No worker in the United States is guaranteed paid time off, be it for vacation, holidays, illness, or a new child. But even those lucky enough to get the benefit from their employer don’t make use of it.
Forty-one percent of American workers who get paid time off as part of their compensation aren’t planning to use all of it this year, according to a survey from GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications for the U.S. Travel Association. Nearly 15 percent say they haven’t used paid time off for something other than an illness or emergency in over a year. And last year, about a quarter of workers took nine paid days off or fewer.
Chalk it up to the American workplace’s culture of overwork. Less than a third of workers say their employer encourages them to take their paid time, and over a third of senior business leaders either agree or don’t disagree with the idea that those who take all of their paid time off are less dedicated, productive, and successful. A third of workers say their company controls when and how they can take time off.
And employees fear they can’t take time because they have so much work. Forty percent say their “mountain of work” makes it difficult to take time off, while more than a third point to no one else being able to do their tasks. A third says they simply can’t afford to take the time.
The results are consistent with what researchers know about American workers. A different survey by Glassdoor found that the average worker who gets paid time off only takes about half of it, while 15 percent don’t take any at all. And when they do take a vacation or personal day, more than 60 percent say they still do some work. A report from Oxford Economics found that workers leave about three vacation days unused every year.
Yet there are clear benefits to employees taking some time away from the workplace. Nearly 90 percent of those who say it’s easy to take their time off in the Travel Association survey say they’re happy with their job, compared to three-quarters of those who say it’s difficult. Those who feel it’s easy to take time off also report being happier with their professional success, overall mood, and personal financial situation. And those who say they control when and how to take their time off, not their companies, are happier with their job and company and are less stressed.
Research backs these sentiments up. The consulting firm Ernst & Young found that for every ten hours of vacation time one of its employees took, her year-end performance rating got an 8 percent boost, while the company experienced less turnover when workers took more vacation. Former NASA scientists had a similar experience, finding that people who took vacations got an 82 percent increase in job performance when they got back. Longer vacations had more of an impact. A study of Dutch workers found taking a vacation can increase a worker’s creativity by boosting cognitive flexibility when they get back.
The economy would also benefit if more workers took the time off allotted to them, as spending would increase by $67 billion thanks to some people traveling.
The U.S. is lonely among developed countries in not guaranteeing workers paid vacation, holidays, sick days, or family leave. But there are efforts to change all of that. The country now has nine paid sick days laws at the city and state level. Three states have paid family leave. And Hotels.com has launched a campaign to put the issue of guaranteeing paid vacation time to all workers on the radar.