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Care@Work / Care@Work Blog / Nearly Half of Americans Didn’t Take Vacation in 2014. Why Not?

Nearly Half of Americans Didn’t Take Vacation in 2014. Why Not?

Patrick Ball on January 23, 2015 11:17 AM

Another study, another reminder that our employees are struggling to take time away from the grind. 

Last year, the statistics were jarring. A US Travel Association report revealed U.S. employees surrendered 169 million days of paid time off in 2013, totaling more than $50 billion in lost benefits. Only 25 percent of employees with paid time off took all of their vacation time in 2013, and the majority of those who did admitted to doing some work while on vacation, according to a Glassdoor survey.

And new research from the travel website Skift really hammers the point home. According to a survey conducted over the first few days of 2015, 42 percent of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day last year.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: That’s bad for workers, it’s bad for their families and it’s bad for their employers, too.

The Skift survey, part of a series tracking the travel habits of Americans throughout 2014, also revealed only 13 percent of adult Americans felt they could afford to take all of their allotted vacation days, and that women took fewer vacation days than men in 2014.

Skift’s results were based on a limited sample size – a survey of 1,500 respondents in January 2015, administered through Google Consumer Surveys.  But they reflect growing concern around overwork and the bleeding together of work and life. 

“The overworked, under-vacationed and under traveled American is a cliché, and 2014 was no different,” says Skift CEO Rafat Ali, in a statement announcing the survey results.  “Hopefully 2015 will see the travel industry band together to figure out better ways to get Americans to take a break; organizations like USTA and brands like Master Card and Expedia are trying.”

But this is bigger than the travel industry.

Overworked employees, who take the least amount of PTO, are among the most stressed and employee stress costs enterprises around $300 billion annually, according to the World Health Organization. So businesses large and small all have skin in the game.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are not required to provide payment for time not worked, including personal leave, sick days, vacations or holidays. But most employers do provide some level of PTO, so it becomes a matter of getting employees to take the time they’ve earned.

Here are a few of the biggest reasons employees aren’t taking their vacation time – and what you can do about it.

  1. Fear
    A major obstacle employees need to overcome before they can enjoy paid time off is the fear that they'll be buried under a pile of work once they return -- or worse, that they won't and they'll be viewed as expendable. So make sure coverage plans are in place before an employee leaves to take vacation. Involving them in the coverage plans will give them a sense of involvement, along with the confidence to truly unplug and enjoy their vacation knowing that their responsibilities will be covered while they're away. 

  2. Perception Taking Time Off Is Frowned Upon From On High
    If organizational leaders don't value taking vacation or time away from the office, how can employees feel comfortable doing what their boss does not? Establish a culture of permission from the top down; lead by example and model the work-life balance that should be possible for all employees, regardless of their position in the company. Communicate to your employees that they've earned their PTO and will not be penalized for taking it.

  3. Affordability
    The Skift survey indicated only 13 percent of employees felt they could afford to take the fairly standard allotment of 10 vacation days. As the economy recovers, the hope is that working families should be better able to make ends meet. But there are things employers can do to make taking vacation time a little bit easier on the wallet. Offering paid time off, for example, would avoid compounding the expenses of a vacation with the loss of a paycheck. Remind your employees that they don't have to travel to take time away from work to spend with their families.

When all else fails, kick them out of the office if you have to.