Vacation time? What’s that?

Americans not taking their vacation daysIf you’ve been wondering if you’re the only chump in the business world who never takes advantage of all the vacation days you’re due … it turns out you’ve got lots of company.

We have three separate surveys conducted within the past six months that point to the same conclusion: American workers are the great ones for skipping their vacation time.

In a survey conducted by Kelton Research for the Radisson hotel chain, American workers reported that they are granted an average of 18 vacation days per year. But in 2011, nearly half of the ~1,000 survey respondents took 50% or fewer of their allotted vacation days.

A startling finding for sure. But Harris Interactive discovered a similar result in its American Travel Behavior Survey conducted for Hotwire.com. That survey of ~2,000 adult workers fielded in late 2011 found that the average American employee left more than six days of paid vacation “on the table” at the end of the year.

Lastly, a survey conducted for JetBlue Airlines in September 2011 found that nearly 60% of the ~1,100 workers polled didn’t use all of their allotted paid vacation days.

The average number of days not taken? In this survey, it was a whopping 11 days.

Why are so many people taking so few vacation days? Especially when it’s something nearly every social psychologist says is important for a healthy balance between work and social life?

The survey findings give us tantalizing clues: It’s a combination of “taking one for the team” and just plain “fear”:

 Excessive workload raises the “guilt level” for taking vacation time.

Concern about asking for vacation days even when the time is due, because of lean office staffing and how the time off will affect work colleagues.

 Reluctance to play “catch-up” in the workplace following a vacation. Overstuffed e-mail inboxes are just the beginning.

 Concern about job security in a time of high unemployment.

Looking ahead, will workers will start taking more of the vacation days they’re due? If these surveys are a correct barometer, the answer is a firm “No.”

4 Responses

  1. Hey Phil, did you ever read that online piece ‘America: The Grim Truth’? Google it. It is very black and white, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, yet it does accurately describe a few typical USA issues, lack of vacation being one of them.

    • I’ll have to check that one out, Robert. I think you have an interesting perspective on this, being a European national who has worked in the United States as well as in other countries elsewhere in the world …

  2. Hi Phil and Robert,

    interesting trigger here for a scope of potentially explosive subjects. One critical ingredient is the “American Issue”. I just made up the term to encompass A) the Puritanism (righteousness and guilt), B) the imperialism (manifest destiny – aka righteousness – and, yp, underneath it: guilt), C) global economic imperialism, aka global company town and its fall-out for the average “working stiff”.

    To get this one out of the way: The “global economy” has played a major part in this trend away from vacationing. If I may translate the term: One used to have certain talents, skills and capabilities, and earned a living based on them. My livelihood was determined by my doing my job. This is no longer the case: Some anonymous corporate ’person’ out there owns my livelihood. I have little or no influence over it and it can be yanked out from under me and my family for any arbitrary reason -–or no reason at all.

    “My livelihood belongs to someone else and they don’t care, and you tell me to take a vacation?”

    Sure, any classification sooner or later falls apart, and, on the surface, these “U.S. issues” have long been exported, but the fundamental alienation from a healthy sense (and practice) of life rhythms is a particularly American one. With the – triple guilt enforced*** – seventh day being reserved for . . shopping ;), and the evenings and daily off times being strictly regimented by a television must watch list, we are looking at a driven population who no longer has the capacity to be still. In fact, I would dare say it is vegetating in abject terror of any real and non-circumscribed feeling.

    ***[1. Judeo-Christian rest mandate; 2. fallen behind on shopping duties; 3. what’s wrong with me that I cannot afford most things?]

    A friend of mine told of how, after a wonderful, deep, weekend workshop, she simply sat at the airport for five hours, doing absolutely nothing but sitting at the airport for five hours. She was actually able to do that. The average person would spend this time in terror of a tsunami of unmanaged “life” sweeping them off their feet. Add to this the medicated state of a large majority, why would you want to risk stepping outside the safe confines of wage slavery?

    So often, in my previous naturopathic practice after I had worked on people on the table and then covered them with a comforting blanket, it took less than a minute or two before the patient began sniffling, and soon sobbing with the “stuff” that suddenly had been made space for in the wake of some subtle bodywork.

    In keeping with the saying “wherever you go, there you will be”, why then would anyone want to risk a time-out with no agenda, no distraction, no escape from oneself? And they often don’t, even if they go on a vacation. It’ll be Disneyfied anyway. It will be “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium”. And most of the time will be spent coming and going, somehow, somewhere, vs so little time actually being . . anywhere.

    It is 10 am now, a weekday, and I will go feed the goats now and sit on the rock overlooking the pasture for an hour, watching them graze …

  3. […] blogged before about the propensity for Americans to forego using all of their allotted vacation time in a given […]

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