More than half of US workers didn’t use up their time off last year, sacrificing 662 million vacation days

Let’s go to the beach.
Let’s go to the beach.
Image: AP Photo/Alan Diaz
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Americans, famously, take far less vacation time than their European counterparts: less than 17 days, on average, compared to 30 days in France, for example. But for many Americans, that’s apparently all the time they need.

More than half of all US employees (54%) didn’t use all their days off last year, working a combined total of 662 million more days than required. Of those days, 206 million couldn’t be rolled over or cashed out, meaning they were forfeited, costing the equivalent of $66 billion, according to a report (pdf) from Project: Time Off, a group funded by the travel industry. While it’s a group with a strong interest in promoting more vacations, their findings are still revealing about America’s unhealthy reluctance to take time off.

Almost 60% of US workers who don’t take their allotted vacation say they fear the amount of work they’ll have to return to, according to the survey of 7,331 working Americans. Others (47%) say they stay put because they believe no one else can do their job, or because they want to impress their bosses with their dedication (36%).

There’s lots of evidence that taking vacation is good for workers and their productivity, because it restores their energy, improves their outlook, and gives them a fresh perspective about their work and its meaning. Workers who forfeit vacation time end up with more stress, and are less likely to be promoted.

When workers don’t take time off, it’s often because their company’s culture doesn’t encourage it. While most managers (81%) say vacation boosts morale and reduces burnout, only half of the managers surveyed say their company encourages vacation. Even fewer workers (30%) say the felt it was encouraged by their company’s culture.

The good news is that after a steady decline of vacation days taken since 1996, there’s been a sight uptick, with more Americans taking advantage of their allotted time off. With an average of 16.8 days away from the office, no one will confuse vacation habits in the US with that of the French, but it’s a start.