658 Million Vacation Days Were Wasted Last Year, So What’s the Good News?

Mark Twain once said*, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

He could have easily been talking about the American vacation. Well, vacation is not dead yet. But Project: Time Off’s latest report, The State of American Vacation 2017, reveals that it’s not faring well.

Over the past 15 years, American workers have been taking less and less vacation, and the latest numbers suggest America’s vacation deprivation era is not yet over. In fact, it may be getting worse.

Let’s break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from this report. But with all due respect to Clint Eastwood, I’m starting with the bad and the ugly so we can finish on a high note.

The Bad

Americans left 662 million days of vacation time on the table last year. That’s 1.8 million years, the same age as Homo Erectus, meaning our one-year total of unused vacation days puts us back to before humans existed.

Those 662 million days have a lot of potential, too. Not only would they bring personal and professional happiness to the workers who use them, they also have the potential to create a $236 billion economic impact and 1.8 million jobs. 

The Ugly

But hold on, it gets worse. A full third of those unused days—206 million to be exact—are forfeited. That means the days cannot be rolled over, paid out, or banked for retirement or other future use. At an average of two forfeited days per worker, American work martyrs have a clear prescription: take two days and call your employer in the morning.

Employers too should be worried about forfeited days. Not only are employees missing out on the proven advantages of time off—greater productivity, creativity, and engagement, to name a few—they may feel resentful that they have lost a benefit that they earned.

Perhaps ugliest of all is that workers who feel that denying themselves vacation is a way to get ahead may be completely wrong. As it turns out, employees who take 11 or more vacation days a year are much likelier to have received a recent raise or bonus than employees who took less time. 

The Good

Don’t despair, America. There’s some good news. For starters, the overwhelming majority (95%) of American workers still strongly believe that vacation time is important.

There’s more good news looking at a comparison between 2014 and 2016 results. The challenges facing American workers have lessened—sure, only slightly, but they are all moving in the right direction. Even though there’s reason for hope, there is still vast improvement that needs to be made before proclaiming the beginning of a cultural shift in the workplace.

Perhaps best of all is that there’s an easy solution. Plan your time off. It might sound overly simple, but the rewards for taking time to plan out your vacation year are significant. Workers who plan their time off are more likely to use their earned vacation days and, even better, happier across all nine categories measured—including with their professional success and personal financial situation, some of the biggest things that give workers anxiety about taking time off. 

The summer has just begun. There is still plenty of 2017 left to plan and take your time off. Grab a calendar and do your part in reducing the 662 million days—you’ll be happy you did. 

*Allegedly, in the way that he once said many misattributed things.

Note: Project: Time Off recently released new research that updates some of the facts and figures in this resource. See how they’ve changed in our new report, The State of American Vacation 2017

June 14, 2016