The Rise of “Vacation Shaming”: How Can You Prevent It?

Due to pressure coming from managers or coworkers, a recent survey says more employees are running into problems taking their PTO. Is your organization vacation shaming? Here’s what to watch out for.

It’s good to take time away from the office sometimes, but it’s not always possible for employees to get a week off.

That said, it’s worth digging into why that’s the case. Could it be that they’re feeling increased pressure not to step away? A recent survey from the car rental firm Alamo makes the case that “vacation shaming,” as it’s called, is widespread.

The latest edition of the Alamo Family Vacation Survey found that 48 percent of workers surveyed said they felt vacation shamed, an increase from 41 percent in the prior survey. The feeling was strongest among younger generations (Gen Z at 76 percent, millennials at 63 percent) and parents (at 55 percent, compared with 36 percent for nonparents).

Additionally, 36 percent of those surveyed admitted they actively vacation shamed workers—and 53 percent of those who vacation shamed admitted they weren’t kidding when they did so. The result might be that people are leaving vacation on the table that they’d prefer to use.

If shaming is a problem at your organization, here are a few tips:

As an organization, look at the culture. In a piece for U.S. News & World Report, contributor Vicki Salemi suggests spending some time trying to weed out the root cause of the problem—which could be either a single employee who is pressuring a department or an entire culture that does not trust its employees to take time off. She has a recommendation for employees if it’s the latter case. “If it’s an overall company culture and you’re feeling shameful from all angles in a work-yourself-to-the-bone culture that’s weary and plummeting your morale, then consider this a gift,” she wrote. “Start looking for a new job!”

As an employee, speak up for yourself. While your employer can do a lot to change the culture, if you feel empowered to push back, it could help improve the overall situation. James Pratt, Gravity Payments’ vice president of people development, says an employee should set a hard boundary, when possible. “Simply explain that because you’ve worked hard, you now need a break,” he told the Dice Insights blog in December. “Make it clear that you intend to unplug and take your vacation.” If a hard boundary isn’t possible, add a soft one by setting conditions for when you can be contacted.

As a leader, don’t throw someone straight back in after a week off. A 2018 survey from the American Psychological Association found that vacation euphoria can fade fast if a massive amount of work is waiting for employees when they return. The report suggested that strong leadership can help lessen this negative impact. “Examine the assumptions that may be operating below the surface, and take steps to address any dysfunctional elements,” the report stated. “Managers and work teams should explicitly discuss their expectations when it comes to use of vacation time and availability during time off.”

(g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!