Whether you have a high-stress job or work somewhere more casual, work can create anxiety, stress and burnout.

Taking paid time off, either through paid vacation, company holidays or other means, may help with work stress, but it’s not always easy to take it. When high-priority tasks pile up, you may be hesitant to approach your manager for time off. Or, you may be one of the nearly one in four American workers who don’t receive paid time off from their employer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, it’s important to take time off to recharge. Nearly one in three (31 percent) Americans say that work has a negative impact on their mental health, causing symptoms like anxiety, stress, worrisome thoughts, loss of sleep or depression, according to a recent Bankrate survey.

This is how Americans are taking PTO, and how taking time off can benefit you in the long run.

Key vacation and mental health statistics

  • Work is more likely to be a detriment to younger Americans’ mental health. 35% of Gen Z (ages 18-26) and 43% of millennials (ages 27-42) say work negatively impacts their mental health, compared to 37% of Gen X (ages 43-58) and 17% of baby boomers (ages 59-77), as of May 2023. (Bankrate)
  • Nearly one in three workers prioritize work/life balance. 30% of workers say an element of work/life balance will be their highest priority at their job moving forward: 13% will prioritize flexible working hours and 12% will prioritize working from home or remotely, as of April 2023. Only 5% will prioritize more time off or vacation time first. (Bankrate)
  • Not all PTO is given equally. 94% of workers in installation, maintenance and repair occupations receive paid vacation and/or paid holidays, the most of any industry. In comparison, only 23% of teachers receive paid vacation, and only 38% receive paid holidays. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Wealthier Americans are nearly twice as likely to have paid vacation. 84% of the highest 10% of earners receive paid vacation from work, as of March 2022, compared to 44% of the lowest 10% of earners. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Higher-wage workers are more than twice as likely to receive paid vacation time as lower-wage workers

The U.S. has no federal requirement that employers provide paid time off, though 14 states, such as California and Massachusetts, require PTO. For most Americans, the amount of PTO any one employee receives depends on their company.

As of March 2022, 77 percent of civilian employees, including both private industry and government employees, receive paid vacation at work, according to the BLS. Slightly more (79 percent) civilian workers receive paid sick leave and/or paid holidays.

According to the BLS, lower-wage workers are much less likely to receive PTO from their employers than those earning higher wages. Workers who earn the lowest 10 percent of wages are the least likely (44 percent) of any income bracket to receive PTO. However, the highest earners are not the most likely to receive PTO. Instead, 91 percent of those making an average wage between the 50th and 74th percentile of salaries receive paid vacation and/or paid holidays, according to the BLS:

Source: BLS

The highest 25 percent of earners are actually less likely (82 percent) to receive paid vacation than those who make average wages between the 50th and 74th percentile.

PTO can also vary widely depending on the industry. For example, most (94 percent) installation, maintenance and repair workers in the U.S. receive paid vacation, compared to only 23 percent of teachers, according to the BLS:

Source: BLS

Only a little over two-thirds (68 percent) of sales and office occupations are likely to give paid vacation, and only 77 percent of construction, extraction, farming, fishing and forestry jobs are likely to give paid vacation, slightly behind other careers.

Larger companies are also far more likely to give PTO than smaller companies. Companies with up to 48 employees are least likely to give paid vacation, compared to companies with over 100 employees (70 percent and 83 percent, respectively), according to the BLS.

Over half of workers don’t take all their PTO

Three in five (62 percent) of workers say that it’s extremely important that they have a job that offers paid time off for vacations and medical care, such as minor illnesses or routine doctor’s appointments, according to a March 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Workers told Pew a job that employer-provided PTO was more important than employer-sponsored health insurance (51 percent), employer-sponsored retirement (44 percent) or paid parental, family or medical leave (43 percent).

However, only 46 percent of workers actually take all of their allocated PTO days, according to Pew. Slightly more than half (52 percent) of those who didn’t take all their PTO said they didn’t need the time off, while some said they were worried they might fall behind at work (49 percent) or felt badly about coworkers taking on additional work (43 percent), among other reasons.

Half of workers say lack of paid time off or sick leave causes stress at work

PTO days are going unused as Americans report a high level of stress at work. Nearly three in four (71 percent) workers feel tense or stressed during the workday, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Half (50 percent) of workers say lack of paid time off or sick leave causes very or somewhat significant stress at work.

Millennials are the generation most likely to say their mental health is negatively affected by work, according to a 2023 Bankrate study:

Generation Percentage of people whose mental health is negatively affected by work
Gen Z (ages 18-26) 35%
Millennials (ages 27-42) 43%
Gen X (ages 43-58) 37%
Baby boomers (ages 59-77) 17%

Source: Bankrate

Taking PTO may actually result in higher job performance

Despite high work stress, workers may be hesitant to use their PTO for fear of job repercussions. Nearly one in five (9 percent) of workers say they think taking time off might hurt their chances for advancement at work, according to Pew. Additionally, 16 percent think taking more time off would risk losing their job and 12 percent say their manager or supervisor discourages them from taking time off.

In practice, workers don’t necessarily have to worry about reduced job performance from taking PTO.

People who took fewer than 10 vacation days per year are less likely to receive a raise or bonus than those who took more than 10 vacation days (34.6 percent compared to 65.4 percent), according to Project: Time Off, a 2016 partnership between The Harvard Business Review and the U.S. Travel Association. People who take all their allotted PTO are 6.5 percent more likely to receive a promotion or raise than those who leave 11 or more days of PTO unused, though Project: Time Off notes the connection is a correlation, not a proven causation.

However, time off isn’t guaranteed to erase work stress or burnout for everyone. Nearly half (49 percent) of workers said that PTO only temporarily relieved their feelings of burnout, according to a 2021 Visier survey. However, another 42 percent of people said that taking time off did alleviate feelings of burnout for a significant period of time, according to Visier.

3 tips when asking for more time off at work

Asking for time off for a vacation or even a mental health day doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. Every company dictates time off differently, but if your company provides PTO, it’s a work benefit you’re entitled to, not a privilege that has to be earned. It’s within your right to ask for time off. Here’s how to make the ask for time off a little less scary:

  1. Know your PTO policy. Look at your employee handbook or other resources to check what you have for PTO. Does your PTO accrue over time, or are you given it at the start of the year? Does it roll over into the next year? Can you be paid out for PTO if you don’t use it? How much PTO do you actually have? Do you have other paid days off, such as rolling holidays or company holidays? Knowing what your PTO benefits entail allows you to make smarter decisions.
  2. Plan ahead of time. If you’re in the middle of saving for a trip, such as a family vacation, and have flexibility on when you can take the time off, that flexibility can allow you to work around your employer’s schedule. If your work is seasonal, consider booking a vacation during a slower period, which may increase the likelihood that your request will be approved.
  3. Arrange for less work interruption. Your manager may be reluctant to give PTO if your work will be interrupted, so a little extra effort ahead of time might make taking a vacation much smoother for your whole team. If you’re an hourly employee and need to find coverage for missed work, looking for someone to cover your shifts as early as possible can make it easier to make sure you can actually take your vacation time. If you have deadline-focused work, moving up deadlines to before your days off can save you from catching up later.
  • Bankrate commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey on financial wellness. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,365 U.S. adults, including 1,232 who say money has a negative impact on their mental health. Fieldwork was undertaken April 12-14, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.

    Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey on job seekers. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,417 adults, among whom 1,524 were either employed or looking for work. Fieldwork was undertaken on March 8-10, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a nonprobability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.