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A third of Americans feel guilty about taking vacation, new study finds

Nearly half of us aren’t using all of our paid time off. Meanwhile, Europeans get an average of 21 days off, and they take all of them — and feel much less guilty about it.

Americans are feeling burnout, but almost half say they aren’t using all of their vacation days, a new study finds.Adobe Stock

Burnout is real, and even in the height of summertime, Americans are feeling it.

A new study by New View Strategies found that 72 percent of Americans say they are experiencing burnout at work, but almost half say they aren’t using all of their paid time off. “Vacation guilt” could be to blame, the study said.

New Vision Strategies surveyed about 500 Americans and 500 Europeans to find the difference between vacation habits, and how people changed their paid-time-off plans since the pandemic started.

One in three Americans said they feel guilty about taking paid time off, compared with one out of four Europeans. About 37 percent of Americans said they regret taking a vacation because of the workload before and after. Nearly half of Americans check and send work e-mails while on vacation, and about 60 percent of workers said their boss has called them during vacation.

The study proves what some may already know: Americans work more than Europeans, but feel guiltier about taking time off.

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On average, Americans get about three weeks (15 days) to use each year, but only take 13. Meanwhile, Europeans get an average of 21 days off, and they take all of them. (One in 10 Europeans takes more than 30 days off every year.) About 45 percent of Americans are not using all of their PTO, compared to 31 percent of workers in Europe.

The study also surveyed work habits before and after the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of Americans and Europeans are taking less time off than they did before COVID-19. Respondents cited not wanting or needing the days, having too much work, or saving days for next year. Separately, 17 percent of Americans and 14 percent of Europeans have made sure to take more time off since the start of the pandemic. Many respondents said they are more protective of their work-life balance, and others said the pandemic put things into perspective.

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Another pandemic-related trend: Companies are testing out unlimited vacation policies. Among those surveyed, 5 percent of Americans currently had unlimited vacation policies, compared with 4 percent for Europeans.

For both Americans and Europeans, one out of 10 workers has left their job because of a bad PTO policy, and more than three out of five think a better vacation policy would make them stay at their job longer. People in Europe with unlimited vacation said they take 21 days on average, just like the majority of Europeans surveyed. In America, those with unlimited vacations said they take about 17 days off, which is four days more than the American average. The study also indicates that Americans are nearly three times as concerned about abusing the unlimited vacation policy as Europeans are, and 8 percent of both groups said they feel like their co-workers abuse the policy.

Ultimately, the study showed that unlimited vacation policies aren’t make-or-break for the majority of workers in either group: More than seven out of 10 workers agreed that if they took a new job, they’d be willing to take one that does not offer unlimited vacation.

Respondents also weighed in on sick days. For nearly half of Americans and 20 percent of Europeans, paid time off includes sick days. Americans reported having an average of nine sick days, compared with 13 for Europeans. One out of four Europeans has unlimited sick days, while 7 percent of Americans reported having that. Both Americans and Europeans said they would take unlimited vacation over unlimited sick days, the study said.

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The study surveyed 553 Americans and 557 Europeans with full-time jobs in April 2022. American respondents ranged in age from 18 to 75 with an average age of 37. About 48 percent of respondents were women and 49 percent were men. European respondents were between the ages of 18 to 66 with an average age of 33. Forty-nine percent of respondents were women, and 50 percent were men.


Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.