Work More, Stress More: Most Americans Aren't Taking Enough Vacation : Shots - Health News And they're not unplugging from email and text messages when they do get away, an NPR poll finds. "So they're taking their stress along with them wherever they go," says a Harvard scientist.

Overworked Americans Aren't Taking The Vacation They've Earned

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When you go on vacation, do you stop looking at work emails? Or are you possibly one of those people who don't even bother going on vacation? Well, if so, you're not alone, even though a majority of Americans say they are stressed at work. The latest poll showing that comes from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It's been known for years that time off can reduce stress, but about half of Americans who work 50-plus hours a week say they don't take most of the vacation that they earn. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: There's lots of reasons why today's workers feel greater stress than in the past. We're connected 24-7, and lots of our work can be done anywhere. When asked about major issues affecting health at work, Harvard health policy professor Robert Blendon says the top issue in our poll was stress.

ROBERT BLENDON: You realize that people who are in work situations that lead them to feel pressures that actually, long-term, hurt their health.

NEIGHMOND: Even when people actually take time off - what Blendon describes as the antibiotic for stress - they really don't.

BLENDON: Those who went on vacations, 30 percent of them said, oh, I do a significant work while on vacation. So they're taking their stress along with them wherever they're going.

NEIGHMOND: In our poll, one in five workers spend 50-plus hours a week on the job. You'd think they'd want a break, but no.

JULIE HAGOPIAN: I'm in a position that requires my attention pretty much 24-7.

NEIGHMOND: Twenty-seven-year-old Julie Hagopian works in digital marketing for a large educational company. She adores her job, she says, but there's no off switch.

HAGOPIAN: In social media marketing, I'm on-call all the time to moderate, to create the content, to curate everything. So generally speaking, even if I am Technically on vacation, I'm checking emails, and I'm moderating our social feeds.

NEIGHMOND: As for the classic one to two weeks off, forget it, she says. Too many of her colleagues would be burdened by having to pick up her workload, and they already have too much to do. Hagopian does take a few days here and there, but definitely stays connected. Thirty-three-year-old Adam Rowan doesn't worry about that. He just doesn't take off ever.

ADAM ROWAN: Just - it's not my thing, I guess. That probably sounds strange, but I prefer to be at work, getting things done. Even when it's slow, I'm trying to learn new things.

NEIGHMOND: Part of that might have to do with his age. Rowan says most IT workers get their start in their early 20s.

ROWAN: A lot of my peers my age have already had 10 or more years' experience in the field, whereas I'm just getting started. So that's another reason why I don't take time off - is because I want to learn. I need to learn more to get a foot in the game.

NEIGHMOND: And 35 percent of those polled who work at least 50 hours a week say they don't take all their vacation days because they, too, want to get ahead. Forty-two percent say there wouldn't be enough people to pick up their workload. And many, Hagopian and Rowan, say they're one of the only workers expert in systems used by the company. A survey from the staffing firm The Creative Group finds about 40 percent of executives say employees would be more productive if they took more time off. Executive director Diane Domeyer...

DIANE DOMEYER: I believe that executives truly understand that while we're in a 24-7 connected world - that the movement to occasionally and regularly disconnect from that can actually improve your focus, improve your commitment, improve your engagement.

NEIGHMOND: Psychologist Matt Grawitch with St. Louis University and the American Psychological Association says it's one thing for employers to recognize the value of vacation and another to make it happen.

MATT GRAWITCH: It has to involve thinking through how to restructure the work, how to utilize technology more effectively, how to coordinate vacation times so that the work is still being accomplished and not by that person that's on vacation.

NEIGHMOND: Diane Domeyer says many companies are trying to figure out plans to help employees take time off. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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