By Expedia Guest Author, on June 28, 2017

Plan for vacation: Leveling out the Work-life imbalance

America: Land of the always-on office culture and home of the work martyr.

The United States is a nation with a seriously complicated relationship with vacation. Today, Americans take less time off—several days worth, in fact—than they did historically. So the idea that Americans have always sacrificed vacation in the name of work isn’t true—it’s actually a relatively recent phenomenon. We’ve always had a strong work ethic, but we haven’t always been work martyrs—that’s what needs to change. And it might be happening.

Project: Time Off research shows that after 15 years of unrelenting decline in vacation usage, the tide may be turning—and the trend line headed in a positive direction. Average vacation use climbed to 16.8 days in 2016, compared to its lowest point of 16.0 days just two years prior.

There is still a long way to go. Despite recent improvements, Americans still left a staggering 662 million vacation days on the table last year. And some areas of the country are worse than others. Project: Time Off analyzed the most under-vacationed parts of America. If you live in one of the states or cities treading on the edge of burnout, it’s time to plan some time away.

Take Idaho, for example. Seventy-eight percent of Gem State workers left vacation time unused in 2016, far outpacing the national average of 54 percent. When we asked them why, the answers were focused on concerns over perceptions of their dedication. Idahoan workers are ten percent more likely than the country as a whole to feel like they need to show “complete dedication” to their job, and five percent more likely to worry that time off would make them appear replaceable.

But it’s not just states like Idaho leaving vacation time behind. This guilt over taking vacation time appears to be a symptom across the entire nation as well. According to the 2016 Expedia Vacation Deprivation report, nine percent of Americans said they worried that taking their full allotment of days off “will be perceived negatively” by their employer. Furthermore, about 14 percent of Americans reported feeling high levels of guilt, with 6 percent of Americans claiming to feel so guilty that they simply take no time off whatsoever. New Hampshire, Alaska, South Dakota and many other states in The Plains are at the top of the under-vacationed heap. Turning to America’s cities, employees from Washington, D.C. are the most likely to leave vacation days unused, followed by San Francisco, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Boston.

My plea to all the American workaholics—wherever they live—is to rethink your approach to work. Your competitive advantage is not appearing productive, it’s actually being productive—and true productivity isn’t measured in hours. There is a flawed assumption that sacrificing vacation days will help get employees ahead. But our research shows that employees who forfeit vacation time are less likely to have been promoted or to have received a recent raise or bonus.

The good news: This is a trend we can reverse with a simple solution. Better planning.

When employees plan their vacation, they take it. Fifty-two percent of Americans who told us that they set aside time every year to plan vacations not only take all of their days, but take longer breaks at once. The majority of planners take a week at a time; non-planners take just 1-3 days.

Need another reason to pull out the calendar? From personal relationships and health, to satisfaction with their job and company, planners are happier in every category Project: Time Off measures.

Summer has just begun. You have six months left to plan the rest of your vacation days—before they become part of a sad statistic.

How do you plan to use your vacation days?

This article was written by Katie Denis, the senior director and lead researcher of Project: Time Off.