Americans Work So Hard That We’re Not Using Our Vacation Time


Among American workers lucky enough to get paid vacations or other time off, most aren’t taking all of the time given to them, according to a survey from Glassdoor.

The average employee who gets paid time off only takes about half of it, and three-quarters are only using some of it. Fifteen percent report not taking any time at all.

Perhaps even worse, even when workers do take time off, over 60 percent say that they still do some work. That may be because their colleagues don’t stop even when they do: nearly a quarter say they were contacted by coworkers about work and 20 percent were contacted by their boss. They may also be driven by the fear of high expectations, as 19 percent report that they work on vacation because they feel like they can’t be disconnected, 17 percent are afraid that they won’t meet their goals and the same percent fear they’ll lose their job, and 6 percent say they work during their time off because they’re afraid of their bosses.

Other studies have come to similar conclusions as Glassdoor. A report from Oxford Economics estimates that American workers leave about three vacation days unused each year.

The failure to take vacation time doesn’t just mean that Americans are working themselves too hard. It also means that companies and the economy suffer. Taking time off has been found to boost productivity. Ernst & Young found that for every ten hours of vacation time its own employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent and there was lower turnover. Former NASA scientists found that people who take vacations see an 82 percent increase in job performance when they return, with longer vacations making a bigger impact.

The Oxford report also estimates that if workers actually used those unused three days and took the time to travel, leisure spending would increase by nearly $1 trillion. Even if only some people traveled, spending would rise by $67 billion. That would add $160 billion in business sales in the leisure industry and $52 billion in additional income.

For many American workers, however, the problem is even worse, as they don’t get any paid vacation time from their employers at all. The United States doesn’t guarantee any paid vacation time or holidays, unlike 20 other developed countries. That means nearly a quarter of workers don’t get paid vacation time, and that share has actually grown over the past two decades. On top of all this, about 40 percent of workers also don’t get paid sick days and only 12 percent get paid family leave.