Many Americans Leaving Unused Vacation Days on the Table

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013, released the results of the 2013 Vacation Deprivation study, an annual analysis of vacation habits among 8,535 employed adults across 24 countries and five continents. The study was conducted online by Harris Interactive. Now in its 13th year, the Vacation Deprivation study reveals a stark difference in attitudes towards work-life balance between countries.

Expedia first commissioned Vacation Deprivation in 2000 to examine the vacation habits of Americans. In 2005, Expedia began comparing such habits across countries. The 2013 edition is the most comprehensive to date, including 24 countries in total. 

"No one retires wishing they'd spent more time at their desk," said John Morrey, vice president and general manager, "There are countless reasons that vacation days go unused -- failure to plan, worry, forgetfulness, you name it. But rested employees are more productive employees, so taking regular vacations may well help the company more than failing to do so."

The 2013 Vacation Deprivation study found that:

Americans treat vacations as a luxury rather than a right. Over the past year, Americans were afforded 14 days of vacation and took 10, leaving 4 days on the table, twice as many as the year prior. There are currently just over 144 million employed Americans (144,303,000 according to recent BLS data), meaning that Americans collectively failed to take more than five hundred million (577,212,000) available days of vacation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the French lead the world in vacationing, taking all 30 possible days available to them. At the same time, a full 90% of employed French adults either strongly or somewhat agree with the sentence, "I feel vacation deprived," well above the global average. The feeling of vacation deprivation is also prevalent in Italy (83%), Spain (78%) and Germany (74%), despite the fact that Europeans are afforded more vacation time than any other region.

Norwegians, by a wide margin, feel no such thing: only 17% of Norwegians describe feeling vacation-deprived. Similarly, less than half of employed adults from Ireland (49%), the UK (47%), the Netherlands (41%), Malaysia (47%), Sweden (44%), Denmark (39%) and Mexico (38%) say they feel vacation-deprived.

Asian and American attitudes towards vacation are similar. While the Japanese are given a relatively robust 18 vacation days (the global average is 20), they only take 7. At 7 days taken, Japan joins South Korea as the most vacation-deprived nations in the study; South Koreans also take 7 of a possible 10 days. Thais take only 8 out of 11 possible days, while Malaysians take 14 of 17.

For many, the beach is just a sandy office. Many vacationers bring work with them, either by design or by habit. 93% of the French claim to "constantly, regularly or sometimes" check work emails and voicemails while on holiday. 94% of Indians, 92% of Thais, 91% of Malaysians and 91% of Mexicans do the same.

Americans take a more relaxed view towards work connectivity; approximately two thirds (67%) of vacationing Americans remain tethered to the office. Only 43% of Germans and 46% of the British remain tightly connected to work while on break.

Worldwide, 65% of people feel that their bosses are supportive of vacation. Fully three out of four (76%) American bosses are perceived by their employees to be supportive. The most supportive bosses compared to most countries are in Norway (88%), Sweden (80%), New Zealand (76%) and the United States (76%). Less than half in South Korea (44%), Italy (44%), Thailand (47%) and Germany (49%) say their bosses are supportive.

The reasons that many workers leave vacation days unused are myriad. The most commonly cited reason is a desire to stockpile: 25% of those who leave vacation days unused report that they "like to accumulate vacation days for trips that I may take in the future." Among other reasons:

  • Complex scheduling: 22% say it is "difficult to coordinate a time that works for me and my spouse/partner/family";
  • Financial opportunism: 18% report that they can be paid for unused vacation days, a practice common in India (37%), Brazil (30%) and Spain (27%);
  • Financial worry: 16% believe they simply cannot afford a vacation;
  • Failure to plan: 15% say that if they don't schedule vacations far enough in advance, they never seem to be able to take all of it;
  • Plain old work: 11% say that work is "their life" and that it is hard to get away;
  • Workplace insecurity: 8% report they feel "important work decisions" will be made in their absence;
  • Mean bosses: 8% feel taking every available day will be perceived negatively.

Once they do get away, most find it easy to relax almost immediately. Worldwide, 48% say they leave work behind "as soon as I leave on vacation," while 20% do so the moment they arrive at their destination. Only 10% of respondents say they are "never" able to fully relax on holiday. That is most true of the Japanese -- 18% of Japanese workers claim they never relax with Thais (15%), Indians (13%) and South Koreans (13%) having similar sentiments.