Can You Vacation Your Way to a Promotion?

For years, I’ve written about America’s ever-worsening vacation habits and all the problems on the horizon. But for the first time, there is evidence of meaningful change.

Americans are using more vacation. A lot more, really. In the last year, we went from using 16.2 days on average to 16.8 days. That more than half-day shift meaningfully changes the trend line for the first time in 16 years.

But let’s get real. The long-term average prior to 2000 was 20.3 days. Calling 16.8 days “victory” is akin to spiking the football 40 yards short of the goal line. We’ve still got a long way to go.


We can start by questioning our assumptions of what will make us successful. Does working hard mean working long? Will skipping vacation will make us appear more dedicated or valuable? 

I have 206 million reasons why those assumptions are flawed.

Last year, Americans left 662 million days of vacation on the table, a third of which (206 million) were forfeited. These forfeited days could not be rolled over, paid out, or banked. Employees who forfeited time last year probably thought that sacrificing that time would help them get ahead, but the data proves that it not only didn’t help them—it may have hurt them.

Employees who forfeited vacation time were less likely than those who didn’t to have been promoted within the last year and to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years. All this is on top of the $66.4 billion in benefits they lost by forfeiting time last year.

The same holds true for the wannabe work martyrs of America. The term “work martyr” doesn’t carry positive connotations, but four-in-ten Americans still say that they want to be seen that way by their bosses. This is absolutely insane. It’s made even more insane when you consider that those very same people were less likely to report receiving a recent raise or bonus and no more likely to be promoted than the saner part of the workforce that didn’t think it was a good thing to be viewed as a work martyr.


What vacation forfeiters and work martyrs don’t understand is that their competitive advantage is not appearing productive, it’s actually being productive—and true productivity isn’t measured in hours. (In fact, fewer hours may even be good for productivity.)

On top of that, has anyone ever had a creative breakthrough sitting at their desk? Innovation expert Mitch Ditkoff has interviewed 10,000 people over the last 30 years about where they get their best ideas, and less than two percent of them say at work. Cases in point: The inspiration for Starbucks as we know it came from Howard Schultz’s trip to Italy in 1983, where he walked the streets of Verona and became inspired to change the direction of the company. Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda said it was “no accident that the best idea I’ve ever had in my life—perhaps the best one I’ll ever have in my life—came to me on vacation."

So now I have an idea for all you work martyrs and vacation forfeiters. Grab a calendar, make a plan, and find the time. The numbers don’t lie, but your assumptions about the path to success might.

May 23, 2017