Patty Munoz is putting off her summer vacation until she feels more confident her job will be there for her when she returns. • The South Florida hospital worker has the least seniority in her department: "My manager sees I'm busy, but if I'm away, she might think other people can do my job."
This summer, the rules are different. More than halfway through the year, many workers still haven't taken time off. About a third of workers aren't planning to take a vacation at all, citing guilt, anxiety and tight finances, a CareerBuilder survey shows. Those who are taking vacation aren't disconnecting from the office or returning refreshed.
"People feel like they can't be away in this economy," said Michael Erwin, a career adviser with CareerBuilder.com.
Maybe it's the gadgets we carry with us. Perhaps it's our ability to link into our offices from places as far as India or Alaska. Combine that with the angst we feel in an uncertain economy and fewer people are kicking back this summer. Besides, our bosses and clients want more from us. The 2009 CareerBuilder.com vacation survey discovered that at least half of employers expected employees to check in with the office while they are away.
Americans had difficulty with vacation habits even before the economy slumped. Christine Woll, a marketing director at Coconut Grove Bank, has been the only person in her department the past two years. She's waiting until the last minute to decide if she'll take her vacation next month, and if she does, she'll remain in contact with the office.
"I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself," she says. "I want to be there for my company. If something did happen and I wasn't able to be reached, it would look bad on me."
Munoz, at the hospital, is in a similar predicament. She fears that a short-term vacation could lead to a permanent one.
This reluctance has some labor lawyers and workplace experts urging employers to give staffers an extra nudge. "It's a way to increase productivity, to get them to come back recharged and not so stressed out," Erwin says. "It's possible to take a vacation and relax. The key is planning."
Daniel Whiteman understands the benefits of time off. Whiteman, president of Coastal Construction in Miami, wants his workers to take their 10 to 15 annual vacation days. "Construction is an intense business. If they don't take vacation people get burned out."
Whiteman says he's encouraging workers to take vacation and letting workers know he might even let some of them carry over vacation days to the first quarter of 2010.
Whiteman has encountered some reluctance this summer. His construction company has eliminated about 100 jobs in the past year. "Some workers are choosing to delay vacation to see how things play out. That way if they do get laid off, they get paid for it."
In some workplaces, allowing vacation to go unused creates a payroll nightmare when unpaid vacation days need to be cashed out at year's end. Labor lawyer Richard Tuschman of Epstein Becker Green says in Florida, vacation is not a legal requirement, usually just a policy. "There's no compelling legal reason to advise employees to take vacation days but there are practical reasons. Recharging your batteries tends to improve productivity and morale."
Accountant Teri Kaye wants her vacation to be a true break. "We work so hard throughout the year, we really do need the break," she says. Kaye, a principal at Friedman Cohen Taubman & Co., has learned that checking in "takes away some ability to let go and relax." Next month she will spend her vacation preparing for her son's bar mitzvah and trying to limit herself to checking in once or twice. "I have a BlackBerry so I'm never really off."