Leaving Work Behind – How U.S. Travelers Disconnect on Vacation

When you’re on vacation, does the line between your work life and your personal life feel a little blurry? If you find it hard to unplug from your job when you’re supposed to be enjoying time off, you’re not alone.

The evolution of smartphones has made many activities more convenient, but there’s also a downside to near-constant connectedness. It has become very hard for us to leave work behind when we load up cars, board planes, or even pitch tents to go on vacation — especially when we know that work is just a swipe away on our phones and most vacation rentals provide complimentary Wi-Fi.

We understand how much our guests look forward to staying in our rental homes with friends in families, but that experience can be dampened when work bleeds into vacation time. In a new survey of 2,016 full-time U.S. workers, we discovered that more than half of American employees (54.2%) feel guilty about using their vacation time, and a whopping 70.4% check in with work regularly while they’re on vacation. That’s a steady increase from past studies in 2017 and 2014 that recorded 62% and 42%, respectively.

Although Americans overwhelmingly agree that getting away improves their performance once they’re back at work (74.9% say so), fewer than half of respondents feel they get enough time off each year, and more than half say they worry about work while they’re vacating. Read on to find out what else we learned about quality of life, checking in during vacation, and other aspects of leaving work behind.

Guilt: Off the Clock and On the Road

Everybody needs a break from work. The healing benefits of vacationing are well documented, and yet every year fewer American workers feel comfortable taking vacation time, even when it’s offered by their employer. Despite ample studies about the detrimental effects of foregoing time off, more than half of our survey’s 2,000 respondents say they sometimes, often, or always feel guilty about taking time off from work. 

Checking Out vs. Checking In

When people do finally take the plunge into vacationing, it’s hard for them to banish all thoughts of work – 70.4% of those surveyed say they check in with work at least every few days, if not once or several times a day while they’re away. Only 29.6% say they don’t check in at all.

Why is it so hard to power down? We dug a little deeper and asked those who stay so attached to their workplaces while on vacation why they do it.

The reasons for checking in with work are many and varied. For many Americans, work is part of our identities and we’re invested in the outcome. The most common reasons respondents gave for checking in was that it eases their minds (56.2%) or because it’s an ingrained habit (54.9%). Nearly half said they don’t want to come back to an oversized work load. And of course, family time isn’t always relaxing. Although it ranked last on the list, 7.5% of the survey respondents admitted doing logging in to escape their loved ones for a bit.

Leaving It All Behind

The more deficient a person’s work-life balance is, the more likely they are to check in with work at least once a day during vacation. Among those who describe their work-life balance as “very poor,” a staggering 82.1% report checking in at least once a day. Conversely, 41% of workers who report an “excellent” work-life balance say they don’t check in at all when they’re on vacation. 

Losing the Battle for Work-Life Balance?

It stands to reason that if you’re checking in with work several times a day, you’ll have less time and headspace for relaxing on your vacation. Accordingly, in this survey, people who report checking work emails several times a day during their vacations are 8.5 times more likely to describe their work-life balance as “very poor” compared with those who say they don’t check in at all on holiday.

Unplugging Through the Ages

There is a strong correlation between the age of a worker and the likelihood of their staying connected with work on vacation. The youngest members of the workforce – digital natives who have grown up immersed in technology – seem to have the hardest time unplugging while on vacation. At 46.2%, twenty-somethings are the most likely to check in at least once a day, and also the least likely to check in “not at all.” At the other end of the spectrum, only 27.2% of workers in their sixties report checking in once a day, with 46.9% of them unplugging completely during vacation.

Job Security vs. Peace of Mind

At all levels of perceived job security, most people reported checking in with work at least once a day while on vacation. Older workers and people who feel secure in their jobs are much more likely to feel comfortable unplugging from work while they’re on vacation. 

But for those who feel insecure in their jobs, the once-a-day numbers were noticeably higher. Among those who rate themselves as “very insecure” in their jobs, 59.2% report checking in at least once a day. Among those feeling “somewhat insecure,” 49.3% check in at least once a day.

Are Americans ‘Undervacationed’?

Think about it: When a co-worker returns from a vacation and you ask how it was, what’s the usual answer? “Too short.” 

Survey results bear this out: Fewer than half (45.9%) of American workers surveyed feel like they get enough time off each year. In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation where full-time workers aren’t guaranteed any paid vacation time.

Although not mandated, many American companies voluntarily give workers vacation benefits, with the average being 15 days off a year. But that is less than half what workers are guaranteed in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Chile, and South Korea.

Better Rest, Better Results?

Americans overwhelmingly (74.9%) agree that going on vacation improves their creativity, productivity, and focus when they return to work. The benefits of taking time off are well documented. It strengthens bonds with family and friends, and improves our outlook on life. However, that doesn’t mean we do it with a clear conscience. 

More than 51% of workers agree that they worry about work when vacationing. And 4 out of 10 employees believe that taking fewer vacations (or no time off at all) makes them look better in the eyes of their boss. 

That last statistic goes against the findings of Project Time Off, which found that 27% of workers who went on vacation last year were promoted, compared with only 23% of those who forfeited their days.

There’s Still Hope for Your Vacation!

The good news for most workers is that you don’t have to give into the temptation to check your work email. If you have summer travel plans, you can make a conscious effort to be present with your loved ones, take in the scenery, and deal with work when you return. 

Only about a third of workers (34.5%) have argued with their significant others about work intruding on vacation time. But if you’re one of them, it might be time to listen.

One of the hardest things for families is when plans are canceled or shortened at the last minute because of work crises. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen all the time but it’s something employers and employees should strive to avoid.

About 3 out of 10 workers reported having to cancel or shorten their vacations for a work-related issue. When we asked those respondents what happened as a result, the answers ran the gamut. (Many respondents experienced more than one outcome.)

  • It was taken for granted; I did not get any special thanks or recognition — 44.8%
  • My significant other and/or children were upset. — 30.1%
  • It made me dislike my job. — 29.8%
  • I resented my boss, colleagues, or clients. — 29.3%
  • I didn’t mind, because I understood how important it was. — 25.1%
  • I felt needed and valued. — 23.0%
  • I was given a bonus or raise. — 22.5%
  • I lost money I had spent on tickets, hotel, or other travel-related things. — 19.1%
  • I missed a significant family event (ex. wedding, graduation, reunion.) — 17.5%
  • I was praised at work; I became a hero. — 16.2%
  • I quit my job as a result. — 3.9%

Although only a small portion of the workers (3.9%) quit their jobs as a result, nearly a third (29.8%) came to dislike their jobs. 

Some people we spoke with for this study said they deliberately look for travel destinations where they will be virtually unreachable. That got us wondering, how appealing would an off-the-grid destination be to the average worker?

When you’re sitting inside on a boring conference call, looking out the window at your friends and family playing on the beach, it’s natural to wish you could be completely unavailable to work. At least, that’s how more than half of American workers feel, with 56.4% saying it would be great to vacation somewhere beyond the reach of cell phones, Wi-Fi, and that one guy from HR. Another 21.6% aren’t sure how they feel about that. Only 22% disagreed completely, saying such absolute disconnection would be terrible.

Conclusion

Americans don’t get as much vacation time as workers in other countries, and it appears many of us spend our precious days off checking in with the office. In some cases, it’s a conscious choice and knowing everything is going smoothly puts our minds at ease. But it’s something to be mindful about. If you’re feeling the effects of too much connectedness, you might want to consider trying a digital detox during your travels this summer. Or if having a strong Internet connection is important, it’s good to plan for that too and perhaps consider staying somewhere with a separate office space. Either way, vacation rentals are an excellent choice for helping you strike the right balance between work and play.

Methodology

We surveyed 2,016 U.S. residents who are employed full-time. The survey was conducted online in June 2019. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 72. They were 54% male, 46% female. About half (50.5%) are parents or caretakers of children. They came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Respondents were fairly evenly divided among early-career, mid-career, and senior employees or managers. One-quarter (25.2%) said their jobs could be done entirely remotely; 39.9% said parts of their job could be done remotely; the remaining 34.9% said they could not perform their duties from afar. They worked in a large variety of industries and companies of varying sizes:

  • 1-9 employees — 7.3%
  • 10-24 employees — 8.8%
  • 25-49 employees — 8.8%
  • 50-99 employees — 12.7%
  • 100-249 employees — 13.8%
  • 250-499 employees — 10.2%
  • 500-999 employees — 11.1%
  • More than 1,000 employees — 27.3%

The study was based on self-reporting, which can have limitations. However, the results were weighted to reflect gender and age of the population at large where relevant. Based on the total sample of all working adults, the margin of error was ±2.183% with a confidence level of 95%. 

Fair Use

We’re pleased when you use our infographics or share our research. If you are a journalist or blogger interested in covering this project, feel free to reproduce any of the images above. All we ask is that you kindly credit TurnKey Vacation Rentals and link back to this page so your readers can learn more about our study and its methodology.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

RELATED CONTENT

TurnKey Vacation Rentals’ 2018 Ski Report

4 Min Read November 26, 2018

5 Ways to Make More Money from Your Vacation Rental

6 Min Read August 24, 2017

Benefits of Using an Owner Service Provider

4 Min Read March 15, 2016
TurnKey Blog