Destinations

Studies agree that U.S. workers aren’t using the vacation days they have

Dec 07, 2012 5:52 am

Skift Take

A rested worker is a productive worker, but a mix of a cult of busy-ness and fear that time off will lead to more work keep employees at their desk when they should be on the beach.

— Jason Clampet

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

Americans deserve a break — but many aren’t taking one .

Three new studies say that most Americans decline to use all the vacation days they’ve earned on the job.

The surveys, conducted separately in the fall for travel giants Hotwire, Expedia and JetBlue, differed on the total unused days, but all showed that most Americans planned to leave vacation days on the table: from two to 11 on average in 2012.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said as much in the JetBlue survey, with the other surveys showing similar results. In addition, the surveys all indicate that the number of vacation days being used has decreased significantly since last year. The Hotwire survey shows a 48 percent jump in the number of unused days from 2011 to 2012.

Those findings are no surprise to Worthington resident Melinda Pohl, who’s familiar with unused vacation time.

Pohl, 31, a quality-assurance specialist with a medical-support company, used only four of about 20 available personal days before they vanished on her service anniversary in October.

“Oct. 1 rolled around, and I realized I still had 31/2 weeks of vacation I hadn’t used,” she said.

It’s not as if Pohl couldn’t use the time off: She has a 15-month-old daughter at home.

“I thought about taking a week and just doing the stay-at-home mom thing, but I didn’t.”

Like many others who don’t use their time off, Pohl said she resists leaving the office because she knows the work will just pile up when she’s gone.

“It’s almost not worth the stress of having double the work when you get back,” she said. “It’s like you need a vacation from your vacation.”

Pohl acknowledged that she has friends in the office who find a way to use their time off.

“I’m just a self-proclaimed workaholic,” she said. “I like working and being productive and efficient, and it doesn’t burn me out not to use my vacation time, even though my husband would beg to differ.”

Pohl’s work habits aren’t unusual, at least in the United States, said Tracy Dumas, associate professor of management and human resources at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University.

Unlike Europeans, American workers tend to find more of an identity within their careers and to view working long hours as a badge of honor, Dumas said.

But research she has seen also indicates that job security is a central worry for many workers who skip taking time off, she said.

“When we think about where our economy is today, it’s understandable that people who are concerned about keeping their jobs might think, ‘If I use all these vacation days, my company might realize it can get along without me.””

Many lose the time, Dumas said, because only a small percentage of American employees can “cash in” — or hold over — vacation days from year to year.

Sarah Gavin, director of public relations for Expedia, said the recession and fears about job security only partly explain the skipped vacation days.

“We’ve been doing this survey for eight years in the United States, and even when times were good, we’d still see that Americans weren’t using all their days,” Gavin said.

“It seems like it’s a part of the American culture to leave vacation on the table.”

The Expedia survey also looks at vacation usage in other countries.

Europeans receive and use the most vacation, Gavin said.

French, Spanish and German workers use all the vacation they’re given — about 30 days a year, compared with the 12 that Americans average, she said.

Asian workers, like Americans, tend to skip vacation days, she said. South Koreans and Taiwanese employees use about seven of a possible 10 vacation days, and Japanese use an average of five of their 13 available days — the least in the world.

Most good employers, Dumas said, understand the importance of employee vacation time.

“There is a pretty substantial and growing body of work that shows people need that time away, that people are better at work when they have their time away to recharge.

“The best thing organizations can do is to make taking time off a part of the organizational culture — to say, ‘Hey, it’s good if you’re gone for a bit — for you and for us.””

Pohl said she plans to take more of her vacation days in the coming year.

“I would love to travel,” she said. “We actually ventured out with our baby last winter to San Antonio.”I was working during the trip, of course, but it was great.”

(c)2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio). Distributed by MCT Information Services. 

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