When you leave vacation days unused, you’re leaving more than money on the table.
Science has spoken. Travel = happiness. So why do more than half of all Americans leave vacation days unused every year? In 2017, U.S. workers forfeited 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. And in 2019, a poll conducted by Bankrate found that 13% of Americans plan to take fewer than one-quarter of their vacation days – and 4% say they plan to take no time off at all – even though their employers offer it.
How the U.S. stacks up
A recent Center for Economic and Policy Research report dubbed America the “no-vacation nation” because of its (lack of) federal law mandating time off. In the European Union, member countries are required to give employees at least 20 working days of paid vacation – but many go well above this number.
By contrast, the U.S. is the only country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – a group of 36 of the world’s wealthiest nations – that doesn’t require its employers to give workers any paid time off. This leaves 23% of Americans with no paid vacation and 22% without paid holidays.
This no-vacation culture in turn can lead to guilt in those of us who want to take a vacation. Maybe we feel like we can’t bear to take time away from the office. Maybe we’re worried it will make us look like we’re not working hard enough. Maybe we just get so busy we don’t notice how long it’s been – until a whole year has sped by and we’re leaving money and benefits behind yet again.
Why you need some R&R
The same technology that allows us perhaps to find more work-life balance can also skew the balance when we try to take time off. It’s too easy to take “just one peek” at email. It takes effort and some willpower to truly unplug. Here are some compelling reasons to work hard at playing.
Taking time off is good for your career. In a 2003 study, one group of employees took a vacation and one group didn’t. Employees who took a vacation experienced much less burnout – which led to greater achievement. Another study of more than 5,000 Americans found that people who took less than 10 vacation days a year had a 34.6% chance of getting a raise or bonus in a three-year period, whereas people who took more than 10 days had a 65.4% chance of landing a raise or bonus.
Taking time off is good for your company. Well-rested workers have greater productivity – and that positively impacts your company’s bottom line. Plus, after a vacation, two-thirds of people say they’re refreshed and excited to get back to their job. Workers who completely unplug on vacation and spend time in nature also report a boost in creativity.
- Settle into your favorite space – at home in a comfortable chair, out in nature, at your regular coffee shop – and brainstorm vacation ideas with your family.
- Put your plan into action. Talk to your advisor about regularly saving for an annual trip or two.
- Safeguard your time. Plan far enough ahead so that you can really get away and unplug.
Sources: “State of American Vacation,” US Travel Association; “What Does America Have Against Vacation?” Washington Post; “Richard Branson Called American Vacation Policies a ‘Disgrace.’ Science Proves He’s Right.” Inc. magazine