Have you ever felt guilty for taking your (hard-earned) sick or vacation days? If so, you are not alone. According to a recent Zippia survey of 214 job seekers, 61.3% of Americans feel guilty about missing work, and women are 20% more likely than men to feel guilty about missing work.
Even though paid time off (PTO) is an integral part of our benefits, why is it so hard to get time off work?
During my corporate career as a management consultant, I remember feeling a wave of apprehension every time I took a day off. I remember going to great lengths to explain the leave I was taking to my boss to prove it was valid. I also remember feeling pressure to use it sparingly. Last year, I shared my experience on TikTok, and it went viral.
For women in particular, it’s often difficult to let go of the anxiety that comes with spending time with family on vacation or taking a long weekend to “do you.” Not only do workplace dynamics contribute to this trend, but for women who have the majority of caregiving responsibilities, a working mother’s vacation is often a shared asset – used for family needs like appointments. at the children’s doctor, attendance at school events and emergencies.
Now, it’s completely understandable to want to keep a time cushion for the unexpected. As a mother of 10-year-old twins, I can especially relate to wanting to save time for sick children and other stressful things that come up. And there are people who just don’t have the privilege of asking for time off.
But a common perception in the United States is that free time must be earned, earned, and sacrificed. Rather than seeing it as a preventive and beneficial “vitamin” that we take regularly, we see it more as a “pain reliever”, taken after a hard grind. Yes, dedication and hard work are things to be proud of, but studies show that when we take regular time off, we have better health, stamina, and work engagement. And we are actually performing better and working harder! So what gives?
A standard of gender bias in the workplace
Although conversations about diversity and inclusion have multiplied, the fight to be seen as equal to our male counterparts is not over. According to McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace survey, women are “more likely to experience devaluing microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone younger.”
Additionally, sociologists Elizabeth Gorman from the University of Virginia and Julie Kmec from Washington State University recently conducted a study to explore how women feel the need to work harder than their male counterparts.
“Even when women and men are matched on in-depth measures of job characteristics, family and household responsibilities, and individual qualifications, women report that their jobs require more effort than men,” Gorman said. . “Between a man and a woman who have the same job, take on the same household chores, and have the same education and skills, the woman is likely to feel she has to work harder.”
In short, women believe they have to prove themselves for leaders to see them as competent. No wonder it’s hard to walk away from work when your commitment and skills are openly questioned.
Gorman and Kmec looked for a reason behind this perceived expectation. One hypothesis was related to domestic responsibilities: did women feel that it was more difficult to continue working because they were already spending a lot of energy at home? Not necessarily, according to sociologists:
“Marriage and parenthood had the same effect on the required effort ratios for women and men. In the US sample, the researchers were able to match workers on the number of hours they spent on childcare and housework Between men and women who did the same amount of childcare and housework, women were even more likely to say that their job required them to work very hard.
Gorman and Kmec ultimately concluded that women feel the need to work hard because they simply don’t get as much credit as men:
“We know people give lower marks to an essay, painting, or resume when it has a woman’s name on it,” Gorman said. “And when a man and a woman work together on a project, people assume that the man has contributed more than the woman. Even when a woman’s work is unquestionably excellent, people don’t believe she is good. “, they think she was lucky. In light of this previous research, it makes sense to conclude that women have to work harder to earn the approval of their bosses.”
The PTO’s guilt is real
Women are already doing backflips to work hard for their bosses’ approval and fair pay; nor should we feel the need to convince ourselves that we deserve to take time off. The real responsibility lies with employers to make women feel empowered and supported at work, whether we are on time or not. This means de-stigmatizing the use of vacation and sick leave and encouraging leaders and managers to ‘loudly leave’ – whether that’s at the end of the workday or for a week’s vacation where they completely disconnect.
As better practices take hold, I hope you’ll take this as a nudge – a reminder – that you work hard for your pay and benefits – you deserve to use them however you see fit, and you should.
Maximize little PTO to its full potential
If you don’t have a lot of PTO to work with, I recommend using the layering technique of taking just one day off from an already short week, like when it comes to a federal holiday, because the extra day gives you a longer period of time off. and a shorter work week to look forward to. I like to spread these days off periodically throughout the year so that I always have free time to count on.
As the New Year approaches, you might start planning your vacation days for the first semester. Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you get the most out of your limited PTO.
NOTE: Your company’s holidays may vary. These are holidays observed by the US federal government:
- MLK Day (Monday 01/16) – Departs Friday 01/13 or Tuesday 01/17 for a four-day weekend.
- Presidents Day (Monday 02/20) – Take off on Friday 02/17 or Tuesday 02/21 for a four day weekend.
- Memorial Day (Monday 5/29) – Departs Friday 5/26 or Tuesday 5/30 for a four-day weekend.
- Juneteenth National Independence Day (Monday 6/19) – Departs Friday 6/16 or Tuesday 6/20 for a four-day weekend.
- July 4 (Tuesday 4/7) – Lift-off Friday 30/6 AND Monday 3/7 for a five-day weekend!
Claim your free time and enjoy it
Listen, no one else is going to set limits on you. No one else will value your time – or your mental and physical health – like you can. While some people argue that there’s a literal benefit to cashing in your PTO when you quit a job, by the time the taxes are taken out (and running the risk of being exhausted), I’d argue that taking your PTO strength would have been better spent being taken throughout the year. Additionally, only about half of the 50 states have laws that require companies to pay employees’ unused PTOs when the employment relationship ends.
The benefits of taking time out are real: in the quality of your work and ideas, the vigor you bring to your personal and professional life, and your resilience for less good times. Now is the time to be the chief negotiator of your time, your rest and your well-being. The future will thank you.
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