3 ways to fight back against vacation shaming — and take the time off you deserve

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Maybe you bring work with you on vacation — or feel guilty if you don't answer emails on the road? Millennials are more likely than previous generations to either blow off vacation days altogether or try to knock out some tasks while "relaxing" on holiday, according to a survey by Alamo.

One possible reason: 49% of adults surveyed said they've been shamed by people at work for taking time off — and 40% of millennials said that guilting kept them from taking all their vacation days. Millennials also were more likely to admit to shaming others, with 33% saying they'd done so versus just 14% of older respondents.

American culture doesn't help matters, historically associating hard work with ideas about morality. Among developed economies, in fact, the U.S. is the only nation that doesn't make employers offer paid time off, as Forbes notes. Meanwhile, workers in other countries may enjoy 30 days of mandated paid vacation per year.

The good news is there is a way to appeal to even the most zealous of bosses. You might carefully make the case that your current office culture of vacation shaming is actually bad for the company, as it can hurt everything from productivity to worker health, as Entrepreneur notes. Clear-cut policies encouraging workers to take days owed to them will improve employee retention and recruiting successes — and might actually help with absenteeism.

Here are three ways you can get the time off you deserve — and push your employer to improve office culture so that all workers feel comfortable taking the vacation days that they're owed.

1. Set a good example

Those who work hard and have a record of dedication to the company will have more sway with the boss. If you demonstrate reliability — and always line up a proxy or at least a plan for any time you're out of the office — it will be easier to get future days off and influence broader improvements at the office. (Those regularly seen as shirking work will have a tougher time on both fronts.)

Of course, making sure vacation goes smoothly is easier said than done. Always find yourself trapped in work hell after two weeks away? Sometimes workers avoid vacation altogether because being away from the office for an extended period of time means emails and tasks pile up before they return. 

And that's not all; travel itself can be stressful. "Although vacations... rank fairly low on the list of stressors, they combine elements like travel, sleep disruption and food changes that can themselves be stressful," as University of Alabama-Birmingham psychology professor Christopher Robinson told Psych Central.

So plan ahead to minimize stress, and consider breaking up your vacation days into shorter chunks spread through the year — a move that research has found to increase worker happiness, and that will minimize disruptions for your boss. Staycations, simple visits to friends in other cities that don't take a lot of packing or money, and long weekends immersed in nature (like two nights camping) are all healthy, economical ways to take a much needed break. And they won't leave you scrambling to catch up when you're back.

Source:  Bill Anastasiou/Shutterstock
Source:  Bill Anastasiou/Shutterstock

2. Make a case to your employer

If vacation shaming at your office feels like a serious enough problem, schedule a chat with your direct manager or HR rep. Timing matters, and the best moment might be right after you've just scored some kind of win at work.

There are strong points you can lead with: Not only does vacation make workers happier, but research suggests it also makes them healthier and more productive — which is good for your company's bottom line. Explain that the current culture at your workplace makes you and others feel afraid to ask for time off, and try to provide examples without naming names or placing blame.

Focus on the benefits of a more explicitly vacation-friendly workplace: Health benefits of time off include a reduction in heart disease, stress and rates of depression; in some cases, more frequent vacations are even associated with longer lifespans, according to research reported by NPR. And healthier workers are better workers.

3. Give your boss concrete suggestions

Changing office culture may sound like an abstract and even impossible task, but small moves by your employer could make a big difference. What's one simple change that could have large impact?

A "use-it-or-lose-it" policy. Telling workers they can't roll over vacation days is a smart way to encourage them to take time off, as Flexjobs points out.

Another option is to look at times during the year when workers are needed least — and let everyone take days off at the same time. If the office is closed, employees may feel they have no choice but to ditch work and take time off.

For example, workplace solutions firm Thrivatize closes its office completely during the week after Christmas: "No one was replying to emails, no one was in the office," Suz O'Donnell, president of Thrivatize, told Entrepreneur"You would get in trouble if you were working during this time." Even if workers are remote, they are more likely to take time off if they know everyone else is, too.

Finally — if your boss is really game — you might suggest that your employer imitate businesses like software company Evernote, which not only offers unlimited vacation time to employees, but also gives them $1,000 to take five consecutive days of vacation. The catch? Employees have to prove they bought an airline ticket, then report back on what they did, Bloomberg reports. 

Source: Malochka Mikalai/Shutterstock
Source: Malochka Mikalai/Shutterstock

Another tech firm, FullContact, gives workers $7,500 to go on vacation. Of course, there are conditions:   

1. You have to go on vacation, or you don't get the money.
2. You must disconnect.
3. You can't work while on vacation.

Several firms offer similar cash bonuses to pay for trips, tours, hotel rooms and plane tickets during their time off. If you don't have luck swaying your boss about better vacation policy, ask about other increasingly popular benefits — like financial help with your debt. And if all your entreaties are met with stonewalling? It might be time to find a company with happier workers.

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