5 Secrets to Using Time Off Without Feeling Guilty

Workers in the United States tend to avoid taking time off. In fact, 55 percent of Americans collectively left 768 million days of vacation time unused in 2018. And 2018 wasn’t the exception to the rule. U.S. workers haven’t taken their allotted paid time off for years—often because they feel ashamed or guilty for asking for that time off.
time off guilty

If guilt-ridden angst about taking your allotted leave sounds familiar, it's time to change your way of thinking. Here are five secrets to taking time off without feeling guilty.

1. Understand everyone needs a break

Everyone appreciates hard work, but how much is too much? Numerous studies and surveys point to the high level of job-related stress Americans suffer through every day—about 40-50 percent of our working population experiences burnout, much of which we put on ourselves. Taking the occasional "mental health" day or using designated vacation time can help to avoid burnout. By taking a break you'll:

  •  Increase productivity
  •  Make fewer mistakes
  •  Be less likely to become ill

These are results your boss will appreciate. Additionally, planning your time off allows your employer to prepare for the time you’ll be out. Waiting until you get to the point of sickness makes it more difficult to secure coverage.

2. Give advance notice

At the beginning of each calendar year, sit down, and decide when would be a good time to take off. This way, you can put in your leave request in advance, which should ease your conscience about your absence from work. Not to mention, you can better prepare yourself for time off and relieve yourself from any anxiety about leaving because you'll have plenty of time to get your work squared away before you take leave.

3. Coordinate with colleagues

Before planning to take leave, talk to your colleagues to ensure you aren't all planning to take the same time frame off. A little coordination can go a long way towards easing any guilt. Plus, when you talk to your colleagues about your intentions, it'll spur conversation about taking time off—a discussion that is good for everyone. If people see you're willing to take time, they'll feel less guilty themselves for scheduling a much-needed break. Together you can break the unused vacation time cycle. In the end, the entire organization benefits because a well-rested staff is a more efficient and productive one.

4. Clear your tasks before you leave

Before taking a day—or a week—off, make an effort to clear your tasks. You'll feel less guilty, not to mention, your bosses, colleagues, and clients will appreciate your efforts. If you have any deadlines, be sure the work is in ahead of time or on track to be delivered upon your return.

5. Check-in (if you must)

Ideally, time off should mean unplugging from work. However, sometimes completely unplugging causes more anxiety and leads to an inability to relax. If you think it would ease your guilt or apprehension about being absent from work, schedule a daily check-in to make it easier to enjoy your time away. Be sure to set self-imposed boundaries so you don't inadvertently create a working vacation.

To ensure you'll give yourself a guilt-free reprieve from work, here are some additional tips.

  • Don't plan to take leave during your industry's busy season.
  • Avoid taking a day (or more) off if you know a big project or presentation is coming due.
  • Be honest with your boss about taking time off—lying about your reason or faking illness will backfire in the long run.

If you need a vacation or a personal day, don't feel ashamed or guilty. Remember, paid leave is a part of your benefits package. By not using it, you're leaving money on the table instead of investing it in yourself.

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