Survey: Canadians skip vacation, fear falling behind at work

Labour Day traditionally marks the end of summer - but increasingly, summer is coming to a close with millions of Canadians not having taken all the vacation they could have.

Labour Day traditionally marks the end of summer - and summer is ending with millions of Canadians not having taken all the vacation they could have.

Statistics show one in four working Canadians don't take all the time off they are entitled to - which is an average of 21 days annually.

The average employee gives up three vacation days a year, according to a survey by Ipsos-Reid Canada.

Experts say workers are worried about job security and advancement.

Stefane Kabene, a professor of human resources and organizational behaviour at the University of Western Ontario, said many employees worry about losing their footing as they climb the corporate ladder.

He says workers are increasingly avoiding taking off large blocks of time, in exchange for two- or three-day breaks.

"Their biggest fear is what's going to happen at work when they're not there," said Kabene. "If you leave for three or four weeks, you don't know who might be replacing the place you're leaving."

Some employees, he said, align their vacations with their boss's.

"If their boss is not around, he's not going to be in contact with them but with nobody else either."

At least 30 per cent of Canadians who don't take all their time, say they're acting out of fear.

The same is true of women on maternity leave, leading mothers to return to work before they have to.

"I know it's a right if you take a maternity leave for you to come back and find your job," said Kabene. "But is it going to impact negatively on your promotion? Yes."

Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian and professor at the University of Iowa, argues leisure time has become "trivialized" while work has been "elevated to the modern religion," a way for people to define themselves and find meaning in their lives.

As a result, he says, time off can lead to a feeling of emptiness and boredom.

Surveys find that many Canadians - almost one in five - blame a lack of cash for not taking holidays.

And there's stress both in preparing for time off, and in dealing with the work that piles up while they're away.

Americans are even more likely than Canadians to leave vacation days on the table, with 31 per cent of working Americans reporting they don't take all the days they're entitled to. The average American worker gets only 12 vacation days annually, and Americans are the most likely (at 35 per cent) of all nationalities surveyed to work more than 40 hours per week.

Ipsos-Reid surveyed workers in Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

  • France is the leader in work-life balance. Each employed adult gets an average of 39 days vacation, and nearly half take at least one extended (3-4 week) vacation annually.
  • Germans receive an average of 27 vacation days, and more than half report taking every day they get.
  • In the Netherlands, workers get an average of 25 days, and 62 per cent report taking at least one two-week holiday.
  • Workers in Great Britain report receiving the fewest vacation days of European workers surveyed, at 23 days. Forty per cent of British workers say they'd sacrifice a day's pay for an extra day off.
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