Less than 2 in 5 full-time employees take a real lunch break five days per week.
Full-time employees are only planning on taking 11 days of PTO this year, on average.
Nearly 3 in 5 remote workers are worried they’re taking too much PTO.
64% of full-time employees would leave their current job for one that offers two weeks of paid vacation before the start date.
More workers than ever before are prioritizing their wellness over their jobs and are quitting at unprecedented rates. Despite that, Americans are still leaving paid time off (PTO) on the table every year. As burnout and stress levels are soaring, we need to realize that taking a break from work — even if it’s a 30-minute lunch — is essential to our health and happiness.
We recently undertook a research project to build a better understanding of how full-time employees take breaks from work and why they hesitate to use all their paid time off. Below is a look at what 1,000 full-time workers revealed.
Long Lunches a Thing of the Past
Taking an hour-long break from work for a midday meal was a common practice for many years in corporate America. Today’s trends, however, show that the average full-time employee doesn’t even take a real lunch break every workday, and if they do, it’s only about 35 minutes.
A telling survey about eating habits at work was recently sponsored and published by Eggland’s Best. Researchers concluded that traditional lunch breaks in America are fading away amid elevated levels of stress and performance pressure. Today’s on-site workers reported that the most common place they eat is at their desk because they see it as more productive than taking a real lunch break.
Also according to the Eggland’s Best report, younger workers felt a perceived lack of time to eat because they felt there was too much work to be done. Our study’s results revealed a further divide between the youngest two professional generations: Gen Z workers were more likely to take a real lunch than millennials (3.7 vs. 3.4 times weekly, respectively).
And it’s not just employees in the office who are skipping lunches that they’re entitled to. A recent study by Tork found that remote workers often don’t stop to eat either, despite working from home where it’s presumably easier to access and prepare meals. Tork also reported that taking a lunch break had notable positive effects on the happiness, engagement, and productivity of the workers they surveyed. As a result, you should feel good about taking some time each workday to refuel your body and your mind.
If you — like most people — are having trouble committing to taking regular lunch breaks, here are some helpful tips to keep you on track:
Block out time in your calendar to take lunch each day.
Create consistency in your lunch break by carving out the same block of time each day to help reinforce the habit.
Set an “away” status on your work messaging platform for 30 to 60 minutes to let your coworkers know you’re away.
Move away from your workspace during your lunch break so you’re not tempted to get sucked back into work.
How Best to Unwind as a Remote or On-Site Worker
Besides taking a daily lunch break, we looked at other means employees use to rest and recharge at work. Here’s a look at what workers found most effective, and how someone’s workplace setting might influence the way they can relax.
As we expected, there were some noticeable divisions between the relaxation habits of remote workers and on-site employees. Our survey data supported expected trends, such as on-site workers were much more likely to chat with their colleagues, while remote workers favored listening to podcasts and practicing yoga. Remote workers were also about twice as likely as on-site workers to watch TV or silence phone notifications to relax during a break.
According to our results, silencing phone notifications was effective for 58% of remote workers compared to only 44% of on-site workers, which is the most dramatic difference noted among all relaxation methods. And even though remote workers turned to watching TV and listening to podcasts more often than those in the office, on-site workers reported these methods as significantly more effective than remote workers did. So, if you work from home, you may want to experiment with other methods to see what works better for you.
Meditation was reported to be the best way to relax among all workers who practiced it: 81% of those who meditated declared it was very effective. There are many perks that come from meditating besides relaxation. Total Wellness recently talked about how meditation could benefit the workplace in order to encourage more companies to implement a meditation program.
Meditation is an innovative and effective way to boost employee mental and physical wellness. The practice can produce other advantages as well, such as the following:
Stress or tension relief
Better work relationships
Stronger immune system
Improvement of decision-making skills
Sharper focus and memory
Reduction of anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion
Total Wellness supports the notion that meditation is great for leaders at work, too. As managers and owners promote and participate in workplace meditation, they may be able to increase self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and positivity — all traits that help them to be better leaders as they become more in touch with their employees and their struggles.
Guilt and Fear Keeping Employees From Enjoying Time Off
When we accept a full-time job, receiving paid vacation time is a very common benefit. If it’s typical to receive PTO days, why do so many people struggle to use them? We found that psychological worries, however real or imagined, and existing stigmas in the workplace were some underlying reasons.
Technology has led some employers to feel as if their employees should always be on call — even during paid time off. Smartphones enable employees to receive work-related calls, emails, text messages, and messaging app notifications from almost anywhere, which can make it harder to disconnect from work. According to our study, 75% of people were interrupted by work obligations on a major holiday — that’s quite a lot of Americans who weren’t able to relax on what should’ve been a special day.
We also noticed that Gen Z workers were a lot less likely to have their phones set up to receive work emails but were much more likely to get notifications from work messaging apps, like Slack, on their phone. Remote workers were also a lot more likely than on-site workers to get work-related messaging app notifications on their phone.
According to a U.S. Travel Association study on PTO trends in America, older Americans tend to take more time off than younger workers. This trend may be due to the fact that younger generations are more worried about the consequences of taking vacation days.
Our younger survey respondents were also considerably more likely than older generations to be concerned about negative repercussions for taking time off. They felt guilty for not being on the job and were worried about losing their job if they didn’t make themselves available while on vacation. Gen Z and millennial workers also had the highest levels of guilt and worry.
Americans Plan to Take 11 Days of PTO in 2022
No matter how many paid days off your employer provides, it’s important to take enough of them to get the rest you need. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the physical and mental health benefits that help to offset worker exhaustion.
Americans plan to take an average of 11 days off this year, which equates to about 73% of their PTO benefits. Looking at things by generation, Gen Z’s plans were even more bleak, as younger Americans planned to use only about 60% of their vacation days in 2022.
A recent article by BBC Worklife discussed why it’s so hard for U.S. workers to ask for time off, especially when it’s so necessary for one’s well-being. Their viewpoint is that the traditional structure of the American workplace and toxic corporate culture practices keep workers from getting the break they deserve.
Many employees don’t have a backup person who can do the work they do if they’re not there. So, when only one person handles a project, system, or client, co-workers and employers feel they must reach out to them during PTO for help. Although it’s easier said than done, the solution lies in changing the way workforces are structured. Whether in a real or virtual office, at least two sources of deep knowledge are needed so there’s always someone to cover the person who’s off.
Corporate leaders also need to be positive models by regularly taking lunch breaks, vacations, and other paid time off benefits. Encouraging their employees to do the same and to be supportive of co-workers who do so can go a long way as well.
Workers Use Less PTO Than They Think
Whether you think you take too much or too little time off, chances are you aren’t using 100% of your PTO.
Thirty-eight percent of full-time employees thought they overused PTO, but we discovered that they actually use less than the average worker. This misperception might be causing unnecessary mental strain on workers who feel guilty about taking time off. Men and women were equally likely to believe they underuse their PTO, but men leaned further toward thinking they’ve overused it (41%), compared to women (34%).
According to a U.S. Travel Association 2021 study, the key to taking time off, traveling, and happiness is planning. Among workers they surveyed, those who described themselves as planners were happier in all aspects of their life than those who considered themselves non-planners. They also found that 97% of survey respondents felt that having a trip planned made them feel happier. So, plan your PTO and make it happen!
Search for a Job with PTO Benefits Today
In an era where mental health is a priority, people rejuvenate their minds in a variety of ways. Meditation, exercise, and entertainment are some things people use to give themselves a brain break. If you’re struggling to relieve work stress, either at home or in the office, try a variety of methods our survey respondents found very effective to see what works for you. And don’t forget to plan your time off today if you haven’t already.
At Joblist, we help you find the right job for you. We believe that you deserve a job search experience that is human and personal. Take the Joblist quiz to start building your customized list and you’ll be well on your way to finding a better job with great PTO benefits today.
We surveyed 1,000 full-time workers receiving PTO from their employer. Respondents ranged in age from 19 to 89 years old, and the average age was 38. Remote workers, on-site workers, and hybrid workers enjoyed approximately equal representation, with sample sizes between 271 and 355.
All respondents were required to identify and correctly respond to an attention-check question in order to complete the survey. Note that this survey data relies on self-reporting, which can be subject to limitations such as selection bias, attribution errors, and recency bias.
Fair Use Statement
Do you know someone who could benefit from learning about our findings? Please feel free to share our data about how people use PTO hours for any noncommercial purpose. We ask that you simply provide a link back to our work when doing so.