Americans are gluttons for punishment — and we have only ourselves to blame.
Recently, CBS News reported that workers skipped 169 million days of paid time off according to the U.S. Travel Association. The study, executed by Oxford Economics determined the economic value of those days was $52.4 million, with each vacation day equal to $504 per employee. It is likely we’ll see similar — if not larger — numbers accumulate by the end of this year if current trends hold.
The trend for the past four years is approximately 40 percent of American workers do not use all of their annual leave. Long term, the data shows a steady decline. From 1976-2000, workers averaged 20.3 days off. Since 2000, the trend has shown a decrease to the current average of 16 days.
There are multiple studies that point to the value of taking time for ourselves away from the workplace. We can recharge our batteries, reduce/eliminate stress, strengthen family relationships, expand our horizons, potentially improve the bottom line, etc. Yet, for all of the positive of getting away, we don’t do it.
The issue has become so concerning that a non-profit organization – Project Time Off – was formed with the expressed purpose of “shifting culture so that using personal time off is not considered frivolous, but essential to strengthening families and improving personal health, a business investment with proven returns, and an economic necessity.”
The group has been active on social media, creating coalitions and engaging the business community in the Upside of Downtime Forum in Washington, D.C. But Project Time Off is not a singular voice. There are many learned individuals who have studied the issue for many years and they all come to same conclusion — it is rare that an individual or their organization does not suffer when work is a 24/7/365 proposition.
The reasons for the unused vacation time tend to gravitate around: 1.) company culture does not support taking all earned vacation; 2.) the traditional American work culture does not value time off; 3.) direct reports either mimic their supervisors who do not take vacation time or are afraid to take time off for fear of retribution; and 4.) there would be too much stress in catching up on work that accumulated while away.
So, how does one take vacation when they have been traditionally guilty of letting days go by unused? Those with expertise on the subject suggest:
- Help facilitate a discussion at your workplace if the culture does not support staff taking vacation time.
- Delegate work and make plans so that the most important work gets done while you are gone, with the less important left for your return.
- Communicate with your customers/clients/vendors in advance so that they are aware of your absence and you are not stressed with emergency requests while away.
- Start small and build up your time away. Perhaps you start with a “staycation” at home where you explore your own community, but do not stress from being physically disconnected.
- Have a conversation with peers who have overcome the “vacation aversion” and learn what they have done to cut the cord and have learned to leave work behind.
The good news is that once a person takes time off and truly experiences life outside the cubicle and elevator, they are hooked. There is too much of this world to enjoy: the fresh mountain air of the Canadian Rockies, the stimulating cultural experience on a European River Cruise, the sun and sand of a Caribbean all-inclusive resort, or a relaxing cruise in the Mediterranean.
Let Acendas help you enjoy your time away from work. We bet you’ll find you wish you’d done it earlier.