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It’s Summer time! The kids are out of school and some of us just want to take some time off from work and enjoy our families and the weather. But according to a few surveys, many people don’t even use their paid vacation days.


Photo Credit: whenworkworks.org

Paid leave, whether in the form of vacation and sick days or as paid time off hours, makes up nearly 7% of total compensation in private industry, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employees rarely use all of their allotted time. Workers, on average, fail to use nearly five vacation days per year (U.S. Travel Association). Four percent (4%) of Americans don’t take their paid time off. On those days that you don’t take the time off, you are basically paying your employer to be at work. (If that doesn’t get you to use your time I don’t know what will). But anyway, let’s see if I can motivate you some more.

“It’s an epidemic of overwork”, says Cheryl Rosner, CEO of Stayful.com, a hotel bidding and booking site. Other countries don’t have this same issue. Germany, France and Scandinavia routinely take as much as 6 weeks off annually. U.S. employees typically leave about 429 million paid vacation days on the table every year. That’s unbelievable!

Potential Consequences of Not Taking Time Off

Productivity, quality of creativity and a drop in safety is affected when employees not using their time of and began to feel stressed and overworked. Chronic workaholics eventually crash and that has the potential to cost the company because the recovery time will probably be longer than the vacation would have been. Stressed out employees cost $600 more than average in healthcare each year, adding up to $300 billion annually. As a result of unused days off, one study puts the liability taken on by U.S. businesses at $224 billion, due to workers rolling over unused paid time off. This doesn’t take into account that when people don’t take off to recharge, their resulting stress and burnout can be detrimental to both the workers and their employees. A survey by staffing firm The Creative Group reported that about 40% of executives think employees would be more productive if they took more vacations, while only 1% think productivity would “decrease significantly”. Yet among the same senior managers, 72% say that if their companies offered unlimited vacation days, they still wouldn’t use any more than they already do. Actually, more than half of the employees said they wouldn’t either.

So why don’t Americans take time off from work? There are several reasons for this. Some say they will have too much of a mess waiting for them when they return to work. Work piles up and they get too far behind. They say they coming back to overloaded in boxes is stressful.  A poll by Creative Group parent company Robert Half International said that employees are “saving vacation time in case they need it” for some future purpose other than relaxing and unwinding. People also worry that they may need to use the time for family emergencies or some other unforeseeable event. Sometimes there’s a blurring of lines between vacation/sick days and all paid time off. People who had paid time off generally took more days off over the course of a year. The blurring of lines between vacation and sick days can have drawbacks when there is a limited amount of time allotted. The issue with “sick days” is that if you get sick, then all your days go towards that. And you also have to use that time for other things you may need to take off for such as doctor appointments. The thing is that workers are more likely to come to work sick rather than use up their vacation days or take unpaid time off. There was a case in New York City where a woman pushed herself to go to work even though she was sick and she died in the office. Apparently she didn’t have any more days left to use and could not afford to take unpaid time off.


Photo Credit: wendy.jacob.co.uk

According to a survey by Virgin Pulse (a market leader in the rapidly-growing employee health engagement category):

  • 62% respondents say they feel at least “pretty good” about taking time off, but  are not taking full of advantage of the allotted PTO and many concerned about being out of the office
  • 44% say they take 76-100% PTO each year
  • 34% reported 50% or less taken
  • 41% say they “feel guilty” or “stressed” about taking time off

Employees today are frazzled and overwhelmed with responsibilities from work and home. They put their health on the back burner and don’t take time off to reset. The stress and burnout impact health. But the burnout, which is common, is easy to avoid.

The amount of unclaimed days may be rising depending on an employee’s seniority. The higher up the person was in the company, the more time that gets left on the table. The lower down, the more they took. Solution: Employers need to encourage employees to take off. Paid vacations are not only part of the employee’s compensation but is a proven way to ward of burnout and refresh creativity. Managers need to lead by example and take their time off. When employees take time off, it opens the door for valuable learning opportunities. The opportunity to cross-train others on tasks that the person usually handles. If the employer finds that things are falling apart when the employees take time off, the problem isn’t the employee’s time off, it’s failure to make sure others have the tools, processes and training to cover for the absent employee. It’s important to make sure the team is capable of carrying on without everyone in attendance. Employees may come up with new ideas, new concepts or a creative solution to a problem or ideas for improvements.

No matter what an employee chooses to do with their time off, whether it be a vacation abroad or a stay-cation, time at home with family or a spa day, most experience positive benefits. Sixty percent (60%) report feeling more completely recharged after vacation. Employees also return to work feeling more rested (48%), relaxed (36%) and productive (26%).

Stress and burnout can hinder an employee’s ability to be their best selves at work. Focus, drive, energy and productivity can decrease. The benefits of taking time off benefit both the employee and the employer. Time off is necessary to be happy, healthy and productive. “We need to help people shift their perspective,” said Rosner. “It’s not a perk.” And remember, it’s not a break if you are still plugged into work phones, voice mails, emails and the laptop while on vacation.

**Check out this research summary for more information on why Americans are not using paid time off.