Written by Alicia Cassels, MA
An American Worker’s Dilemma
To use, or not to use? When it comes to vacation, that is the question faced by millions of American workers each year. Taking hard-earned vacation time is a no-brainer for most workers, right? -Not actually. Results of the 2018 State of American Vacation annual tracking survey indicate that the majority of American workers forfeited vacation time in 2017. According to their most recent report, 52% of workers left a total of 705 million unused vacation days in 2017. Oxford Economics analyzed the dollar value associated with this forfeited vacation time, finding an estimated $62.2 billion dollars in lost benefits. In effect, these workers donated an individual average of $561.00 dollars to their employers in 2017.
Why do American Workers Forfeit Their Vacation Time?
While a great number of factors influence whether an employee chooses to use their vacation time, the 2018 report examines three specific areas impacting worker decisions to leave time unused.
- Employees concerned about appearing less dedicated or replaceable if they took a vacation were much less likely to use all their vacation time. In total, 61% of these employees left vacation time unused as compared to 52% overall.
- Employees who reported that their workload was too heavy to get away were more likely than average to have unused vacation time, with 57% of these employees forfeiting time as compared to 52% overall.
- Employees who reported a lack of coverage at work, or that no one else could do their job were also more likely to forfeit vacation time, resulting in 56% with unused vacation days as compared to 52% overall.
The Case for Travel
While those who fail to use vacation time may report fear about negative impacts on their careers, American Vacation annual tracking survey results indicate that the opposite is true. Most striking are the results indicating that workers who use their vacation days to travel tend to be more likely to make higher salaries and receive a promotion than non-travelers.
“More than half (52%) of mega-travelers reported receiving a promotion in the last two years compared to Americans who use some (44%) or little to none (44%) of their time to travel.”
Those who use the majority of their vacation time to travel also report,
“higher likelihood of receiving a raise, bonus, or both than homebodies. Employees who used little to none of their vacation time for travel were five percentage points less likely than those who used all or most of their vacation time for travel to report a raise or bonus in the last three years (81% to 86%).”
A Promising Trend
Americans are beginning to use more of their vacation time. The 2018 report indicates that America’s vacation culture seems to be changing for the better. In 2017, more employees expressed confidence about using the vacation time they had earned, and more employers encouraged workers to utilize their vacation time. While 52% left unused vacation days on the table, that number represents an improvement over 54 percent in 2016 and 55 percent in 2015.
Is it Time for Change?
If you have tended to be in the majority, the group of American workers who leave vacation time unused each year, it may be time to rethink that stance. Through experimentation with taking time off for travel you may find that, rather than hindering success at work, using the vacation time you have earned may have a positive effect on your career.
Ustravel.org. (2018). State of American Vacation 2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Mar. 2019].