When Chelsea Hudson of Morristown, NJ, started packing her bags for a trip to Iceland last year, her boss said “not so fast.”
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Hudson began working at the public-relations agency in Livingston, NJ, four months before the dream trip she had booked. Just one day before jetting overseas, her boss informed her that the five days she would spend out of the office would be unpaid because “it wouldn’t be fair” to other employees if she were given holiday pay.
“Not only was I shamed for taking the vacation, I wasn’t getting paid either,” Hudson recalls. She reminded her boss about their paid time off (PTO) conversation during the job offer, which said that she’d receive seven days of PTO to use by the end of the year. The boss abruptly alluded to the employee handbook, which allegedly stated that employees couldn’t take vacation days within their first six months of being hired.
“I never received an employee handbook, nor did I sign anything agreeing to one,” says Hudson, who resigned a few months later.
She wasn’t alone in feeling punished. According to a 2017 survey from Alamo Rent A Car, nearly 49 percent of workers surveyed felt shame or guilt at their workplace for taking time off for a vacation. The same percentage felt the need to justify a reason for using their vacation days to their employer.
That’s what Betsy (real name withheld) experienced while working in Midtown. She wanted to take a brief “staycation” and told her boss that she was going to take time off, during which time she would be unreachable. Regardless, her manager called her during her leave at 7 a.m.
“She needed me to prepare documents she could take into a meeting at 10. I did it, but felt so frustrated not even being able to step away for a day,” she says.
Shaming workers for taking that well-deserved vacation zaps morale, says Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant” (Wiley, out now). “It’s a subversive form of bullying to cause you guilt and discourage you from taking earned time off. People at all levels need to refresh in order to do their best work.”-
Research proves this, too. According to 2013 data from the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of HR managers revealed that employees who take most or all of their vacation time are more productive in their jobs than those who do not.
David Olk, CEO of Voray, a professional networking company, understands that. Not only is he setting an example by taking a month off to holiday in South Carolina but is also providing unlimited PTO to employees.
“Vacation is a critical part of wellness, which clearly leads to extraordinary return on investment, increased productivity and success,” he says.
Other New Yorkers, unfortunately, aren’t so lucky. Paul (real name withheld) from the Upper East Side hasn’t used more than five consecutive days from his Wall Street job since his honeymoon more than five years ago. But it’s not people making him feel guilt — it’s industry pressure.
“You always have to be connected. There’s the threat that you’re immediately replaceable, no matter how high up you are. If you’re not available, you are expendable,” he says.
Overall, hard-earned PTO shouldn’t be a struggle, but since it often is, talk to your boss and colleagues with diplomacy and confidence, overcommunicating your plans.
“Remain proactive,” Taylor says. “Anticipate questions and make sure the timing of your vacation makes sense and isn’t in the middle of a crucial project.”
If pushback continues even after emphasizing work-life balance and burnout prevention, look at the big picture. “If you’re never authorized to take vacation, you should be looking for greener pastures,” Taylor says.