A new survey from the U.S. Travel Association shows that 40 percent of all Americans do not use all of their vacation time. At the end of the year, there are roughly 430 million unused vacation days on the books as a result of our “dedication” to work. Of course, this dedication is not driven by job satisfaction. It is driven by fear – the fear of being laid off, fear of being passed over for promotion, fear of not getting a salary increase, and fear of being over-inundated with work upon returning from vacation.
America is already behind other advanced economies when it comes to vacation time. Workers in most European countries are guaranteed at least 20 days of paid vacation time. Some European countries provide as many as 30 days of paid leave. That is on top of the 10 or more days of paid leave in recognition of national holidays
Meanwhile, here in the states, workers average about 16 paid holiday and vacation days per year. These days, as we know, are not mandated and, as this new survey shows, are grossly underused by nearly half of the nation’s workers.
In addition to the 40 percent of Americans who do not use their vacation days, nearly one quarter of U.S. workers are not offered paid leave, at all. That’s about 26 million Americans who cannot take a vacation day even if they want to.
One does not have to be a doctor to understand that working day-after-day without some type of meaningful vacation is not good for one’s health. As it stands, it is likely that many Americans are using vacation time to get things done around the home, care for their children or run errands. These are hardly the type of activities that will help employees come back to work re-charged.
It is time to re-think vacation time in the United States.
The answer is unlikely to come from federal or state governments. Most Americans have an aversion to the government telling employers what to do when it comes to wages and time off, even if European-like mandated vacation time would benefit them.
The answer must come from employers, who must become more insistent on workers using their vacation time. Such insistence benefits not only the employee, but the employer, as well, in terms of increased productivity, lower turnover, higher job satisfaction, increased employee engagement, etc.
HubSpot (http://www.hubspot.com/jobs), a Massachusetts-based marketing software developer, requires all employees to take at least two weeks off per year. And, while a growing number of companies offer employees unlimited vacation time, a handful, such as Evernote (https://evernote.com/careers/) and FullContact (http://www.fullcontact.com/about/careers/), provide financial incentives to actually use that time. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Evernote offers to pay each employee $1,000 to get away. FullContact offers employees $7,500 per year to help fund a non-working vacation.
Such policies should not be isolated to the tech sector. Workers in health care, manufacturing, construction, food service and retail, have just as much right to enjoy time-off from work without the threat of job loss or demotion hanging over their heads. Workers in every other developed country are able to take far more vacation time without their economies collapsing (at least not as a result of mandated vacation policies). It is time for workers here to enjoy the same benefits.