American’s Aren’t Taking Vacations

As the year comes to a close, many Americans haven’t taken a single vacation day to unwind.

In an online survey of more than 1,000 people, Skift, a travel marketing company, found that just over half of Americans report that they haven’t taken a single vacation day this year so far. Another almost 18 percent have taken less than five.

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Part of the problem may be that workers aren’t guaranteed any vacation time from their employers, unlike in 20 other developed countries, so nearly a quarter don’t get any days at all.

But even those who get paid vacation days still don’t tend to take full advantage of them. The average American who gets paid time off only uses about half of it, while 15 percent don’t use any at all. Workers end up leaving an average of three vacation days unused each year.

Skift also found that the use of vacation days varies by demographics. “The lower the income of Americans, the fewer vacation days they have taken this year, while richer Americans have taken more,” the company reports. Around half of those in the bottom three income groups say they haven’t taken a day off, while just around a quarter of those making $75,000 to $149,000 say the same. No one making more than $150,000 says they’ve gone without a day off.

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Men are also more likely to be at least taking some vacation time. More women report having taken zero days off while more men have taken more than 10 vacation days.

Americans aren’t just skimped on paid vacation time. We’re also not guaranteed paid holidays, paid sick days, or paid family leave, unlike all other developed countries. Just 12 percent of private sector workers get paid family leave at work ​hile 61 percent get paid sick days and 76 percent get paid holidays. But as with vacation time, even those who get it don’t always use it. More than 40 percent don’t plan to use it all this year, while nearly 15 percent say they haven’t taken paid time off for something other than an illness or emergency in over a year.

Most say it’s because of the culture of overwork. Less than a third say they’re encouraged to take their paid time benefits, while over a third of senior business leaders think those who take their allotted time are less dedicated, productive, and successful. Forty percent of workers say their “mountain of work” makes it hard to take time away.

Americans certainly are putting in far more time at work than most other countries. In 1979, we put in about the same hours as most other developed countries and less than some, like Japan. Today we put in more hours than all of them. That’s because other countries have been shrinking their workweeks much faster. Our supposed 40-hour workweek is actually 47 hours long on average.

There are benefits from taking a break. At consulting firm Ernst & Young, for every ten hours of vacation time an employee takes, her year-end performance gets an 8 percent boost. NASA scientists who took vacations saw an 82 percent increase in job performance on their return. Meanwhile, the world’s most productive workers put in fewer hours, and many different studies have found that clocking above 60 a week creates a short-term boost that will then disappear completely after a few weeks. The economy would also benefit from Americans taking time off: if we used our vacation days that we’re currently leaving on the table, spending would increase by $67 billion.

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily