Guilty Vacations


I read a CNN article a couple of days ago about people feeling guilty for taking time off. This article was specifically talking about taking unpaid time off as part of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) and how many people either don’t know about this benefit or feel guilty when they have to use it for sickness, the birth of a child, or to take care of an ill family member (among other reasons). The article got me thinking thinking about taking vacation and if there’s guilt associated with that.

Over the last few years with the economy in a “less awesome” mode (technical term), companies have reduced staffing levels so that in many firms, one person has taken on many additional job duties, or even another person’s entire job. Faced with this additional work (and frequently no additional pay) and the prospect of appearing like they don’t have enough to do if they find the time to take a vacation, many people reduced or eliminated taking time. According to a survey done by Expedia and reported by MSN, Americans averaged only 12 paid vacation days in 2012 and only used 10 of them. To make sure that sinks in – out of 52 weeks in the year – the average American worker only gets 2 weeks and 2 days (business time) that they can relax and unwind. Making matters worse, most people are leaving 2 of their 12 days on the table! I’m lucky, as I now get over 20 paid days plus a lot of extra time off for holidays and other perks that come with my job, but if I knew I was going to “lose” any of my vacation days – I’d be certain to use them.

I don’t know if guilt is preventing or dissuading people from taking vacation time, but it shouldn’t. If you are in a job that offers vacation time as one of the benefits, then your employer has calculated that benefit into your compensation package. If you’re concerned that you might be seen as expendable by taking off your allotted vacation time, then there are several options for you to consider.

  1. If you’re a top performer, then taking a few days off  should be viewed in a positive light by your employer. If you inform your supervisor that you are taking the time off so that you can relax and recharge your battery so you can continue to perform at a high level, they may be even more accommodating than you think.
  2. If you’re scared of taking a week or ten days off all at once, then consider splitting your vacations into smaller long weekend escapes. This will still let you relax and recharge but won’t make it seem like you’re gone for an extended period.
  3. Before you take your vacation or even talk to your supervisor, work out a plan to cover the work you will miss while you’re gone. If you make it easier on them while you’re gone they will be appreciate of you and not resent that you are taking vacation. Also, offering to do the same for them when they take vacation is a no brainer!

One of the excuses that I hear around the office as a reason for not taking vacation is that people don’t have anything to do. I think this is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard. If you don’t have anything planned and don’t want to do anything – then do nothing! Have a “staycation” and stay home and hang around the house. Don’t set an alarm clock, wake up when you want, go to bed when you want, watch TV, go out during the day, etc. You don’t have to travel anywhere or spend any money to make good use of your vacation time, you just need to take a mental (and physical) break from your job! Just because it’s your vacation doesn’t mean you have to travel somewhere and spend lots of money. You certainly can if you’re able to, but you can get a lot out of staying local.

To sum it up – don’t feel guilty about taking vacation! You’ve earned it – your employer offers it as part of your benefits package, just like medical and dental. You don’t feel guilty about using your health insurance (if you have it), so don’t feel guilty about taking your vacation. If you’re worried about a negative perception, then take some of the steps from above to help avoid it. Don’t feel guilty that you’re getting to take vacation even if others aren’t. It’s your vacation time and no one else is going to take it for you!

Have you ever given up vacation time? If you have or would, what are your reasons? Do you agree with the guilt angle? Let me know in the comments!


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin May 31, 2013 at 12:10 am

This is great write up. I always felt that way and had a bit problem to take vacation, but my employer had always generously gave me the time of. Our company policy is to take max 14 days of in a row, ideally 1 week here 1 week there, but anytime I asked if I could have 3 weeks in a row I always got it without any issues (well with a few teasings such as “What are we gonna do without you for so long…”, but never serious)


S. B. June 2, 2013 at 8:42 am

You’re definitely on to something. At almost every job I’ve had, they tried to make me (and everyone else — not just me) feel guilty about taking vacation. This strikes me as not completely ethical. They include vacation time as part of your compensation when you take the job, but then there is a lot of pressure not to use that benefit. Personally, I always take the time off and don’t let people make me feel guilty. But I know many that bow to the pressure and take very little vacation time.

Reply June 3, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Hey Martin, it’s good that your employer has a good policy for vacation. A lot of people don’t have that kind of support. I’m in a similar situation where I’ve taken off several weeks at one time and it wasn’t a big deal, so I’m lucky in that regard. All of this vacation talk is making me want to plan another one!


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