Relax, rejuvenate, reinvigorate

American workers—engineers in particular—can benefit from taking a much-needed vacation.

By Amara Rozgus, Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 25, 2015

According to a variety of reports, Americans don’t use all of their annual vacation time. One report indicates that this trend is at a 40-yr high, with the equivalent of about $224 billion going back to employers in unspent vacation days. By forfeiting paid time off, workers provide free labor for their employers at an average of $504/employee, according to the advisory firm Oxford Economics.

Why aren’t employees taking much-needed time off? Some employees feel they’re indispensible; they cannot leave because everything will come crashing down while they’re gone. Others cannot afford to travel or to take their family away from home for an extended period. Still others say that their raise or promotion would be in peril—their employer would see them as lazy or wasting the company’s valuable time and would lay them off.

The United States is the only country in a group of 21 countries studied by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. According to a report from CEPR, workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days each year; in some countries, paid time off rises to 25 or 30 days annually. The number of vacation days for U.S. employees hasn’t shifted in years.

In the United States, lower-wage workers have even less of a chance of getting paid time off. On the flipside, 90% of high-wage workers have paid vacation time in their benefits packages (most of you reading this fall into this category).

What used to be the average workweek of 40 hr has changed; it’s now about 47 hr. Respondents to a recent Consulting-Specifying Engineer survey fall into the same range, working 40 to 50 hr weekly, and some working 55 hr or more. The vast majority of respondents report 40 billable hr/week to their employer, but they’re working above and beyond that to keep up with the workload.

Most of the engineers I speak with say they “don’t have the bandwidth” or have too many other projects going to take on any more tasks. I’ve found that this is a workload trend across many companies. But employees are getting burned out. They’re not enjoying their work as much, or they’re making simple mistakes that could be avoided with a clear head and less multitasking.

It’s time to relax, rejuvenate, and reinvigorate your career. Though I cannot offer you a simple fix to the “can’t get away” dilemma, I can suggest you take the advice of the experts: Take a vacation (even a staycation) before you get burned out, your health suffers, and your stress levels skyrocket. You’ll be helping your own career and benefitting your employer by being more rested and creative. 

Amara Rozgus is the editor in chief of Consulting-Specifying Engineer. She takes several vacations throughout the year.