How to Overcome An Anti-Vacation Workplace

lily comba

When was the last time you took a vacation? Not a half day here-and-there. A full-on, multiple-day trip somewhere that took a little bit of planning. If you’re racking your brain to remember — you’re not alone. Nearly 54% of Americans don’t take all their vacation days, which is up from 42% in 2013. Woah.

There are many reasons why we don’t take vacation — we’re worried about falling behind, stressed by the planning process, and mostly, afraid about what people will think of you for taking a break. When one in four Americans believe that their employer expects them to keep working even on vacation, this fear is seemingly justified. You’ll be perceived as a slacker, as someone who doesn’t care as much as the rest of the team. This topic is very personal to me, as I not only have felt this way, but have seen my coworkers express similar anxiety. I once has a colleague who’d gone five years without taking a single vacation. That’s 1,825 days with absolutely no break.

Why do we live with this fear? And for many people, why does it stick with us for so many years? The biggest root of this particular evil: toxic work environments.

You may love the work do and the people who work with you. Your company perks may be plentiful and monthly happy hours are something you enjoy. But when it comes to vacation, certain prejudices and preconceived notions come into play. What does this all contribute towards? A toxic work environment. And what happens when you work in a toxic workplace? Increases in stress, likelihood of developing heart disease, and depression. While in many cases the best way to handle a toxic work environment is the leave, that’s not something we can all pursue. The job search process can take one month to one year — which means that your best defense is connecting with your mental health.

If you feel anxious or nervous at the thought of asking for a vacation, that’s likely caused by outside influences. Sweaty palms, cold sweats, and mild nausea should not be associated with this type of request. But how can you manage these feelings when you overhear how much “Julie* slacked off by taking a week-long vacay” last month? Listen here: inner strength translates to outer confidence. Start by determining what you want. A vacation for three days or two weeks? In the summer or fall? In the US or outside the states? This doesn’t need to be a plan that’s set in stone. What this exercise gives you is permission. The permission to explore and get excited, which may not be the attitude you hear and see at work. Inviting this joy into your life will overshadow the “anti-vacation” demons lurking around.

Next? Focus on you. You want this vacation. You deserve this vacation. You’ve saved for this vacation. Most of the time, the way people view vacation is from someone else telling them vacation was a form of “slacking off.” This opinion, in fact, has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with what they’ve already been taught. You can’t change their view, but you can change how you respond to this type of negativity. Volunteer a different opinion — as tempting as it would be to just nod and agree, you’ll feel proud of yourself for changing the path of the conversation. Or choose to speak openly with your inner circle about the anxiety you feel — Do your friends feel the same way? How can you work together to face this fear and book that “OOO” calendar block?

Building up the internal strength to ask for a vacation may take some time. For me, it took a year. I didn’t take a vacation for 365 days, primarily because I was surrounded by negativity. And once I felt excited about my plans and expressed my excitement outwardly — I took a vacation. And then I quit my job and never looked back.  

I don’t regret the time it took for me to be less afraid of taking a vacation. I had anxiety to deal with and a lot of internal conflict that needed to be sorted, which was mainly influenced by the people I worked with. At the end of the day, we’re all impressionable. We learn from our surroundings. If you’ve been taught that taking a break is seen as “slacking off,” that’s wrong. You know you deserve better, and you know you deserve that mai tai in Maui.

*not real names