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Are Americans finally using their vacation time?

August 7, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to the Project: Time Off report, The State of the American Vacation 2017, it appears that Americans might finally be starting to use their vacation time.  For years, vacation time usage has been on the decline in the U.S., but the 2017 report shows some optimistic results.

In 2016, American workers took an average of 16.8 days off, compared to just 16.2 in 2015.  While not a huge difference, it changes the downward trend that we had been seeing since 2000.  From 1976 to 2000 U.S. workers averaged taking 20.3 vacation days annually.  

While slightly more vacation time was taken in 2016, Americans left even more vacation time unused than in 2015. In 2016, 662 million vacation days were left on the table, which is four million more than in 2015. However, this could be attributed to the fact that employees are earning more time off in 2016 (22.6 days) than in 2015 (21.9 days).  But the good news is that more employees were able to carry-over their unused time in 2016 rather than forfeiting it altogether.  206 million vacation days were forfeited in 2016 – an 8% decrease from last year.

When asked why workers choose not to use all their vacation time, 2017 responses include:

  • Return to a mountain of work – 43% (up 6% from 2016)
  • No one else can do the job – 34% (up 4% from 2016)
  • Time off is harder with seniority – 33% (up 4% from 2016)
  • Cannot financially afford a vacation – 32% (up 2% from 2016)
  • Want to show complete dedication – 26% (up 4% from 2016)

While those fears remain unfounded in the workplace, leaders are failing to correct these misconceptions.  66% of employees stated that their company culture discourages time off.  However, managers overwhelmingly state that vacation improves health (82%), boosts morale (82%), and alleviates burnout (81%).  They also state that vacation benefits the company by improving employees’ focus upon return (78%), renewing employees’ commitment to their job (70%), and making employees more willing to put in long hours when needed (64%).  So there is obviously a disconnect between how managers actually feel and how employees perceive them to feel about taking time off.

The data proves that taking time off is beneficial. The research shows that workers that forfeit time off have more problems at work.  They experience more stress than those who choose not to forfeit – 74% compared to 68%.  In addition, those employees that forfeited vacation time were less likely to be promoted or receive a raise within the last year – 23% compared to 27%.

To keep the vacation usage trend moving upward, organizations should make it clear to their employees that vacation time is important, and its use is encouraged.  More than half of managers surveyed (51%) say they never hear about the value of taking time off from senior leadership.

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