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Monday, June 27, 2016

Martyrs on the Job

Over the weekend, I decided to check my pay and benefits info on the company website. How much vacation time was I sitting on? And when I was I at risk for losing it? It seems like I have more than a couple of weeks waiting for me.

I’m not really saving it up for anything. Except for some in January when my wife is quite sure we’re going to someplace exotic to celebrate our 40th anniversary. I’m going to have to check the mattress to see if there’s money I don’t know about.

The travel industry doesn’t like it when people don’t use their vacation time. They like it even less when they DO take it and stay at home! The termed coined for these non-vacationers is “work martyrs.” I like that. Sort of. It actually sounds like “my work is killing me!” For most of the people I know, it’s not.

The Washington Post has published two stories two years apart with the same headline: Are you a “work martyr”? The 2014 version ( provided some pertinent data. It’s been determined that about 40 per cent of Americans don’t take all the vacation to which they’re entitled. The US Travel Association estimated that to be around 430 million days of unused time off. Now you see why their self interest makes them concerned about this!

Said Roger Dow, president and CEO of that group, “We found that people have this whole busyness as a badge of honor thing. We’re becoming a nation of work martyrs. People really wear it on their sleeves how they don’t take time off. Everyone around the world looks at Americans like we’re crazy.” Maybe we are.

As the second article on this “work martyr complex” explained (, many Europeans view vacations as a right. Countries in the European Union (which became the focus of the renowned Brexit vote this past week) are obligated to provide at least a month. And if the numbers are correct, average French employees in 2014 worked one-fifth fewer hours than we did in the States. 

Is it our work ethic that’s different? Or are there some underlying and perhaps complicated reasons why Americans give up vacation time? That’s where this perceived “complex” comes in.

When asked why they don’t take more vacation, respondents to the Project Time Off study cited the following: fear of returning to a “mountain of work” (37 percent); a belief that “no one else can do the job” (30 percent); a decision that “I cannot financially afford a vacation” (30 percent).

But that still leaves another more deeply personal reason, not often admitted. The true fear is that if someone takes over for you during your vacation, you might be replaced by someone better. Or who will work for less. Or who seems more dedicated. Who is going to admit to that kind of fear in a survey?

We like to think we play very important roles in our organizations. And companies usually tell us that we do. Until they have to say goodbye.

In my lifetime, I’ve met some who really believe they don’t need vacations. Others don’t know what they would do with the time off. A third group always feels the pressure of deadlines and projects that simply require them to be available. I think it’s unhealthy.

The human soul needs a break. Actually several breaks. And it is in the best interest of all parties when employees use their vacation. Shawn Achor, author of the bestselling The Happiness Advantage and founder of consulting firm GoodThink, wrote about this in the Harvard Business Review. He explained how people who take time off excel at work. 

On the employee side, a report from Project Time Off revealed that employees who take all of their vacation time increase their chances of getting promoted and getting a raise by 6.5 percent compared with people who leave 11 or more days of paid vacation unused.(

We’ve all the heard phrase, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It also makes him less efficient. And may stress him out, which could result in more sick days.

The Bible sets no mandate on vacation time. But two things are abundantly clear. A “sabbath day for rest” is very close to God’s heart. He’s expressed irritation when people minimized this. And He offered blessings when they obeyed!

“But now, take seriously what I tell you. Quit desecrating the Sabbath by busily going about your own work, and keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing business as usual. Then kings from the time of David and their officials will continue to ride through these gates on horses or in chariots. The people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem will continue to pass through them, too. Jerusalem will always be filled with people.” (Jeremiah 17:24-24, The Message)

The second clear message we get in the Bible is that feasts took place frequently. And everyone stopped what they were doing to participate. Most took several days! And frankly, who doesn’t love a good feast?

Take those days off. Refresh yourself. Enjoy a feast. Invite me over.

Okay. That was pushing it a bit. But don’t be a work martyr.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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