Analyzing why Americans leave hundreds of millions of paid vacation days unused
As a nation, we Americans are overworked and under-relaxed.
For me, this was the gist of our 2016 Expedia Vacation Deprivation Report, an annual study of vacation habits among employed adults in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. We released the results of this study today, and these results indicated we work way too much, and take way too few vacation days—especially in comparison to our counterparts abroad.
This, of course, likely adds to stress, obesity, and all sorts of other problems we face. It also likely means less travel—an issue near and dear to our hearts.
The most remarkable piece of data: Americans received 15 paid vacation days from employers in the past year, and took only 12. This means American workers effectively failed to take approximately 375 million paid vacation days within the past year.
That’s a whole heck of a lot of time not taken. And it has me asking the $10-million question: Why?
Paid vacation: a right in Europe, a luxury in Asia
The subject of paid vacation certainly is a lightning rod. I’ve shared the stats about unused vacation days here in the United States, but elsewhere in the world, the situation looks much different.
Across Europe, for instance, paid vacation days are very much a right. Workers in just about every country take all of their vacation days. And they don’t get dinged for it, either.
In Asia, however, the attitude toward time off is similar to the attitude here. Our study revealed that South Koreans are given 15 days and take only 8, the least among the 28 countries surveyed. The Japanese take 10 of 20 days available; Malaysians take 12 of 16 possible days and Thai workers take 12 of 15.
I can’t help but ask: Don’t these people miss the time off? Do we?
Vacation deprivation is a state of mind
Another vagary of our data was that respondents in some countries have vastly different perspectives on what constitutes a vacation.
Case in point: 68 percent of Spanish and United Arab Emirates workers said they feel “very or somewhat vacation deprived,” even though their nations both give out 30 days of paid time off. On the flipside, a full 25 percent of Americans described themselves as “very vacation deprived,” the highest percentage in the field. Americans actually get a decent amount of vacation time—they just don’t use it.
This probably would be a good time to tell you more about the survey itself. Expedia first commissioned Vacation Deprivation in 2000 to examine the work-life balance of Americans. In 2005, Expedia began comparing behaviors across countries. As of 2016, Vacation Deprivation has grown to encompass 28 countries. This past year—September, to be exact—had 9,424 employed adults aged 18 and older
Vacation as an incentive, key to happiness
Our Vacation Deprivation data also opened my mind to the notion of what makes family vacation time most valuable. The answer: A lot of different stuff.
Disconnecting is a big one. This ranked third on the list of what makes Americans happiest when they are on vacation, trailing “exploring somewhere new” and “spending time with those I am travelling with.” (As an aside, the Swedes and the Danish were least likely to check email at on vacation, while workers in Hong Kong, India, UAE, and South Korea were most likely to check at least once per day.)
Personally, I think the answer simply is being together. When my family—we have four kids—goes away together, we grownups try not to “slip away” for a few hours here or a few hours there. We stay together. We talk. We share stories.
Obviously this blog post is not meant to be a comprehensive rundown of all the data from our Vacation Deprivation study—there’s plenty more where this came from. This post simply is meant to report the facts in compelling fashion, and to inspire. The reality: We aren’t using up all of our vacation days, which IMHO needs to change, stat.
How much of your vacation time do you actually use on vacation every year?
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