Why Americans Waste 658 Million Vacation Days a Year
Life + Money

Why Americans Waste 658 Million Vacation Days a Year


Are we a no-vacation nation? Well, data shows we’re not good at taking time off.

According to a new study by Project: Time Off, a nonprofit partnership sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association, 55 percent of Americans didn’t use their full vacation allotment in 2015. That left us with 658 million unused vacation days. Of that time, 222 million days couldn’t be carried over, meaning that employees forfeited $61.4 billion worth of benefits.

The study finds that Americans actually took slightly more vacation in 2015 — 16.2 days, up from 16 days in 2014 — but workers also received slightly more vacation time (an average of 21.9 days), meaning that a greater share of their allotted days went unused.

The report says that the economic cost of all that unused time off is significant. Project: Time Off calculates that if Americans used all our earned vacation time, it would add $223 billion in spending to the economy and would help create 1.6 million new jobs, resulting in $65 billion in additional income.

Related: Why Unlimited Vacation Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Those calculations should be taken with a shaker of salt — it’s hard to argue that Americans taking home the same income would suddenly spend a whole lot more if they weren’t working. But the underlying point remains: Americans now take nearly a workweek less in downtime every year than we did three decades ago.

“Americans skipping vacation is a recent phenomenon, with the decline starting around the year 2000,” the report says.


What’s changed since the turn of the century? The report’s authors say it’s more than the economy. They note that the drop in vacation days used coincided with the advent of online connectivity, which put additional pressure on employees to work longer hours and stay connected to the office through smartphones. “As Internet adoption goes up, vacation usage goes down,” the report says.

Workers themselves point to some other explanations, but fear clearly is a factor. The survey of more than 5,600 workers suggests that many feel anxious about what will await them when they get back. Worries about the cost of a vacation and a desire to demonstrate “complete dedication” to their jobs also play a big role.

The top reasons given in the survey were:

1. Returning to a mountain of work. (37 percent)

2. No one else can do the job. (30 percent)

3. Vacations are too expensive.  (30 percent)

4. Taking time off is harder when you grow in a company. (25 percent)

5. We want to show complete dedication. (22 percent)

6. We don’t want to be seen as replaceable. (19 percent)

West coast states (Washington, Oregon and California) have the highest rates of workers with unused vacation days (64 percent), while workers in the northern Midwest states (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) have the lowest percentage of unused vacation days (50 percent).

Despite all this, 95 percent of Americans polled agree that time off is important to them.