The One Thing Most Americans Are Terrified Of Asking At Work, And It Likely Isn’t What You Think

United States' work culture has made people reluctant to take time off, even when they need to, to protect their mental health.

By Iqra Butt | Published

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Many American workplaces are known for their fast-paced nature, which as a result leads to employees wanting to take paid time off. According to Forbes, a study conducted by OnePoll, revealed that 57 percent of American workers do not feel that mental health is a good enough reason to ask for time off. This tendency to prioritize work over personal health is resulting in serious consequences. 

The emphasis on work has led to an increase in employee reluctance to take time off. A recent study from The U.S. Travel Association found that over half of American workers didn’t use all of their paid time off, leaving more unused days off on the table. There are a variety of factors that can lead to this.

A Forbes study showed that 67 percent said if they take a mental health day, they are more likely to keep it vague by using an appointment as their reason for time off.  While 56 percent shared they felt like their employer would think they’re unable to accomplish their job duties if they asked for time off relating to mental health care. This stigma seems to hinder employees from asking off.

Reluctance to take time off can have lasting effects on mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression are all common issues stemming from chronic overwork and a lack of work-life balance. Additionally, the stigma surrounding taking time off due to mental health can leave people feeling guilty for just taking a break.

One major consequence of this reluctance to take time off is burnout. According to HelpGuide, burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress and overwork”. When you do not or can not take time off to recharge, you’re more likely to become burned out, which can lead to decreased productivity and increased missed days.

So despite these negative risks and consequences, why do so many Americans feel pressured to overwork themselves? This phenomenon can be from a fear of falling behind other workers, lack of sick leave, pressure from colleagues or bosses to attain deadlines, and financial concerns. While many of these reasons are valid, some are perpetuated by work culture.

One way employers can combat the issue of reluctance to take time off is to allow employees to work from home or other remote locations. For example, a study by Stanford University found that remote workers were 13 percent more productive than in-office employees. Remote work can reduce distractions and interruptions, and allow employees to structure their day in a way that works best for them. 

Overall, there is evidence to suggest that allowing workers to spend less time in the office can be beneficial for both employees and the bottom line. Forbes reports on a company experimenting with just that. MikMak is offering employees unlimited “health days” instead of “sick days” for time off and giving employees the option to work remotely, in hopes that these flexible work arrangements are best for their employees and, ultimately their business.
It is important to know about mental health resources available to help. These resources can include counseling services, support groups, hotlines, and online resources. Reach out and utilize these resources if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health.