In July 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research published the results of a survey of more than 2,000 workers in a few dozen fields. At the time, 92 percent reported that they had canceled or failed to book any paid vacation time off that year, specifically due to the pandemic. A mere 20 percent said that they had any concrete plans to vacation at all, either in the rest of 2020 or in 2021.
The same survey showed that the average workday had lengthened by nearly an hour. Through the pandemic, those who remained at work, especially those who transitioned to working from home, were working longer hours and taking less time for themselves.
“When your kitchen table becomes your office, it gets harder and harder to distinguish between work and home,” said Claire Barnes, senior vice president of human resources at Monster Worldwide, the job search company.
Even before COVID-19, American workers only used on average half of their paid vacation time, leaving a significant benefit of their employment on the table. In 2020, workers forfeited billions of collective dollars in vacation time – most American employers don’t allow time to be banked or rolled over if there isn’t a union, and fewer than 1 in 5 of those have changed their vacation policies to allow for flexibility in light of the pandemic.
It’s easy to put off asking for vacation time while there’s nowhere to go, but employees need to look at that time as a part of their salary. It is a benefit to which they are entitled, and not claiming it is essentially paying your employer for the privilege of working harder.
To further complicate the issue, when pandemic precautions finally loosen and we can travel again, workers should expect a bottleneck in requesting paid vacation time – many people asking for the same or approximately the same dates, as soon as is reasonable.