In a shocking and depressing indication of the state of many
people’s working lives, a new study from the US Travel Association suggests
that as many as four in ten US workers fail to take their full complement of
holiday days each year.
The study found that the average American missed out on an
average of 5.7 days of approved vacation time per year, largely due to the
feeling of being overworked in their employment. Despite being given the
opportunity to take vacation, it seems, many workers find that in reality they
simply have too much to achieve in order to keep their growing workloads under
While some companies allow employees to “roll over” unused
vacation time to subsequent years, many place a cap on the total number of days
that may be carried over, or a limit on how many times days may carried over
from one year to the next. The end result of this is that some employees are
essentially working for free each year; feeling unable to take vacation time
due to work pressures yet losing these untaken days at the end of the holiday
In cases where companies do allow employees to roll over
vacation time they’re opening themselves up for considerable liabilities that
may be cashed in in the future. It has been estimated that US companies are now
on the hook for liabilities of $224 billion for unused vacation days that
workers may choose to cash out in the future. Worse, the problem is far from
improving; this liability actually grew by over $60 billion in the last 12
This is equivalent to $1898 in outstanding time off payments
Even more depressingly, a separate study by Alamo Rent A Car
found that half of the Americans surveyed claimed they struggled to switch off
while on vacation. Many people seem to feel it necessary to “check in” with the
office either by phone or email on a regular basis in order to ensure that
everything is running smoothly. Possibly even more depressingly 25% of those
surveyed said they did at least some work every single day of their vacation.
Which begs the question; what really is the point of going
on vacation if you’re still working – if only from a different “office”.
Increasingly psychologists are claiming that workers who
refuse to unwind and take time away from their work commitments are risking
their health. Burnouts are, after all, far more commonplace in workaholics.
Worse, in cases where this occurs it can cost employers considerable money in
lost time and productivity, waiting for employees to come back off sick leave.
This situation then seems like a pot waiting to boil over;
employees working themselves into the ground, while employers are saddled with
ever more liabilities for outstanding vacation time and/or staff sickness. The
message is clear: if you have vacation time allotted to you, do whatever you
can to take it – for everyone’s good.