a better fit for my lifestyle and some therapy, I am in a much better place. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.

    1. Emmy*

      I was going to say this! I feel like food service is very toxic in this way. On the one hand, you do not want extra people working the floor because if you’re working a tip based system, extra people equal less money. On the other hand, you are basically expected to never call off. The results of this expectation still linger when I need to call out sick since I work at a library. The desk would need to be covered by other people. Def something that needs to change in the food industry.

  188. Manglement Survivor*

    Just remember that PTO is part of your compensation. You get PTO, you get a paycheck, sometimes you get a break on health insurance, etc. That’s how you rewarded for coming to work. And you can use those things without letting anyone down or getting them upset.

Comments are closed.