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.
It’s not news that Americans take too few vacation days, at a cost to their health, happiness, and productivity. We’ve also heard that it falls to managers to set an example for their employees and make clear to them that it’s really OK to take the time off to which they are entitled. At the Wall Street Journal, John Simons passes along a new survey from Project: Time Off that puts some numbers behind that assertion, finding that more than two thirds of employees “hear either negative chatter, mixed messages or nothing at all from their bosses about using their vacation days”:
“While managers are incredibly supportive of taking vacation, they are out of touch with employee attitudes concerning time off and how loudly their actions communicate a much different message to workers,” writes author Katie Denis in “The High Price of Silence,” a study that surveyed 5,641 full-time workers in the U.S., including 1,184 respondents who have managerial responsibilities and 312 executive and senior leaders. All told, the report says 658 million vacation days went unused in 2015. …
Senior leaders—those with titles comparable to vice presidents, senior vice presidents, directors and managing directors—are modeling the worst behavior, according to the survey. A majority of those managers (52%) said they think no one is capable of doing their work when they aren’t around, and 55% believe taking a vacation will only result in “a mountain of work” upon their return.
While role modeling and positive messaging seem to be the most important things bosses can do to encourage their employees to take vacations, there are other techniques they can try. One innovative tactic some organizations are trying out is “paid, paid vacation“—i.e., not only paying employees for the time they take off, but also paying for their travel and lodging.
With so many Americans leaving paid vacation days on the table, another possibility is to give employees a way to use the value of their accrued time off, either to pay for a vacation or to contribute to other rewards. Anders Melin and Ben Steverman at Bloomberg profile PTO Exchange, a new startup that “lets workers trade unused, paid time off for travel or contributions to 401(k) plans and health savings accounts”:
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Andrew Soergel at US News and World Report outlines the troubling findings of a new study into Americans’ vacation habits:
The average American worker took about 16 days of vacation in 2015 – relatively unchanged from the year before but down notably from the 20-day average seen between the late 1970s and 2000, according to a new report from Project: Time Off, an initiative launched by the U.S. Travel Association. What’s more, more than half of U.S. workers – 55 percent – left at least some vacation time on the table in 2015. All told, the report – which involved a survey of more than 5,600 employed Americans – estimates a whopping 658 million vacation days went unused. Collectively, that’s more than 1.8 million days that could have been spent on a beach. …
All told, the study estimates 55 percent of U.S. employers allow their workers to roll over unused vacation time into the next calendar year. Another 19 percent pay workers for time they didn’t use on a retreat from the office. And about 27 percent have a “use it or lose it” policy.
Still, though, it’s estimated that 222 million would-be vacation days essentially were forfeited in 2015, meaning they could not be banked, rolled over or used for some other benefit. About 37 percent of respondents said returning to “a mountain of work” was at least one of the reasons why they couldn’t take more time off. Another 35 percent said they couldn’t leave because “no one else can do the job,” and 33 percent said they couldn’t afford to go on a trip.
The dollars-and-cents impact of this lost vacation time is significant, according to the report, which calculates the value of the vacation benefits American employees left on the table last year at $61.4 billion. Had they used those vacation days, the report adds, this would have resulted in $223 billion of spending, which would have created 1.6 million jobs and $65 billion in additional income.