The Many, Many Vacation Days Not Taken

Here’s a new buzzword to add to your lexicon: “under-vacationed.” It’s how Project: Time Off, which regularly surveys American workers on how much time they take off from work, describes the 55 percent of U.S. workers who left vacation days unused last year, according to its latest survey. Previous Project: Time Off research showed that 42 percent of Americans were leaving vacation time on the table.

Project: Time Off is sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association, which obviously stands to benefit from more people taking time off to, you know, travel. But the research seems pretty legit, using polling firm GfK to conduct random representative samples of the U.S. population. This year’s survey queried 5,641 American workers working at least 35 hours per week, including 1,184 managers who are company decision-makers.

American workers have lost a full week of vacation, the research finds. Previous research conducted by Project: Time Off found U.S. workers’ vacation usage had fallen to 16.0 days a year—nearly a full week less than the average between 1978 and 2000, when it was 20.3 days per year. In the latest analysis of vacation usage, American workers took 16.2 days of vacation in 2015.

This year’s survey marks the first time that a majority of American workers have left vacation days unused. Previous surveys showed that 42 percent of Americans were leaving vacation time on the table. These “under-vacationed” Americans left a total of 658 million unused vacation days, far exceeding the previous estimate of 429 million unused days, according to Project: Time Off.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds: Previous Project: Time Off surveys were conducted mid-year and asked respondents how much vacation time they anticipated using during the year. However, the latest survey was conducted in January and required that respondents know the exact amount of time they’d used during the previous year.

Why are so many Americans leaving their vacation time unused? Fears that employees would return to a mountain of work (37 percent) and that no one else can do the job (30 percent) topped the list. People who ranked higher in the organization also expressed concern that it’s harder to take time off when you hold such positions (28 percent). Twenty-two percent cited the idea that employees want to show “complete dedication” to their company and job.

People with high-ranking positions can have a big impact on changing this trend for the better: Eighty percent of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would be likely to take more time off.