The epidemic of American workers refusing to take vacation time is due to a combination of economic anxiety and a shift in workplace culture around the country.

A new study into this phenomenon by Project Time Off has found that millennials lead the workplace as so-called “work martyrs” who are unwilling to take their vacation days each year because of a focus on prizing work hours over true productivity.

“Nearly half (48%) of millennials think it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by the boss, far outpacing the average (39%), Gen Xers (39%), and Boomers (32%),” reads The Work Martyr’s Cautionary Tale report. “Millennial workers also want to be seen that way by their colleagues in greater numbers. Thirty-five percent of millennials agree it is good to be seen as a work martyr by their colleagues, compared to 26 percent of Generation X, and 20 percent of Boomers.”

In terms of why exactly millennials are most prone to leaving vacation days on the table, the report posits a few ideas. Mainly, that entering the workplace during a time of economic uncertainty has created a group in the workforce that is extremely concerned with appearing hardworking and reliable.

“Some of the work martyr behavior that millennials exhibit may be symptomatic of being early in their careers and working their way up the ranks,” the report continues. “As expected, they have substantially less tenure. More than four in ten millennial respondents (43%) reported being with their company two years or less, where the greatest number of Generation X (47%) and Boomers (64%) reported 10 or more years.”

The report breaks down the top challenges workers find related to taking time off from work. Millennials were more likely by far to cite personal uncertainty or concerns about personal responsibility and insecurity than older age groups.

Source: Project Time Off

Source: Project Time Off

It also seems like companies can do a lot more to create a permissive culture surrounding vacationing. The good news is that millennials often want to have a say in their company culture, and as they age it is likely that taking time off will become more mainstream.

“Ironically, the most connected generation ever is more likely to perceive a culture of silence surrounding vacation in the workplace,” the report concludes. “Where 65 percent of the overall audience reported their company culture says nothing or sends discouraging or mixed messages about taking time off, seven in ten (70%) millennials say the same. Though a smaller segment, twice as many millennials (16%) say they feel disapproval from management about taking vacation than their Boomer colleagues (8%).

“Feelings of uncertainty and disapproval are translating to more forfeited vacation time—days that cannot be rolled over, banked for later use, or cashed out. Millennials are the most likely generation to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days. Twenty-four percent of millennials either forfeited days or do not even know if they forfeited days last year, compared to just 19 percent of Generation X and 17 percent of Boomers. The forfeited days are made worse given that the majority of millennials (37%) earn 10 vacation days or less, compared to just 20 percent of Generation X and 18 percent of Boomers.”

You can read the entire report below.

Download (PDF, 985KB)

Photo Credit: New research shows that millennials are afraid to take time off from work, and are sometimes in fact proud of it. Pictured here is a millennial taking a selfie in Florida. Bill Dickinson / Flickr