The average American worker earned 14 paid vacation days in 2011. Me? I had zero.
That’s right. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
There’s a simple reason for my lack of vacation days: I’m a freelancer. Hence, I have no actual boss who could give me paid vacation. I set my own hours, my own schedule, and typically work twice as much in the week or two leading up to my vacation to guarantee that I complete my assignments before I leave town.
My husband on the other hand… well, he has a boss. He also works in a field that makes taking vacation days about as easy as eradicating the national debt. Last year, he earned 15 days of paid vacation, but – for one reason or another – was only able to take 11 of them.
Turns out, he’s not alone.
A Nation Without Vacation
According to a November 2011 survey by the travel website Expedia, American workers left an average of two paid vacation days on the table last year. The folks at CNN Money did the math, and calculated that means the American workforce as a whole is forfeiting a total of 226 million vacation days, worth an estimated $34.3 billion dollars. And, by some accounts, that’s a low-ball estimate; another 2011 survey (this one by Expedia competitor Hotwire) found the average American worker left 6.2 vacation days unused each year. That figure represents more than $100 billion dollars in paid time off.
The sad fact is, many Americans consider paid vacation time a privilege. I remember at my old job, I couldn’t wait to hit the 10-year mark, when I’d earn that coveted third week of paid vacation a year. Meanwhile in other industrialized nations, paid vacation isn’t a privilege: it’s a right. The United States is one of the only wealthy nations that doesn’t require employers to give workers vacation days. In Germany and Japan, federal regulations give workers a minimum of 20 paid vacation days annually; the number is even higher in France, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Even China and Mexico have minimum-vacation policies for workers.
The Benefits of Vacation
I just got back from a week at the beach with my family and our best friends. And while I got a killer tan and ate some amazing fresh seafood, my time away was more than just a chance to hang out with those near and dear to me: it was an opportunity to rejuvenate, reinvigorate, restore my soul, my mojo, my inspiration. Now back at work, I feel more refreshed and motivated to work than I did in the weeks leading up to my vacation.
Science backs this up. The 2010 version of that Expedia survey found that more than a third of American workers felt better about their job – and were more productive doing it – post-vacation than pre-vacation. A 2007 study by former NASA scientists found that workers returning from a vacation saw an 82 percent productivity boost post-vacation. So all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy after all.
Reader, do you use all your paid vacation days every year? Why or why not?