Average American gives $500 in ‘free’ work to their company each year; vacation levels at 4-decade low

Ocean's City's hillarious vacation day commercial (Click to watch at iSpot.tv)
Ocean’s City’s hillarious vacation day commercial (Click to watch at iSpot.tv)

I’ve talked a lot in The Restless Project about how Americans’ work-life balance is non-existent — stolen by technology, the recession, and data-wielding companies.  Today comes further evidence of that in a report that, with a nice twist, assigns a dollar value to it.  Here’s the awful truth: You volunteer, on average, about $500 of free work to your company every year by leaving unused vacation days on the table, according to the report, issued Tuesday by the U.S. Travel Association.  Ugh.   Merely returning to pre-2000 vacation rates would mean folks would take 27 percent more vacation, creating 768 million more vacation days, worth a $284 billion jolt to the economy.

Worse yet, the report found that Americans are taking less vacation time than at any point in the last four decades.

“Americans are taking the value of their time for granted. By passing on vacation days and working instead, U.S. employees are serving as volunteers for their companies,” said Adam Sacks, founder and president of Oxford Economics’ Tourism Economics division. “We discovered that this forfeited time has substantial individual, national and economic implications.”

Click to learn more about The Restless Project
Click to learn more about The Restless Project

Sure the travel association has an agenda with this research, but it fits neatly with plenty of other research in this area.  And, I’ll be, your own experience, too.

In 2013, employees took an average of 16 days of vacation compared to an average of 20.3 days as recently as 2000.

“If this trend continues, the vacations of our childhoods could be a thing of the past—completely unknown by the next generation. That would be a true loss for our families and our country,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Other highlights (lowlights) from the report:

  • Employees who leave the most PTO unused are also more stressed. Americans who leave 11 days or more unused reported being “very” or “extremely” stressed with their work lives, compared to those who left less time on the table or took all their PTO (31 percent vs. 25 percent).
  • Employees who didn’t use their days off did not receive promotions or raises faster than their counterparts who took all of their vacation days. Employees who left 11-15 days unused are actually less likely (6.5%) to have received a raise or bonus than those who used all of their time off.
  • On average, American employees lose $504 in surrendered benefits by not taking their vacation days.

 “America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful. We need to change our thinking. All work and no play is not going to get you ahead—it’s only going to get you more stress,” Dow added.

Madison Avenue has noticed this trend; Mastercard recently launched a massive ad campaign around the notion of unused vacation days, called “One More Day.  And the city of Ocean City, Maryland did something similar (and very funny) this summer.

The clock is ticking on this year’s calendar. Have you used all your vacation days? Why not?

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About Bob Sullivan 1343 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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  1. It's Labor Day. Millions of Americans will be working unpaid overtime this weekend. Stop it. — bobsullivan.net

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