fears prevent PTOFear of being replaced and work piling up coupled with a lack of employer support and communication is keeping Americans from using the time off they have earned, according to the new study, “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?” conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications (GfK) for the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effect initiative. The study found that 40 percent of American workers will leave vacation days unused potentially adopting a “work-martyr complex” to demonstrate their value.

Workers cite returning to an excessive workload (40 percent) and the feeling that nobody else can do their work (35 percent) as the top reasons they leave PTO unused. One-third (33 percent) of respondents said they cannot afford to use their PTO, and about a fifth (22 percent) of workers were concerned with being viewed as replaceable.

This “work martyr complex” is reinforced by company culture; mainly poor communication around time off. Even though senior business leaders overwhelmingly recognize the importance of using time off (95 percent), two-thirds (67 percent) of American employees say their company says nothing, sends mixed messages about or discourages using their PTO. Further, one-third of senior business leaders state they never (19 percent) or rarely (14 percent) talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.

Management may be unintentionally sending employees mixed messages when they take their time off. Nearly half (46 percent) keep responding to emails, while 29 percent return calls from work during their PTO, sending the signal that it is not acceptable to be away from the job.

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