Work on vacation
Nearly four in 10 millennial workers are quiet vacationing due to being apprehensive of taking PTO. Armin Rimoldi/Pexels

Millennials and Gen Z are reshaping workplace dynamics, particularly when it comes to time off. Recent research conducted by The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice sheds light on the evolving attitudes toward paid time off (PTO) among American workers.

Despite being entitled to more PTO days, a significant portion of the workforce, approximately 78%, expresses hesitancy in utilizing their full allocation. This reluctance is especially prevalent among younger employees, with 89% of Gen Z and 83% of millennials expressing concerns about taking time off due to heavy workloads and fear of falling behind.

To cope with these pressures, many millennials have adopted a discreet approach to taking breaks. Nearly 37% admit to spending time away from work without formally using PTO or notifying their employers. These employees may engage in leisure activities during work hours while employing tactics to appear actively engaged, such as moving their mouse cursor or scheduling emails after hours.

This phenomenon, coined "quiet vacationing" by Libby Rodney, Chief Strategy Officer at The Harris Poll, underscores millennials' efforts to achieve work-life balance without drawing attention to their absences. Unlike Gen Z, who advocate for supportive workplace policies, millennials prefer to minimize attention to their need for time off.

The rise of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has further enabled this trend, as employers have limited oversight of employees' activities throughout the day. However, it also highlights deeper issues within workplace cultures that stigmatize taking time off and prioritize presenteeism over productivity.

To address these concerns, Rodney suggests that companies clarify PTO processes and establish maximum leave limits. Encouraging employees to take regular breaks and implementing work-life balance policies, akin to those in Europe, could foster a healthier workplace environment and mitigate burnout.

Moreover, failure to address these issues could have significant implications for employers, including higher turnover rates and diminished workplace satisfaction. By promoting a culture of rest and rejuvenation, employers can cultivate a more resilient and attractive workplace for the millennial and Gen Z workforce.

In addition to workplace culture, there is growing interest in policy interventions to support work-life balance. Many American respondents in the survey suggested that the nation could benefit from adopting work-balance policies similar to those in Europe. These policies include longer lunch breaks, extended holidays, and work weeks requiring fewer than 40 hours of service.

While implementing such policies may require legislative action and cultural shifts, they could ultimately lead to a more sustainable and fulfilling work environment for all employees. By prioritizing employee well-being and recognizing the importance of time off, employers can position themselves as leaders in fostering a healthy work culture.

Millennials and Gen Z are challenging traditional notions of work and time off, advocating for a more balanced approach to life and work. By acknowledging and addressing their concerns, employers can create a workplace that values employee well-being and supports long-term success.