The Problem and Potential of Vacation Time


America, we have a problem. We’re wasting a valuable, finite resource on a massive scale. The repercussions of this waste ripple through the economy, with dire personal costs. Fortunately, a solution is within our grasp.

I’m talking, of course, about our wasted vacation days.

Despite the fact that 97% of employers offer paid time off, 55% of Americans don’t use all of their allocated vacation days. In 2015 alone, that added up to 658 million unused vacation days. 222 million of those days were completed forfeited at the end of the year, the equivalent of leaving $61.4 billion in paid benefits on the table. And the problem is only getting worse. The number of unused vacation days in 2015 was twenty percent higher than in 2014. Americans now take almost a full week less time off than they did prior to 2000. At this rate, by 2046 we won’t take any vacation at all.

The problem with unused vacation time appears to originate largely at the top. Executives and managers use even less of their vacation time than their employees, and they rarely talk to their employees about taking time off. By their own example (and silence), they send a message that vacations are frowned upon, even though, when asked, most of them will agree that time off is important.

As individuals, we know (at least intellectually) that taking time off is good for us. It helps us avoid burnout at work, generates more satisfaction in our personal lives, and improves our relationships. But vacation is good for your employer, too. Studies have found that people are more productive at work when they return from a vacation, and their newfound positivity (that post-vacation “glow”) boosts their coworkers, too. Travel also improves your creativity; numerous business leaders have said that some of their best ideas came to them during or immediately after a vacation. In short, vacations improve bottom lines.

Using your paid time off is also good for the economy. If Americans had used all 658 million of those days off last year, they would have generated an additional $223 billion in spending and created 1.6 million jobs. That’s a lot of lost potential.

There’s no reason to let this eroding of our precious vacation time continue. The best way to make sure you use your paid time off is to plan for it: get your vacations on the calendar and make yourself stick to it. But even at this point in the year, it’s not too late to take advantage of your remaining vacation days. As I recently wrote, last-minute travel is very doable.

If your boss isn’t talking about taking time off, start the conversation yourself. And if he doesn’t seem convinced of its value, send him to the Project: Time Off website for more stats. Then tell him you’re going on vacation.


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