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Blog > Why Do I Feel Guilty Taking Time Off Work and How to Overcome It

Why Do I Feel Guilty Taking Time Off Work and How to Overcome It

Vacation guilt can prevent you from taking the break you deserve, but not taking time off from work can do more harm than good. 
Businessman in grey suit and tie laying on the beach in the water while working

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Maybe your colleagues across the pond are taking off more time this summer than you’d ever think possible at your corporate job. Maybe a friend is posting photos on social media of their glamorous vacay in the Caribbean or Europe. Maybe you’re just watching the kids play in the pool from the window as you labor away in your upstairs, at-home office. Whatever kicked it off for you, you now have a serious case of vacation envy. But you also know that taking a similar vacation would only result in something worse: vacation guilt.  

Vacation guilt can prevent you from taking the break you deserve, but not taking a break can do you much more harm than good. We asked two Arootah experts, Transformation Coach Lauren Bonheim, ACC, and Organizational Development Coach Laxmi Dady, how you can overcome vacation guilt syndrome and work guilt.  

What Is Vacation Guilt?

Vacation guilt is nothing out of the ordinary or specific to you. Those who are accustomed to rising and grinding feel all too bad when they skip out on work. What will your colleagues do for a week or two when you’re at the beach? Who is going to take care of your clients? Who’ll mark off your corporate to-do list the way you do? Your team depends on you, after all—you can’t just leave them hanging. 

But study after study has shown taking a vacation is the best thing you can do, not only for yourself and your own mental health, but for your overall productivity and your team. First things first: Before you can take that vacation, you have to overcome your vacation guilt.  

Why Is Vacation Guilt Counterproductive?

A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review’s Project Time Off conducted a study that showed that nearly 100 percent of workers felt that using paid time off was very important. However, more than half of Americans didn’t use up all their paid time off. Researchers traced these feelings back to vacation guilt, but is this guilt actually warranted?

According to the study, it’s not. In fact, those who took vacation time and unplugged from the office actually performed better and had a higher chance of receiving a raise or promotion later on. HBR noted that those who took more than 10 vacation days per year had a 65.4 percent chance of receiving a raise or bonus. Meanwhile, those who took fewer than 10 vacation days per year had nearly half of that likelihood (34.6 percent) of receiving a raise or bonus.  

Corporate Wellness Magazine similarly reported that “employees who take most or all of their vacation time each year perform at higher levels, are more productive, and are more satisfied with their jobs than those who do not.”  

In other words, vacation guilt is counterproductive. It keeps you chained to your desk and inbox and harms your productivity, your job satisfaction, and even your chances of receiving a raise or bonus. So, how do you overcome it and take that break?

4 Ways You Can Overcome Vacation Guilt, According to 2 Arootah Coaches

Bonheim and Dady share several ways you can overcome vacation guilt.  

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1. Shift your mindset regarding productivity and time off

Firstly, if you find yourself asking, “why do I feel guilty taking time off work,” take it as a sign that you’re ready to start shifting your mindset regarding your productivity and time off. When you consider this question and the related emotions, remind yourself taking time off work is not “taking away” from your employer. You need to rest and recharge in order to produce your best work and show up as the best version of yourself at work. You need to fill up your cup before you can pour yourself into anything else, says Bonheim.

Taking time off work isn’t a bad thing—it’s actually the best thing you can do for both yourself and your employer. 

2. Create a vacation mantra

To help you keep your focus on relaxation and remove the guilt, Dady suggests you create and use a vacation mantra as you plan your dream vacay, pack up your bags, and hit the road. It can be something simple like: 

“My time off will make me a more productive and joyful boss or employee” or “Vacation time is healthy time”  

Or it can be something more data-based, adds Bonheim, like, “Americans are effectively volunteering hundreds of millions of days of free work for their employers. This results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits” (via Stout Magazine) or “after a vacation, 64 percent of people say that they are ‘refreshed and excited to get back to [their] job[s]’” (via Psychology Today). 

Whatever mantra you go with, write it down and put it where you can see it—on a sticky note by your laptop, on your mirror, wherever.  

3. Set boundaries

Your vacation time will only benefit you if you truly take a vacation. Working from your laptop or answering emails from your phone while on the beach isn’t a true vacation. Set boundaries for yourself, then stick to them.  

Can’t quite stay away, at least not 100 percent? Try only checking your phone once per day before securing it in your hotel safe. Dady also recommends removing your work email from your phone completely and only checking in via a laptop while in your hotel room.  

4. Plan enough fun that you don’t feel the guilt

And, lastly, one of the best things you can do is simply plan enough fun that you don’t experience feelings of guilt. Go on that dream trip. Mark some things off your bucket list. You might just find that, with the right vacation itinerary, you hardly worry about work at all, Dady says.  

The Bottom Line

Vacation guilt can prevent you from taking the break you so deserve, but not taking time off from work can do more harm than good.  

Need some help finding better balance and prioritizing various aspects of your life? An Arootah Life Coach can help you identify these areas and plan the next steps you need to take to achieve your goals.   




Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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