The Reason Millennials Aren’t Taking Their Vacation Days Has Nothing To Do With Them

While millennials may have been called lazy and entitled, the data tells a different story. Millennials are more dedicated to their jobs, possibly to their detriment, than any other generation. And, millennials are not taking enough vacation time to relax and reboot. "Doesn’t sound like the millennial stereotypes you’ve heard? Millennials are afraid, not entitled," Katie Denis, leader of Project Time Off, wrote for Thrive Global.

"Compared to Boomers, millennials are at least twice as likely to say they are fearful of losing their job," Denis explained. "This cohort worries about what the boss might think, wants to show complete dedication, and does not want their bosses to see them as replaceable."

Sound familiar? In addition to being worried about how taking vacation might be perceived, many millennials are working in a job where taking time off means returning to a pile of work comparable to scaling Mt. Everest. In my personal experience, at one previous job, taking even one day off meant returning to 200+ emails. Now multiply that by three or four days and you can see why it's hard to rationalize taking time off. What's more is that there was no one to cover me when I was not working, which makes it hard to enjoy a vacation when you're constantly thinking about the amount of work you're going to return to.

Apparently I'm not the only one. According to Project Time Off, 55 percent of under-vacationed Americans left a total 658 million vacation days unused on the table at the end 2015, the largest number recorded to date.

Why You Need To Take Your Vacay

No one knows better than me the negative effects of working 24/7 and not taking a break. Working non-stop eventually threw me into a two-month cycle where I had migraines every single day. Because I was too afraid to take my vacation time, my body made me stop and reevaluate my behavior. Not taking time off wasn't only not helping me get ahead, it was wrecking my health.

"The vacation trendline is concerning today — but it could be poised to grow worse if we do not change. We already do not prioritize time off the way we should and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the myth that skipping vacation will help employees get ahead continues to thrive — and perhaps even strengthens — with every generation," Denis wrote. "Our data proves that employees who forfeit vacation time are less likely to get raises, bonuses, and promotions."

So, it seems like we have two problems here. Not taking enough vacation is actually bad for your body, brain, and career. Bur many companies make it really hard to truly relax and unplug when you're supposed to be on vacation. At a former job I received non-urgent text messages at 6 a.m. while on vacation for things that could have definitely waited until I was back in the office. I've also received Skype IMs during a funeral for questions that someone else could have answered.

Some people are quick to blame millennials for creating a culture of martyrdom by working non-stop. However, millennials also report working places that encouraged vacation shaming. In fact, Business Insider reported that a new survey found that many millennials are in work environments where colleagues and bosses indirectly discourage employees from taking time off.

"As 25 percent of millennials reported feeling nervous when requesting time off from their employers, as opposed to 14 percent of Gen X’ers, and 6 percent of workers aged 55 and above," Christopher Tkaczyk reported for Business Insider.

So, I hear the anthem about how millennials should take more vacation time. I mean, who doesn't want a vacation? What I don't hear is how the modern, always-connected, workforce is going to help make this a reality. In order to make taking vacation an option for millennials, the U.S. workforce needs to implement some lagom, the Swedish concept of balance, to its work culture.

"We need to care about taking the time to explore the world with the same fervor we care about face time at work," Denis explained on Thrive Global. "No one disputes the importance of vacation, but too few consider the consequences of time off becoming the innocent bystander of an insane work culture. The effects of letting travel fall into the category of 'maybe someday' are deeper and broader than work culture — they have profound ripple effects."

If the stress of being out of the office is too much, start by taking three or four day weekends so you don't feel totally overwhelmed. You can also have a frank conversation with your boss or HR department because it's likely you're not the only one who feels this way. The problem isn't going to get better on its own, but you earned your vacation days, and in the long run it's better for everyone if you use them.