Why U.S. Workers Need to Step Up Their Vacation Game

A new study finds that workers from the United States, Japan, and Thailand took the fewest number of vacation days when compared to several other countries. What gives?

Why U.S. Workers Need to Step Up Their Vacation Game

According to Expedia.com’s annual Vacation Deprivation study, U.S. workers only took an average of 10 vacation days this past year.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

When it comes to taking vacation time, U.S. workers don’t stack up well against many of their international counterparts—and that’s despite the fact that they appear to be keenly aware of the many benefits of taking time off.

A new study found that not only were U.S. workers given relatively few vacation days when compared to other countries, which was admittedly not their fault, but that they also left a good chunk of what they were given on the table.

According to Expedia.com’s 18th annual Vacation Deprivation study, which was released this week, U.S. workers took the fewest average number of vacation days in 2018 of the countries surveyed, alongside Japan and Thailand.

The survey, which was conducted last month by Northstar Research Partners, questioned 11,144 employed adults from 19 countries about work-life balance. Respondents from the United States, Japan, and Thailand reported the lowest vacation usage—an average of 10 vacation days used in the past year. Countries where citizens reported taking the highest average number of vacation days were Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain, where they all took an average of 30 days.

The amount of vacation days U.S. workers were given has hovered between an average of 14 and 15 days over the past five years, according to the survey. For the past four years, U.S. workers have reported taking between, on average, 11 and 14 of those vacation days each year. But this year, respondents reported that they take an average of only 10 vacation days, a number that hasn’t dipped that low in this study since 2013.

How the United States compares to other countries in terms of vacation days given, used, and left on the table, according to a new report from Expedia

How the United States compares to other countries in terms of vacation days given, used, and left on the table, according to a new report from Expedia

Courtesy of Expedia

So, why aren’t U.S. workers taking much time off? Well, first off, the average number of days they received this year, 14, is lower than many of the other countries included in the survey. The United States is also just one of only a handful of countries worldwide where there is no mandatory paid leave by the government, and vacation time is left to the discretion of individual employers.

But other factors are at play as well. Despite widespread reports that the U.S. economy is on solid footing, finances have increasingly become a factor for U.S. workers who haven’t taken a vacation in the past six months, the Expedia report found. More than half of the U.S. respondents (54 percent) stated that they feel like they can’t afford a trip (up from 43 percent in 2017), which was more than any other country surveyed except South Korea.

While finances were considered the biggest barrier to taking a vacation, 23 percent of U.S. workers said they were holding off on taking a vacation because they wanted to bank vacation days, and 17 percent said it was simply because they couldn’t get time off work. Thirteen percent reported feeling guilty when they take time off.

Interestingly, all of this comes despite the fact that U.S. workers appear to be very tuned in to the restorative benefits of taking time off. Eighty-one percent of the U.S. respondents reported that they regularly take vacations where the primary goal is “mental wellness,” and 91 percent reported that they feel that vacation is a chance to “hit the reset button” on stress and anxiety. They also recognized that the main benefits to a vacation overall were better health and well-being, being more relaxed, and a better outlook on life.

And there are numerous studies that back up those claims. Earlier this year, the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off report found that U.S. workers who use all or most of their vacation days to travel report dramatically higher rates of happiness than those using little to none of their time for travel.

Also worth noting is that the State of American Vacation 2018, a survey that emerged from the larger Project: Time Off report, found that U.S. workers took an average of 17.2 vacation days in 2017, the highest level of paid vacation they have taken since 2010 (numbers that conflict with the new Expedia data and paint a rosier picture of U.S. vacation usage habits). But the State of American Vacation survey did point to another problem with the way in which U.S. workers take and use their time off—the study’s findings revealed that while 84 percent of respondents said it’s important to travel during vacation, on average U.S. employees used less than half of their vacation days to travel last year, or eight days total.

And employers should take note—respondents to the Expedia-backed survey reported that after taking a vacation they tended to have a better attitude and increased productivity and were more relaxed at work, and 82 percent said that after a vacation they had more patience for their colleagues and clients. So, clearly, vacations aren’t just good for the soul, they’re good for business, too. That’s our take-away at least, and we’re sticking with it.

>>Next: Vacation: It Works

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
More from AFAR