Posted: November 25, 2014

Americans Take Record-Low Number of Vacation Days
Americans are vacationing less and less.

How many vacation days did you take this year?

Statistics say not that many, and not enough. According to a report from the U.S. Travel Association titled "Travel Effect – All Work and No Pay: The Impact of Forfeited Time Off," Americans are taking less vacation time ever before. In 2013, employees only used an average of 16 paid-time-off (PTO) days compared to 20 days as recently as 2000.

To put that into global perspective, the average time taken off by employees in Europe is 34 days. In fact, the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not legally require a single paid vacation day.

There's no question that Americans are lacking in the vacation department. For U.S. employees with PTO, almost five days went untouched in 2013. The report said of those five days, 1.6 days will be permanently lost, amounting to 169 million days across the workforce. As result, an average of about $504 per employee was provided in free labor for U.S. companies. 

Though Americans are only taking an average of 77 percent of their total vacation days, there would be a huge economical impact if workers went back to averaging 20 PTO days. The U.S. Travel Association calculated that if today's employees returned to taking that many vacation hours, it would make a $284 billion difference on the U.S. economy. But compare that number to the financial imprint that stress leaves on the marketplace: Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industries more than $300 billion per year, according to the American Psychological Association.

The Stress Effect

One might think more time dedicated to the office would lead to quicker movement up the ladder, but it's not so. Employees who forfeit PTO do not receive bonuses or raises at a faster rate than those who use all of their vacation time. Unsurprisingly, they report much higher levels of stress at work. The APA report indicated that 51 percent of U.S. employees claimed they were less productive at work due to stress. 

Yet, breaks, large or small, lift our moods. Simply planning a vacation has been shown to increase happiness as far as eight weeks before the departure date, according to a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life and later detailed in The New York Times. Everyone needs a break from time to time, and vacations could actually boost your productivity when you return.

Why Americans Don’t Take Vacation

So, what’s holding Americans back from a getaway? Joe Robinson, a productivity and stress management trainer, shared how employees are more reluctant than ever to take time off work in the wake of a recent recession.

"Workers are afraid to take their vacations in the layoff era," Robinson said in an interview with CNN. "It might mark them as less 'committed' than coworkers. It's futile. People who don't take their vacations get laid off just like everyone else."

The attitude is that people don't want to be viewed as a slacker, and about 40 percent of workers surveyed said they're scared of all the work they'll get when they get back from vacation. For business travelers, work pile up is scary, but it's not the end of the world. 

Some major companies such as Netflix and Expedia are eliminating their vacation policies altogether. This allows employees to take time off whenever, they just have to ask their boss.

 For the rest of us, it may be the perfect time to make the most of "bleisure" travel, the combination of business and leisure. If you have a business trip out-of-state, extend it a few days to relax and take the break you deserve. 

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