Skift Take

Travel brands trying to coax U.S. employees out of their offices may be preaching to the choir. Most employees probably don't resent the idea of time away from the office and would likely take vacation days if they felt their bosses truly encouraged it. It's U.S. employers who need to hear from travel brands even more as they set the standard for vacation policies and their promotion.

U.S. employees let some 429 million vacation days go unused each year and their bosses shoulder much of the blame for not talking about vacation in the workplace, according to a new report from U.S. Travel Association.

The report by U.S. Travel argues that although 80% of managers and human resource leaders believe vacation time is important and 67% feel vacations make employees more productive, over two thirds (67%) of U.S. employees say they’ve heard either either nothing, negative, or mixed messages from their bosses about taking time off. U.S. Travel’s Project: Time Off that surveyed U.S. employees and employers on their vacation time and looks at why Americans are stuck in a cycle of forgoing their vacation time and taking less time off than years past.

The problem starts with employers: nearly half of managers surveyed (46%) continue to stay connected to work while on vacation and 53% actually admit to setting a poor or bad example for taking vacations. About 80% of employees said they’d use more of their allotted vacation time if their bosses told them to do so, provided they don’t have to check-in with the office when they’re trying to escape it.

“Beyond corporate culture, the disconnect between what managers think about vacation’s importance and what they do or don’t say about it likely comes from the misbelief that nothing needs to be said,” a Project: Time Off spokesperson told Skift. “The fact is, if you don’t talk about it, a time off policy is only worth the paper it’s printed on. Beyond what they say, managers may not realize what their actions—working throughout vacation, skipping vacation entirely—are communicating to their employees.”

Americans’ vacation habits used to resemble those of many Europeans who are notable for taking the holidays they have been promised by employers. Until 16 years ago the average American who took time off each year took about 20 vacation days. The dot-com boom’s culmination in 2000 and the later rise of mobile technology, flexible work, and decreasing worker protections made it more difficult to leave work at the office and harder for employees to believe a vacation is possible, Project: Time Off said. Americans who do take time off took an average of 16 days of vacation as of 2014, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This translates to nearly a full workweek of fewer vacation days used compared to the 1976 to 2000 period (see chart below).

But Skift found 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day in 2015 and the report also points out that this percentage has remained consistent for the last three years, and likely more representative of the American working population. And about 17 percent of travelers that Skift recently surveyed said they took fewer than five vacation days last year.

Project: Time Off’s analysis shows that beginning in 2009 Americans used nearly a half day less of vacation annually. It warns that if this trend line continues the average American will use less than a workweek (5 days) of vacation in 20 years and zero days by 2046.

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Source: Project: Time Off

“The downturn in America’s vacation habits coincides with technology’s rapid expansion in the workplace and a fundamental shift to the ‘idea economy,’ said Project: Time Off. “You simply can’t leave work at the office anymore. These changes, exacerbated by the Great Recession, may be the root causes of America’s lost week of vacation.”

Full-week vacations have been declining since 1980 with fewer than two percent of U.S. employed adults taking a full-week vacation (five weekdays) as of 2014. The percentage of employees taking partial-week vacations (between one and five weekdays) increased from 1980 to 1996 and then plateaued.

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Source: Project: Time Off


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Tags: u.s. travel

Photo credit: Tourists enjoy a sunny day in Miami Beach, Florida. Dan Peltier / Skift

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