Balancing act: In summer months, search for vacation balance

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

In a new survey, U.S. office workers were asked whether they typically used all of the paid vacation days they were provided by their company. Fifty-eight percent said "yes," while 39 percent said "no." How would you respond?

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At this time of year, my daydreams during work breaks are dominated by a few different topics.

First, I wonder what my just-out-of-school children and wife are doing at home while I'm at the office. (That usually leads to some bitterness and jealousy, so I try not to dwell on such pondering.)

Second, I consider the speed at which our grass is growing and try to figure out how to schedule my yard work in such a way that I mow as few times as possible while not annoying my neighbors by allowing a jungle to grow in my yard.

And, finally, I think about upcoming vacations and calculate how much paid time off I need to cover them while saving PTO for other planned trips later in the year.

In those acts of planning, I'm like many other cubicle dwellers whose thoughts turn to vacation time when the temperatures rise and the days lengthen — including those participating in a new survey from staffing firm Robert Half.

The survey, based on 436 telephone interviews with U.S. adults working in an office environment, asked people whether they typically used all the paid vacation days they were provided by their company. In response, 58 percent said "yes," while 39 percent said "no."

I think I actually fall in both categories. While I do try to save PTO days as much as possible — especially because I want to make sure I have a few available if I get sick — I don't roll a bunch of days over from one year to the next.

In other words, just as I try to build work-life balance, I also try to balance my use of vacation days.

Again, the Robert Half survey shows that many other office workers attempt the same balancing act. When the people who answered "no" to the first question were asked why they didn't use all of their vacation time, 38 percent said they saved time in case they needed it later.

Another 30 percent said they had too much work and didn't want to fall behind. I can relate to that, too. There's nothing worse than spending a vacation thinking about all the work you know is going to be waiting for you when you return. It's almost enough to make me decide not to leave.


Another 12 percent said they didn't use all of their PTO because they didn't like to take time off, while 10 percent said they didn't get any vacation time. Three percent said their manager would frown upon them using all of their allotted vacation days.

I feel sorry for the people who said they didn't like to take time off or didn't get any vacation time. I enjoy my job, but I also need to get away from it now and then. Especially after challenging weeks, like some I've had lately, knowing that I will soon have a chance to recharge my batteries with a family road trip helps keep me going from day-to-day.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, said in a press release about the survey that, whether people are vacation savers or spenders, they need to have balance.

"All work and no play doesn't just lead to burnout — it also erodes creativity, since stepping out of your routine frequently sparks innovation," he said. "Fresh perspective is useful in just about any profession."

McDonald also said in the release that managers should lead by example when it comes to taking vacations.

"Supervisors should encourage their teams to take a break and recharge, especially their top performers, who are often the most aggressive vacation-savers and most susceptible to burnout. The best way to do this is by taking time off yourself," he said.

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