Employees Are Starting to Use More Vacation Days

People on vacation


For a long time, American workers were wary of taking time off work — but that is changing. In 2016, workers took an average of 16.8 days off compared to 16.2 days in 2015. While the increase amounts to less than a full vacation day, it is still a significant increase following a 15-year decline in the number of used vacation days. It seems that employees are starting to feel more comfortable taking time off than they used to.

The good old days

Employees weren’t always hesitant to take time off. From 1976 to 2000, American workers took an average of 20.3 days off. After that, the number of used vacation days started a rapid decline. Problems in the economy gave way to the Great Recession, jobs became scarce, and employees were afraid to take time off work. But as the economy and job market improve, it looks as if employees are more willing to use their vacation days. And employers are beginning to offer more vacation time — up .7 days to 22.6 average vacation days earned — to lure the best workers to their companies.

Employees still not using all their vacation days

Though workers are taking more vacation days, most still aren’t using all their paid time off. Last year, 662 million vacation days went unused, 4 million more than in 2015. The good news is, forfeited vacation days — those that cannot be rolled over to next year — were down to 206 million, an 8 percent decrease from 2015.

The cost of not taking vacation

When workers don’t take all their vacation days, the economy suffers. Employees gave up an estimated $66.4 billion in benefits by forfeiting their vacation days in 2016. Their unused vacation days cost the economy $236 billion due to lost spending. As the average vacation days used increased to 16.8 last year, it added an estimated $37 billion to the economy and produced an estimated 278,000 indirect and direct jobs, which generated $11 billion in additional income for employees.

It pays to plan your vacation

Those who say they take the time to plan a vacation are more likely to use all of their vacation days. Fifty-two percent of workers who planned their vacation days took all of them. Only 40 percent of those who did not plan their vacation days took all their time off. Seventy-five percent of planners took a week or more off, while non-planners took an average of zero to three days in a row.

What’s stopping people from taking time off?

Workers reported many reasons they don’t take time off:

  • 43% – Don’t want to return to a mountain of work
  • 34% – No one else can do the job
  • 33% – Time off is harder with seniority
  • 32% – Cannot financially afford a vacation
  • 26% – Want to show complete dedication

Many employees are afraid of how their employers will view them if they take time off. Sixty-six percent of workers say their company is ambivalent, discouraging or send mixed signals about time off.

Managers see benefits in taking vacation

Though employees may fear taking time off, most managers said taking vacation helps their employees. Eighty-two percent of managers say vacation helps improve the health and well-being of their employees, 81 percent say it alleviates burnout, 78 percent believe vacation improves their employees’ commitment to their job, and 64 percent say it makes employees more willing to put in long hours.

Where to go from here

As the economy and job market continue to improve, workers are more comfortable taking time off. They are less worried about losing their job or missing out on promotions because of taking their vacation days. To combat burnout and help the economy, workers should continue to take their vacation days. To attract the best talent, employers should consider improving their benefits, including offering more vacation time.


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