By Claire Zillman
May 24, 2017

A new study out yesterday confirmed what many Americans already know—they’re generally terrible at taking vacations. More than half of employees failed to use all of their allotted time off last year. There was, however, a promising data point in the report by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off: the average number of vacation days used is on the rise. But behind that positive trend is another worrying one: It’s men who are driving the change.

Forty-eight percent of men took all their PTO last year, compared to 44% of female employees, even though women are more likely than men—58% versus 49%—to say vacation time is “extremely” important to them.

That is a statement of idealism, not behavior, the study says:

Women are more likely to say that guilt (25% to 20%) and the mountain of work they would return to (46% to 40%) hold them back from taking time off. Women also worry more than men about vacation making them seem less committed to their job (28% to 25%)

The gender divide was even starker among millennials, with 51% of millennial men using all of their vacation time in 2016, compared to 44% of their female counterparts. That’s concerning since employees who forfeit vacation time are less likely to receive a raise or bonus or to be promoted than those who use all their PTO.

Katie Denis, the senior director of Project Time Off who authored the report, says millennial women are less likely “to vocalize” needing a vacation. “They feel like they need to apologize” for taking time off, she says.

The study says a lack of communication from managers has “created a vacuum” where negative perceptions about vacations persist. While managers agree that time off improves health and well-being (82%), boosts morale (82%), and alleviates burnout (81%), they fail to express that outlook explicitly. Two-thirds of employees surveyed said their “company culture is ambivalent, discouraging, or sends mixed messages about time off,” a share that’s virtually unchanged since 2014.

Millennial women were even more likely to feel that way. Their managers, Denis says, need to “create the avenues to say [taking a vacation] is OK.”



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