America’s number of unused vacation days reached a 40 year high last year, totaling almost 170 million days. The time is estimated by researchers at Oxford Economics to amount to $52 billion in lost benefits, and seems to be due to a mixture of guilt and fear by American workers.
Currently, every U.S. worker fails to use just five paid vacation days per year. Some firms have attempted to incentivize increased usage of vacation days, but workers still delay taking time off until the end of the year, or take none at all.
In addition, the culture of constant connection to the office that has evolved over recent years makes some see a vacation as pointless, since they can never truly take their mind off work. Others were afraid of all the catching up that would be needed when they did return.
A Brooklyn native who works in Manhattan, Gina Femia’s attitude towards constant connection to the office seemed to display a sense of Stockholm syndrome, “I don’t even unplug on the weekend! I don’t even unplug at night!...I love my job so it’s coming from a place of desire rather than necessity. My bosses definitely don’t expect us to be on our email post-work hours—but we all do it anyway.”
John de Graaf is attempting to change the attitude towards vacation as president of Take Back Your Time (TBYT). He commented on the issue, “The United States has never indicated that as a country we take vacation time seriously. We are the only industrial country that does not mandate vacation days and 25% of our workers receive none of them at all.”
However, the desire for a change doesn’t seem to be there. Hotels.com set up a petition titled the Vacation Equality Project, which only received 13,000 signatures, far short of the 100,000 required to mandate a formal response by the White House.
Despite that, TBYT has set a goal for 2017 to increase the number of vacation days used per American employee by one day a year.
Some companies are attempting to change the situation by offering unlimited days off and team calendars in order to facilitate scheduling between coworkers. The note-taking tech firm Evernote introduced such a program in 2012 and also offered $1,000 a year if employees took a real vacation away from home. America’s work culture prevailed though, as CEO Phil Libin failed to take his own vacation within one year of the program’s start.