The latest survey from Project: Time Off, an initiative of the US Travel Association, finds that US employees are getting more vacation days from their employers, but still not taking full advantage of them all. Among full-time workers who receive paid time off, the average number of paid vacation days ticked up last year to 22.6, an increase of 0.7 days from 2015. Employees also used substantially more of their PTO in 2016, with the average worker taking 16.8 days off compared to 16.2 days the year before. While this is still well below the long-term average of 20.3 days in the 1980s and ’90s, the rising trend indicates that Americans may finally be getting over their recession-era fears of taking time off, Rebecca Greenfield reports at Bloomberg:
As workers feel more comfortable in their jobs, they feel more comfortable taking days off, said Evren Esen, the director of survey programs at the Society of Human Resource Management. “During the recession and post-recession, there may have been more of a sense of, ‘I need to be there, I need to make sure my job is secure,’ and not go off and take vacations multiple times a year,” she said.
Those attitudes haven’t vanished completely. Over half of the workers surveyed are leaving some vacation time on the table, Project: Time Off found. Even as they take more vacation days, the gap between the number of days they’re offered and the number of days they actually take isn’t narrowing.
In last year’s survey, Project: Time Off found that 55 percent of Americans with paid time off had left at least some of it on the table in 2015, representing a total of 658 million days of vacation that could have been. Indeed, last year was not much any better on that front, with 54 percent of respondents having failed to use all of their vacation time and the total number of untaken vacation days increasing to 662 million. The number of forfeited vacation days—those that could not be banked, rolled over, or cashed out—declined from 222 million to 206 million between 2015 and 2016, but the report estimates the value of last year’s forfeited benefits at $66.4 billion.
Why do so many employees fail to take full advantage of their paid leave benefits? Mainly, they remain concerned that doing so will jeopardize their job security, with 26 percent saying they feared that taking vacation would make them seem less dedicated, 23 percent saying they did not want to be seen as replaceable, and 21 percent saying they feared losing out on raises or promotions. The problem is not that managers don’t recognize the value of vacations: Managers surveyed by Project: Time Off overwhelmingly agree that they are good for employee health, wellbeing, and morale; improve employees’ focus, commitment, and willingness to work long hours upon returning; and help prevent burnout.
However, 66 percent of employees said they felt their company’s culture was ambivalent, discouraging, or sent mixed messages about time off—a number that hasn’t changed much since 2014. This finding, again similar to what Project: Time Off found in another survey last year, underscores the need for managers to actively encourage their subordinates to take time off, as well as to model healthy behavior by taking vacations themselves.