Money & Business

What’s Stopping You From Using Your Vacation Time?

By / Aug 26, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Earlier this year, the U.S. Travel Association looked into how much paid time off Americans were leaving on the table each year. (It was a lot.) But why are so many days going unused? A follow-up study tried to answer that question.

Are you feeling like you need a vacation? According to a study for the U.S. Travel Association’s (USTA) Travel Effect initiative earlier this year, you probably have some paid days off at your disposal. But you’re not likely to use them.

In 2013, Americans left 429 million vacation days on the table, or about 3.2 days per worker, according to the study.

We ought to start seriously talking to people about enjoying their time off and getting the most out of it.

So why are we not using the vacation time we’ve earned?

Last week, USTA released a follow-up study conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications that looked into that question. According to the 1,303 American workers surveyed, it boils down to two things: a fear of being replaced and poor communication between managers and employees.

“Employees said that their organizations are always looking to downsize, and if they’re away for too long, they’re afraid that the organization will want to do without them,” said USTA President and CEO Roger Dow. “And, even though 95 percent of the 235 senior executives that we talked to for the study said they want their employees to take time off—they think it’s healthy, they think it’s good for productivity, relationships, for their families—67 percent of the employees said the organization never says anything to them about using their vacation time.”

This combination of poor communication and fear of job loss has resulted in what Dow called a “work martyr complex”—where workers complain about being overworked but claim that their employers can’t do without them even for a brief vacation.

“We ought to start seriously talking to people about enjoying their time off and getting the most out of it,” said Dow. “Once we get people to realize that this is a challenge, then we can begin attacking it.”

Other key findings from the study:

  • Workers cite returning to a pile of work (40 percent) and the feeling that nobody else can do their job (35 percent) as the top reasons for not using paid time off.
  • While on vacation, 37 percent of senior leaders reported completely unplugging from the office, compared to 74 percent of employees. (President Obama can probably relate here.)
  • Five out of six employees at organizations with “use it or lose it” policies said they planned to use all of their vacation days this year, while just 48 percent who can roll over, bank, or be paid out on their unused days plan to use them all. Only 26 percent of organizations have a “use it or lose it” policy.

According to ASAE’s newly released 2014-2015 Association Compensation and Benefits Study, 29.7 percent of associations allow employees to carry over paid vacation days.

Dow said USTA will begin to segment the data to see which employees are less likely to use their paid time off. And for employers that carry over unused vacation days, USTA hopes to quantify their financial liability for time that they’ll have to eventually pay employees for.

“We’re starting a dialogue, and I think that this is going to be a whole lot richer than just the travel industry,” he said. “There’s an opportunity, as we gather all of this information, to form a coalition of different associations to understand the impact that taking vacation time has on all of those industries and really effect some meaningful change moving forward.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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