9 Facts That Explain America’s Unhealthy Vacation Deficit

Photo courtesy of David Wall via Flickr and Open Clip Art, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Do you have paid vacation time? If so, are you using it? For many Americans, if the answer to the first question is yes, the second is a resounding no.

Here are nine illuminating facts about the state of American vacation time, or lack there of. You might just rethink that trip you’ve been putting off.

1. America is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation.

That’s right — among developed nations, the United States is the only country not to make paid time off mandatory. In the European Union, workers are legally guaranteed at least 20 days of vacation per year, sometimes more. France gets 30–yes, an entire month.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.48.42 PM
Chart courtesy of CPER report.

2. Only 6 million Americans took a week’s worth of vacation in 2014, out of over 150 million employed adults.  

That’s a considerable decline from 1976’s 9 million vacationers, especially when taking into account that 60 million more Americans have jobs today, as per population increase.

3. Today, the average American gets 14 vacation days, but only uses 10.

That’s according to an extensive survey by travel company Expedia. Their 2013 data shows that this four day surplus is twice as much as the previous year, and would account for 577,212,000 total days off that might be better served at the beach.

Another study found that about 40 percent of workers forsake an average of 8.1 days each year. Oh, the places you could go… but won’t, for some reason.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”kHurYQpDWnbdig5QqQ1R0WX9LSO6u3sl”]4. Of those with paid time off, only half used their full amount of vacation time.

A Glassdoor survey of 2,300 American workers with paid vacation revealed that workers only used about half of that granted to them. 61 percent of people also worked on vacation, with one in four in contact with coworkers, and one in five in contact with their boss.

5. That’s if you have paid vacation to begin with: A quarter of the American workforce doesn’t get paid time off.

Those lacking are largely employees of smaller companies, part-time workers, and low-wage workers.

6. For those that do get vacation, and don’t use it, there are several possible reasons.

Publications cite fear, job insecurity, competitiveness, and a culture of over-working as reasons. One study found that one third of 1,000 recipients said they couldn’t afford time off, 40 percent feared returning to a mountain of work, and 35 percent believed no one else could do their work.

7. Americans also work more in general. And most employers do not encourage vacation time.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

According to the same survey, two-thirds of American employees said their company either doesn’t mention the need to take vacation days or even actively discourages using them.

Did we mention 30 percent of North Americans identify as workaholics, already?

8. The stigmatization of vacation hurts the economy, and may be bad for both productivity and happiness.

Numerous studies and health experts have emphasized the fact that vacation time makes workers healthier, happier, and more productive. And yet, it’s largely ignored or downplayed in the United States.

As Bloomberg puts it, the accumulation of sacrificed vacation days literally amounts to a donation of over a million years of work annually.

But it’s not just hurting us — the financial burden of high stress levels and other factors of this mentality, which author William Chalmers calls a Vacation Deficit Disorder, may cost U.S. businesses and taxpayers over a trillion dollars a year.

9. Based on average salaries, $34.3 billion of vacation pay is wasted annually.

Time to start packing your bags.

Originally published on September 9, 2014. 

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert