Feeling Guilty And Afraid Of Taking Vacation?

Are you afraid of taking a vacation? You are not alone. There was a time in my career I also felt very guilty and afraid of taking a vacation. Even now that I work for myself and no longer have a boss, it can still be hard for me to step back and relax.

Despite taking 6 weeks off (30 days + weekends) one year, I had a difficult time repeating that feat the following year. Thus, I decided to stop being afraid of taking vacation and made it a new year's resolution because it's actually damn hard to do!  

The guilt always washes over me like the monthly floods in Venice. Once I took a two week cruise and wanted to take another week off just a month and a half later. But, was too afraid of taking vacation so soon again and could not pull the trigger. Perhaps you've experienced the same paralysis?

Peer Pressure Makes Us Afraid Of Taking Vacation

When I worked in banking, right about the 5th week of vacation time, colleagues and friends would start guilting me. A female friend who was preparing to go on 3-month maternity leave having her third child in 5 years said, “Wow Sam, you really know how to maximize the system. I need to do a better job of taking a vacation.”  

I'm thinking, Come on, did you really just say that after you've taken four weeks off already? Don't make me feel bad for taking my allotted vacation time!

I asked my father whether I should take another week off before the end of the year to go visit him. He said, “Sam, it sure seems like you are taking a lot of time off, and that you're never there.

How does my father know if I'm never there since he isn't there working with me? That said, it doesn't matter, because perceptions are important. One should be careful not to err to far from center especially when year-end promotions and raises are being determined.

Understand The Feelings Of Guilt And Vacation

There are a lot of people in the US who are afraid of taking vacation. According to a research survey firm named Ispos, only 57% of Americans take all their vacation days. Meanwhile, the average US worker only gets 13 days off.  

Compare that to Italy, where the average worker gets 42 paid days off, according to the World Tourism Organization! Next was France with 37 days, Germany with 35, Brazil at 34, the United Kingdom at 28, Canada with 26 and Korea and Japan both with 25.

So what the hell is wrong with Americans? Why are we so afraid of taking vacation when we have the days to take? I have 20 regular vacation days a year and 20 carryover days. Yet, I can't seem to take more than 18 days off a year on average for the past five years. Let's discuss!

Why Are We So Afraid Of Taking Vacation?

* Fear of falling behind and missing out. Every time I go on vacation, I feel some level of remorse for all the things I've missed out at work. It could be senior colleagues visiting from out of town, education workshop sessions, client outings, or internal activities in general.  If you're not eating your prime rib sandwich, someone else will!

* Fear of getting fired.  In an uncertain economic environment, everybody should be afraid of getting fired.  Even in good times, bad things happen.  There's no doubt there will continue to be mass layoffs as long as corporations aren't willing to spend due to an oppressive regulatory environment.  We might have 30 days off a year, but do we really want to risk being out of site when our manager decide who to lay-off?  I don't, and neither do you.

* Peer pressure.  There's always going to be somebody who is the work horse in your group or office.  No matter how hard you try, you can't compete with his vigor and consistency.  I was that person for the first two years out of college, and I've since been surpassed by many others.  The worst is when your senior colleague is that work horse and has a say in your pay and promotion.  Whether directly or indirectly, she will throw jabs at you for taking more time off than her.  The guilt starts to rise.

We Feel Guilty For Wanting Balance

Another main reason why people are afraid of taking vacation is the guilt of wanting a balanced lifestyle

* Guilt of living well. I strive to live a balanced lifestyle nowadays and want to live well.  We all should have the right to live well if we feel we've worked for it.  Goodness knows I've put in my dues.  Yet, because I'm keenly aware that not everybody is as fortunate, I feel guilty for taking a vacation.  

How can I spend $2,000 to go to Hawaii for a week when I see poverty all around. $2,000 could materially improve the quality of a homeless person's life. Shouldn't I just give that $2,000 to her instead? I feel a tremendous amount of guilt with the inequalities of the world everyday. At the same time, I realize there will always be suffering until the end of time.

Resolve Guilt And Stop Being Afraid Of Taking Vacation

Here are some valid reasons to help you stop being afraid of taking vacation.

* It's in your contract.  If your contracts says you get 4 weeks off a year, take the 4 weeks! You aren't violating any company protocol taking your allotted days off. If you get an extra week for every five years you work, then you deserve the reward. Your company bakes in your vacation time as part of your salary. Hence, you're just robbing yourself if you don't use your vacation days.

* Carry-over days are limited.  It used to be that we could carry over 30 days of vacation in California and my firm. They've since truncated the amount of days to around 12. If you are about to lose 18 vacations days, that's equivalent to 18 working days of salary! Call HR and ask them what the carry over days are and plan accordingly.

* Did your boss or company screw you in some way?  Let's say your boss said last year that he was going to put you up for promotion this year. Unfortunately he doesn't put you up, despite your good reviews. You got screwed, and your boss basically lied to you.

Are you going to reward your boss for working more? Probably not. You're not even going to cheat your boss for working less if you are an honorable person. Instead, all you have to do is use that anger to wipe away your guilt of taking all your legally allotted vacation days! Find something from the year or the previous year which made you unhappy. And utilize that anger to overcome your guilt.

Valuable Workers Deserve Vacation

* Understand your skills and abilities.  If you haven't been fired yet, it's because you are deemed valuable enough to keep. Simple logic, simple conclusions. You have skills, abilities, and relationships other firms want.  Write them out on a piece of paper and update your resume.  

Don't sell yourself short as you are a valuable commodity! If the company dares to dock your pay or fires you because you are taking all of your allotted vacation time, know that there are other companies you can potentially work for. Cultivate those relationships yesterday. And continue cultivating them without any expectations. You'll need them to get you in the door.

* Make sure you have back up and things aren't super busy.  A way to mitigate your risk of getting docked for taking too much vacation is to simply ensure you have the appropriate back up in place while you are away.  If you decide to take a week off when everybody else is taking a week off, you will be penalized for not thinking like a team player. Instead, have an open dialogue and ask your manager which days you think he or she feels would be most appropriate to take off.

Live Life To The Fullest

As Joel Goodson said in the movie Risky Business, “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘What the f#$k, make your move.'” Vacation days are ours! They do expire, just like airline miles. We'd be fools not to use up at least 80% of them every year.

Here are some additional articles for further reading you should enjoy.


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41 thoughts on “Feeling Guilty And Afraid Of Taking Vacation?”

  1. I am also having this dilemma. In the 11 yrs. that I’ve worked for my company, only the last 2 years have I actually used my vacation time. My boss makes comments about ‘all my vacations’ trying to be funny but I know he means it. He’s also started making snarky comments in our staff meetings and to our outside membership. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather not visit beautiful places if it means I have to ask my boss. In my position, there is never really a good time to go, I don’t have someone to back up all my work. I even suggested taking my laptop just to ease the guilt.

  2. Natalie @ Mango

    This is a great post, and just in time for the holidays! In your post you ask, “What the hell is wrong with us?” which was probably meant to be rhetorical. But I’m a literal kind of gal, so I’ll go ahead and tell you what I think the problem is: we are addicted to being “busy!” And by “we,” I mean me; but I don’t think I’m alone here. As Americans, we are raised to feel like we have to be accomplishing something; we must be productive and busy 24/7. So it makes taking a vacation tough! Often times even when we do take a “vacation,” we bring work with us. So here is my advice: when you finally manage to take some of those vacation days, leave it all behind! No work emails, no catching up on projects… A vacation is a vacation is a vacation. Relax!

  3. I am definitely one who used to feel guilty about taking time off. I felt that people needed me and that I was asking for too much when I was so blessed anyway. I do have a bit of the guilt bug every so often now, but mainly with my blog (I don’t like to miss a posting) and not with my work. I have three years at the State, and get 9 hours per month in time off. I’m down to just 36 hours right now in the bank! Maybe it is a change with age? Although I am only 28…so perhaps my change in thinking happened more quickly than yours…

  4. You’re a decent person which is why you feel guilty but you need to keep your life balanced. Recharging our batteries is our insurance that we can do our jobs more effectively. But you should try to serve as well, if you feel that you can contribute (and we all can). It will lead to more satisfaction overall in your life.

  5. I currently earn 26 PTO days a year (combined vacation/sick) and everyone at the company gets 1 floating holiday.
    I do NOT feel guilty about taking vacation days. Those are planned. I never plan a lot of vacation time the first month of the quarter (when I have a lot of reports due), or other times when I know I will have a lot of work to do. And for the days I do plan to have off, I make arrangements to make sure everything that can be covered is. In addition, my admin has my cell phone number and can call me in the case of a true emergency.
    This year, I took almost the entire month of September off. I didn’t work a full week for the entire months of August and September. I had one person who tried to get me in trouble for it (I wasn’t in my office at a time that was convenient for her) by cc’ing my boss on her emails about trying to get in touch with me. Luckily, my boss has to approve every vacation day I take and knew very well that I wasn’t there, and had no problem with it.

    I do, however, feel guilty for taking sick days, especially since I can work from home. With a sick day, there’s no arrangements made for backup, there’s unfinished work sitting on my computer, etc. I work from home on the days when I just don’t want to be spreading germs around the office, but on days when I am sick enough that I can’t concentrate on work, I call in sick, and feel guilty about it all day long.

  6. Thanks for making me feel a little better about taking vacation. I get 6 weeks a year, and I have such a hard time doing it. I’ve found it easier to take longer weekends to use my time – add a Friday and a Monday every few weeks. It makes for a nice break.

  7. Darwin's Money

    Take the vacation. Your company has no loyalty to you and will cut you in a heartbeat, so schedule it throughout the year and work around it. Don’t feel guilty, especially as an American, you probably get fewer days off than your peers in other countries if you’re with a multinational.

  8. I don’t feel guilty but I have 2 weeks off. I use my time usually in half day proportions to take college classes. I finish school in June and plan on finally actually going on vacation if only for a week.

  9. Maximizing the system? Now come on, that’s bullshit. Your job comes with the benefit of six weeks vacation, so you should take your six weeks vacation. Anyone who makes you feel guilty for it is kidding themselves. If you are entitled to six weeks and only take three, all you’re doing is devaluing your own time, since your company is now getting 49 weeks of your work for the cost of 46.

    I definitely do feel sometimes like there’s never a good time to take my vacation, because there’s so much work to do all the time. I’ve just had to get over that, and remind myself that I’m a more productive employee if I am well-rested, and the office won’t shut down just because I’m gone for a couple of weeks.

  10. I never feel guilty about taking vacation – I enjoy my job, but it’s not the only reason that I’m living. I do my job and I work hard, and I dont want to lose my vacation days – that’s like working for free! I enjoy my company, but not enough to give away time. Even if I just took time off to work on the blog, I’d be better off.

  11. No guilt on my end…it’s my vacation days..it’s my time. In the end, everyone is replaceable in any company and in these economic times when it’s time to cut you’re just a number not a person. You will get no mercy so why feel all bad about taking what’s rightfully yours?

  12. You’re not alone in feeling guilty. I had a lot of vacation time with the last company I worked (5 weeks + 1 week personal). I found a couple of great ways to take it without being gone long periods of time. I would usually take 3 separate 1 week vacations and I split the rest of the time by taking off every other Friday or Monday until I ran out. My job has quarterly cycles so I always know when a slow time is for me. I even planned my wedding around my slow time at work to ensure that I always have the option of taking my wife somewhere on our anniversary.
    I had a co-worker that didn’t share the same philosophy. He said ‘my vacation time IS MY TIME and the company can’t tell me when to take it’! He was correct and took his vacation whenever he wanted (which was usually during a busy time). Doing this caused friction with him and management and also put a lot of additional burden on his co-workers. I ended up being promoted over him and he wasn’t a happy camper. It’s funny how two people can take the EXACT amount of time off but have two completely different outcomes.

    1. That’s an eye-opening story and something I can totally see. The difference is, you’re being THOUGHTFUL, and the other guy wasn’t.

      Everything is rational. Congrats on the promo!

  13. I’m one of those people with 13 days off – 10 PTO and 3 floating holidays. Suffice that to say that I come pretty darn close to using all of my time off each year. If I could only get 18 days off, I think that would be a good balance. :) It’s always greener on the other side, right? BTW, Sam you inspired me… I will be launching a new blog soon – trying to build my own passive income as soon as possible.

  14. We’re normally allowed to roll over a week into next year, except for special circumstances, with a dispensation from the Pope, I mean, the CEO. There’s a 50/50 chance I may have to squeeze a couple of overseas trips into December, so I might wind up with six weeks of vacation next year. I won’t feel one bit guilty about taking any of it.

  15. I never feel guilty about vacation. I take all mine at one time and I am literally off for a month. When I come back from my vacation I am recharged and ready to go. My vacation makes me miss my work. Without the vacation I will get burned out.

  16. Interesting topic Sam,

    The guilt and fear you are talking about applies also to those of us who are self-employed also. Well not so much the guilt part since I answer to no one but myself, but definitely the fear.

    The fear of losing money while Im gone. (No one is giving me paid vacation days)
    The fear of unforeseen problems occurring that no one but myself can handle.
    The fear of still having a business standing by the time I come back.

    This is something I gripe about all the time the to my girlfriend all the time. She jokes about how I micro manage and worry too much.

    1. I hear you on that type of stress about what would happen if things went wrong while you are away. I had this fear while I was gone for two weeks. At least employees get paid while they are away!

  17. As a teacher, I have a lot of vacation. I used to work during most of it because I still had 6 weeks off a year besides holidays. I get 10 sick days a year and I think I only took 2 in 10 years. I can accumulate them and add to my retirement.
    In my former profession, it was easier to take only 2 weeks at a time and a lot of 3 day week ends. Generally the Friday off did not even count toward vacation because of all my hours. I feel your guilt, but it is important to get away. I would think it is hard to fit 6 weeks in! I used to take the week between Christmas and New Years. January was always a busy time.

  18. We can’t carry over any vacation days. Use it or lose it. I used to feel guilty about taking vacation because there are so much work to do. Eventually, I realized there will always be work no matter what. These days I take all my vacation days and enjoy them tremendously.

  19. I understand the guilt factor. Heres a different angle – use your vacation days to show your coworkers/boss how valuable you are. If, while you’re gone, things are a mess and people can’t resume your duties without your assistance, it shows real value. On the other hand, if your absence goes unnoticed, maybe you’re not doing enough. Concluding, I would take your guilt as a good sign.

  20. I feel guilt taking vacation if I am dumping my work on someone else (in other words, someone else is directly affected). Other than that, I have NO ISSUES at all! It might be that I have always worked around the automotive industry, which is somewhat free and easy with vacation time. (Not as much as they used to be though.)

    I say, go see your dad. You earned your days. Would you ever turn down your paycheck because others don’t make as much? Absolutely not. Think of your vacation days the same way.

    1. Good points Kris. Do you think there’s a point where you would feel guilty if you had too much vacation though? Let’s say you have 25 days off a year vs. the average of 15.. would you feel guilty taking 25 days when the majority of your peers only take 15?

      1. Nope, I still would not feel guilty. There would be a reason why I earned those days as opposed to everyone else, and I therefore earned the right to take them.

        1. Makes sense. Final scenario then: What if your year end bonus can account for more than 50% of your total income? Ie your base salary is $40,000 but your year end discretionary bonus is $50-80,000. Still no fear or guilt of taking all vacay, especially during bonus decision time?

  21. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    don’t think one should feel guilty, but definitely strategic if one cares enough about their job. when i was working, i couldn’t take all the days even if i wanted to simply because of work load / ambition / expectation. if i did, i had to make up for it by putting in long days/weeks. depends i suppose on one’s position

  22. Untemplater

    Timing is important when picking your dates. My manager doesn’t take as many days as me but I generally don’t feel guilty about that if my performance is good and I have backups to cover me. I also try and space out my trips and travel in the quieter months. I’ll give up days around Thanksgiving and Christmas if it means I can take a longer break in a different month. Some companies are happier when employees use all their vacation and don’t have rollover so there’s less risk of paying out those days if they quit.

  23. 15 days a year for the first 3 years, now it is up to 18 vacation days a year. I usually take them all although this year, with the flooding, our company is offering for us to donate our vacation time and the company will pay this out at the daily salary rate, into a flood relief fund.

    So that makes for a good cause not to take all the vacation days.


  24. I feel TERRIBLE when I take time off. I think it is the fear that even though I am not here the sky didn’t implode and then my job would be in question.

  25. Our vacation is lumped in with our sick time. We get 17 total days that we are required to take by the end of the year. I take it all because if I don’t, it’s just gone. The days don’t roll over, and we are not compensated for unused days. This place starts to look like a ghost town in December.

  26. Money Beagle

    Our company is based in Europe, even though I work in the States. As such, we get a ton of time off as well. At times I feel guilty about taking it, but I realize they give it to us as part of our compensation and that they expect us to take it. I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

  27. Never have/never will fell guilty about it.

    I took 2 weeks off earlier this year and went to Japan – First Class using frequent flier miles. The flight and visit with my wife family and meeting with friends was great.

    I have a 5 week vacation coming up – we will be visiting Java in Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo.

    I do good work and have a great boss. I have been taking 5-6 weeks off every year near the end of the year for the last 15 years and plan on continuing this until I retire.

    1. Sounds like a great career! If you have been working consecutively for 15 years and can take that kind of time off, you’ve got it made. Maybe the guilt will fade the older I get. I hope that is the case.

  28. Don’t feel guilty one bit about taking vacation days. It is expected and figured in and everyone does it. There can be some carry over as well. Sometimes I will carry over a few days but didn’t this past cycle. We can also take random days here and there so that is one way to not seem gone so much as opposed to taking all full week vacations.

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