Fair   N/AF  |  Forecast »
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print

Vacations Not Taken: Time Off Essential to Quality of Life

The mantra “use it or lose it’” doesn’t apply only to physical exercise. It also applies to your paid vacation time from work. 

Amazingly enough, American workers let 429 million paid vacation days expire each year without taking them. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), about three-quarters of American workers earn paid time off. They’re just not taking it. 

Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly 40 years – just 16 days used in 2013, almost a full work week less than the pre-2000 average of 20.3 days. The growing stockpile of unused paid leave is contributing to worker burnout and even affecting a company’s bottom line, according to a SHRM survey.

Americans are becoming notorious for not taking their paid vacations – and Europeans, many of whom get six weeks a year and use it – think we’re crazy. So what’s the deal here?

According to a labor watchdog group called Project: Time Off, workers say they aren’t fully using the time off they have earned due to “barriers deeply rooted in the culture of the American workplace.” 

They say we are a nation of “work martyrs,” and believe we can’t take vacation because we are irreplaceable (or want to be) and that the time off isn’t worth the work load they face before and after a vacation. And some cite the recent economic downturn, when workers were afraid of losing their jobs for any reason, the group says.

Kevin Kaveny, managing director for Northwestern Mutual Life in Colorado Springs, says his company assists a lot of veterans who save up their paid vacation for the end of their military service in order to have a cushion for their transition to the real world. That he can understand.

But in many industries, including his own, “there’s always just more work to be done and no end in sight. We’re all just caught up on the treadmill of life.”

Most employers want their employees to take their vacation time, SHRM found.

Kaveny agrees. Taking vacation contributes to what he calls QOL – quality of life. Taking that vacation time is important “if you want happy employees who like working for you.”

Nearly two-thirds say their concentration and productivity at work improve with taking time off and 61 percent report greater satisfaction at work after taking vacation time. This sentiment is echoed by senior business leaders, 91 percent of whom believe employees return from vacation recharged and renewed—and ready to work more effectively.

So what are you waiting for? 

“There’s a light switch on that 

wall for a reason,”

Kaveny says.