Many Employees Working During Vacation, Study Finds

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 9, 2022

More than one out of four employees say that they do not feel rejuvenated after taking their vacation, and a new study explains why. A Qualtrics study found that nearly half of employees reported working one or more hours per day while on vacation.

Qualtrics, an experience management software platform provider, surveyed 1000 full-time workers in the US about how they use their vacation time and what they feel their employers expect of them while they are taking time off.

The study reveals that US employees are not taking full advantage of their paid time off benefits. On average, employees left 9.5 days of paid vacation time unused in 2021, and only 27% used all of their vacation time. For some employees, the unused time is lost for good - 32% said that their unused vacation time does not roll over to the next year, and 28% said they do not get paid for the unused time.

Even when employees take time off for their vacation, many still report spending some of their time working:

  • 24% say they typically work three hours or more a day while on vacation; and
  • 49% admit to working at least one hour per day.

Meanwhile, some employees said their employers expect them during vacation to be online (20%), to respond to emails or messages (27%) or to answer phone calls or texts (31%).

Often, employees are not making full use of their vacation time out of a sense of obligation to their employer or their coworkers. The top three reasons workers gave for not using all of their allowed vacation time were:

  • Fear of falling behind on work;
  • Fear of letting down my team; and
  • Pressure from coworkers to stay and work.

Taking time away from work to recharge and refresh provides important benefits for both employees and employers. For employees, it helps support their physical and mental health and well-being. For employers, it reduces the risk that employee burnout will occur, and increases the level of workforce productivity. Offering vacation time also creates a competitive advantage for employers.

According to the survey, to help employees make better use of their vacation and return feeling rejuvenated, employers can:

  • Make sure employees do not have to do any work when off;
  • Make sure they are not contacted during their time off;
  • Give employees freedom to take vacation when they want, rather than working around others' schedules;
  • Encourage employees to use all their allotted vacation time; and
  • Offer more paid vacation time.

Experts also agree that the best way to encourage employees to use their vacation leave is by example. Managers should schedule their time off and let employees know that they will be unavailable to contact during that time.