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.”