Working for Free: U.S. Workforce Forfeits $52.4 Billion in Time Off Benefits Annually

WASHINGTON—American workers permanently lost a total of 169 million days of paid time off across the workforce in 2013, according to a new analysis, “All Work and No Pay: The Impact of Forfeited Time Off.” These days could not be rolled over, could not be paid out, were not banked or used for any other benefit.

Conducted by Oxford Economics for Project: Time Off, the study shows that by forfeiting this time American employees surrender $52.4 billion in benefits. That puts the value of a forgone day, where workers are providing free labor for their employers, at an average of $504 per employee.  

“Americans are taking the value of their time for granted. By passing on vacation days and working instead, U.S. employees are serving as volunteers for their companies,” said Adam Sacks, founder and president of Oxford Economics’ Tourism Economics division. “We discovered that this forfeited time has substantial individual, national and economic implications.”

The analysis also highlights trends in American vacation habits. Notably, Americans are taking less vacation time than at any point in nearly the last four decades. In 2013, employees took an average of 16 days of vacation compared to an average of 20.3 days as recently as 2000.

“If this trend continues, the vacations of our childhoods could be a thing of the past—completely unknown by the next generation. That would be a true loss for our families and our country,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

The economic potential of returning to the pre-2000 vacation patterns is massive: annual vacation days taken by U.S. employees would jump 27 percent (or 768 million days), delivering a $284 billion impact across the entire U.S. economy.

Contrary to popular opinion, more time at the office does not correlate with a raise or bonus. In fact, employees who left 11-15 days unused are less likely (by 6.5 percent) to receive a raise or bonus than those who used all of their vacation days.

Employees who leave the most time off unused are also more stressed. Americans who leave 11 days or more unused reported being “very” or “extremely” stressed with their work lives, compared to those who left less time on the table or took all their time off (31 percent vs. 25 percent).

“America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful. We need to change our thinking. All work and no play is not going to get you ahead—it’s only going to get you more stress,” Dow added.

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Methodology

Oxford Economics’ analysis is based on the Monthly Current Population Survey results reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and a June 2014 survey of 1,303 American workers conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications in conjunction with Oxford Economics. The BLS data compiles long-term vacation activity, while the GfK results indicate average vacation days taken. By combining the two data sources, Oxford Economics determined long-term, historical vacation activity among American workers.

About Project: Time Off

Project: Time Off is an initiative to prove the personal, business, social, and economic benefits that taking earned time off can deliver. We aim to shift 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. Learn more at ProjectTimeOff.com.

About Oxford Economics

Oxford Economics is one of the world’s leading providers of economic analysis, forecasts and consulting advice. Founded in 1981 as a joint venture with Oxford University’s business college, Oxford Economics has become one of the world’s foremost independent global advisory firms, providing reports, forecasts and analytical tools on 200 countries, 100 industrial sectors and over 3,000 cities. Our best-of-class global economic and industry models and analytical tools give us an unparalleled ability to forecast external market trends and assess their economic, social and business impact.

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