WINTER HARBOR — While many employees use every minute of their vacation time each year, there’s a growing subculture of “work martyrs” who toil day after day without a significant break.
The fallout of employees foregoing vacation time is multifaceted: lower productivity, stress and fewer vacation dollars spent in places such as Maine, according to Tony Cameron of the Maine Tourism Association.
“Millennials are now the largest working population out there,” he said. “They often feel if they take vacation time they will be less competitive and might lose their jobs. We have become a nation of work martyrs.”
In 2015, Cameron said, employees nationwide left 658 million vacation days unused, which he said translates into $223 billion in lost travel spending.
He spoke Nov. 10 at the second annual DownEast Acadia Regional Tourism Symposium and Awards Luncheon at the Schoodic Institute.
The Maine Tourism Association has hopped on board with a national campaign, “Project Time Off,” and will be urging employees in the state to get away from their desks and #TakeADayForMe
From a practical standpoint, Cameron said, most unused vacation time is kept on the ledger, which creates a financial liability for the company in the future.
Project Time Off said there is $272 billion in accumulated vacation time sitting on the balance sheets of U.S. businesses this year.
Private sector vacation liability has increased 21 percent in the last year, the organization said.
Among the messages on radio and television in 2017, Cameron said, will be whether people are more likely to remember what they ate for lunch at work or that day they took their children to the top of Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island to watch the sunrise.
And just as businesses encourage consumers to shop local, the Maine Tourism Association is urging residents to vacation locally as well.
Employees on the two coasts are among the worst offenders with 58 percent of New Englanders and 64 percent of employees on the West Coast slaving away without taking all of their earned vacation time.
Fifty-eight percent of workers in the North Central states are leaving vacation time on the table, Cameron said.
He said the trend started in 2000. From 1976 to 2000, vacation usage remained constant at 20.3 days per year, he said.
Since 2000, the number of vacation days taken has decreased to 16.2 days.
“A lot of it is a cultural thing,” Cameron said. “It’s also a management style. There is a fear that if you take time off you might be replaced.”
He called management pressure not to use vacation time “vacation shaming.”
Cameron said since the problem starts at the top, efforts are being made to educate managers and supervisors that there are benefits to having employees use their vacation time.
“They are more productive,” he said. “They are healthier. They are more creative. People who use their vacation time are more likely to get a raise.”