Get out of the office: We don’t need any more ‘work martyrs’

With summer coming to a close soon, lots of people are bemoaning the end to their annual ritual of taking time off. I know I’m sad summer is almost over. About 15 years ago, my husband and I decided that we would take two consecutive weeks off every year.

We found that one week wasn’t enough. Just as we were getting relaxed it was time to go back to work. That decision has been a lifesaver and mental respite that’s like breathing to us. It’s a must. Two weeks. Together. Every year.

But many people don’t take all the vacation they’ve earned.

Unbelievable to me, 40 percent of all workers don’t take all of their vacation, leaving 430 million days of unused paid vacation a year, according to a survey by the U.S. Travel Association, reports The Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte.

What’s wrong with you people? Get out of the office. Take some time off. You don’t even have to go anywhere, especially if you can’t afford it. Do a “staycation,” meaning you just stay home and relax. Kick back. But get away from those dreadfully long and boring office meetings, deadlines, projects and, yes, for many of you, co-workers who get on your last nerve.

So, why don’t you take your time off?

You may have what’s called a “work martyr complex,” Schulte writes. And she lays out from the survey some of the reasons people gave for not taking a vacation:

— About 40 percent said they worry about returning to a mountain of work.

— Thirty-five percent said they don’t leave because they feel no one else can do their job.

— One-third said they couldn’t afford to use their paid time off, and one-fifth said they didn’t want to be seen as replaceable.

“We found that people have this whole busyness as a badge of honor thing,” Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, told Schulte. “We’re becoming a nation of work martyrs. People really wear it on their sleeves how they don’t take time off. Everyone around the world looks at Americans like we’re crazy.”

Color of Money question of the week

Are you a work martyr? And if so, why won’t you take time off? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Get Out of the Office” in the subject line. Please include your full name, city and state.

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Four facts about retirement

Bankrate.com just released a new report with some findings about retirement that I think might interest you. Here are four facts from the survey:

— Thirty-six percent of Americans have not saved any money for retirement.

— Sixty-nine percent of 18- to 29-year-olds haven’t saved anything for retirement, along with 33 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, 26 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 14 percent of people 65 and older.

— Those who are saving are starting earlier. Twice as many 30- to 49-year-olds started saving in their 20s as opposed to their 30s. While 50- to 64-year-olds were only slightly more likely to have started saving in their 20s than their 30s.

— Despite their lack of retirement savings, millennials feel more financially secure than any other age group. They also feel more secure in their jobs and more optimistic about their current financial situation than any age group.

Retirement stories

The Washington Post is building a wealth and retirement site that debuts next week. As part of the effort, we are looking for people willing to discuss — on the record — the challenges of planning and saving for retirement. If you decide to share your story, a retirement expert will look over your finances and provide advice about what more, if anything, you should be doing.

Send your stories to money@washpost.com.

For last week’s Color of Money question I asked: What’s the biggest roadblock that has prevented you from saving for your retirement?

One mother wrote about why she was having trouble saving for retirement: “Biggest concern, trying to pay the college loans for my twins on a nonprofit salary that has not increased significantly in several years. Already planning to work another 15 years before retirement, if I can.”

Another reader close to retirement said she’s less worried about saving money than she is about the cost of health care and trying to work that into her retirement planning.

“Having been raised by Depression-era parents, our biggest challenge hasn’t been the actual saving, it’s been the trouble with planning,” she wrote. “Starting in our 30s with ‘Will there be Social Security?’ now we can’t get a handle on what we may have to pay for health care. Nobody has even a clue what to tell us to put in that spot in our budget. With retirement being a possibility in three years, that makes our decision-making process really hard.”

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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