Vacation Is Canceled

People are reluctant to take summer breaks this year. That’s a problem for their bosses.

A pandemic. Social unrest. A sudden recession. Millions of jobs lost. Working at home while juggling family responsibilities. At this point in this nightmare of a year, nearly everyone needs a vacation.

But it appears that, even more than usual, US workers are not going to get away from work, at least not yet. According to a recent survey, 28% of US office workers anticipate taking fewer days off in the summer months compared to last year (16% say they’ll take more days). In another survey, 37% of employees said they were saving vacation time normally reserved for summer breaks for time later in the year, hopefully to travel.

Experts chalk up workers’ reluctance to fears surrounding COVID-19 and worries that, if they take time off now, their job may be gone when they come back. “People may be thinking if they are laid off they could possibly cash out any unused vacation days,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory, who works with clients on improving employee engagement and performance.

Experts say there’s a real risk of workers working straight for too long, especially since millions of people have seen their professional lives blur into their personal time by working from home for months. All of this can lead to employees burning out, which can dent engagement, productivity, and performance, especially mental acuity.

It’s no secret that Americans aren’t particularly good at unplugging, anyway. When Korn Ferry surveyed executives about vacation habits last year, the majority (71%) said they still check in with the office one or more times each day. Two out of three said they’ve cut short a break or canceled one for work reasons. One-third of respondents said they would rather get paid for working rather than take the days off. “In Europe, three weeks away from work is a holiday. In the US, three weeks away is considered job abandonment,” Royal says only half-jokingly.

Royal recommends that leaders encourage employees to take time off. “Managers can role model that themselves by leading the way. ‘I will unplug, and I’m giving you permission to unplug,’” he says. Companies benefit from workers who can step back from work, decompress, and recharge for a few days.

Some experts think the vacations taken this summer will be different from prior summers. “I don’t think people will not necessarily take vacations, but they may drive rather than fly,” says Radhika Papandreou, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in the travel, hospitality, and leisure sectors.

That reluctance to travel long-distance will of course have an impact on the already struggling airline industry and an uneven impact on other sectors. Exclusive resorts that cater to the very wealthy are probably fine (they aren’t worried about losing their jobs), as are extended-stay hotels (people need a place to work), Papandreou says, but mid-level properties and hotels in the heart of cities may struggle to fill rooms.