It’s Time Americans Got Serious About Taking Their Vacation

An always-on mentality makes it difficult to disconnect from the job and get the benefits of time off.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim

Considering women are less likely than men to take any vacation, it’s not surprising professional women burn out at a rate faster than their male counterparts. A Fast Company article on millennial women burnout went viral in 2016, revealing just how many women could relate. In the piece, writer Kelly Clay cites statistics that show many women head for burnout by age 30. Clay points to a McKinsey study that found women make up 53 percent of entry-level jobs but only 37 percent of midmanagement roles and 26 percent of vice president or senior manager roles. Somewhere along the line, they’re dropping out. Only 11 percent of women in the study said they chose to leave the workplace to have a family, so it’s not just because they’re having children. An additional study from the University of Kansas found similar results. It looked at attrition rates of journalists and found that women reported higher levels of overload and intention to leave the field.

Clay blames burnout on the unrealistically high expectations of both female workers and employers in general, as well as the “always on” nature of work in our modern society. She noted that much of these expectations are self-imposed, like the idea that we should never really disconnect at night or while on vacation. Employers reinforce the message that this is what is expected to succeed. To illustrate the point, Clay quotes a former Google employee, Jenny Blake, who burned out after trying to balance her job with writing a book on the side:

“We are in unprecedented times in terms of the global, always-on organization. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to check email at night or first thing in the morning, and not all office cultures (or managers) endorse or demonstrate that restraint themselves. Work comes in at all hours, and it can be hard to create boundaries that keep it contained and allow for proper rest and renewal.

For younger women in particular, it can be hard to say no, especially in competitive jobs or industries where there would be a (perceived) line out the door for their replacement.”

This always-on mentality isn’t getting us ahead at work. As Clay points out, it may be holding women back from getting promotions and achieving career goals. Truly disconnecting on a vacation is one way to counteract burnout. When you take a vacation, you give your mind a chance to be creative and refresh. “Studies show that you need at least six consecutive days to get the full and lasting effect of even taking a vacation,” Chalmers explained. And he warns that short weekends away may actually cause more stress and anxiety than they relieve. “Like fast food, there are a lot of calories but no nutrients.”

Long hours and little leisure also lead to poor health. John de Graaf, the author of Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, explains that women are at a higher risk for some of the negative physical effects. “Long stretches without vacation time increase men’s risk of a heart attack by a third and women’s by a half.” In addition, women who don’t take regular vacations are two to eight times more likely to suffer from depression than women who do.