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Americans not taking vacation, and it hurts

A survey finds people will leave an average of nine days of paid vacation unused this year. The stress that comes from not taking a break can affect their health.

Most Americans will leave about nine days of vacation time on the table this year, according to a new survey by Hotwire. Why are we working so hard?

It's partly out of fear. Americans are afraid their bosses will think they're lazy or that their job could get eliminated while they're away. But not taking vacation matters. John De Graaf, who made a documentary about overworked Americans called Running Out of Time, has found there is a high cost to not taking vacation.

"Women who don't take regular vacations are anywhere from two to eight times more likely to suffer from depression, and have a 50 percent higher chance of heart disease," he says.

For men, the risk of death from a heart attack goes up a third.

"We are just like cellphones and iPads -- we have to be recharged on a regular basis, says Joe Robinson, a consultant with Optimal Performance Strategies. He says all this work isn't necessarily making us more productive. And it comes with a huge price tag: "$344 billion a year."

That's the amount American businesses spend on stress-related health care costs, according to a study by Middle Tennessee State University.


We want to hear from you: How many vacation days do you get each year and how many do you use? Tell us on Facebook or in a comment below. 

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.
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I live in the UK where the norm is 30 days vacation, sick pay varies from 10 days to 6 months on full pay and reduced pay after that. What some of you are describing sounds like 3rd world conditions. I knew Americans tended to have less holidays but to not take them sounds incredible. Any company trying that on over here would find it impossible to get any takers at all. As for firing someone for being off sick more than a few days, they would soon find themselves in front of a tribunal and paying compensation. The French have even better conditions, we think they are spoilt! When do you get time to relax and enjoy your life?

I have only taken 2 vacation days per year, for each of the last 4 years. And I've only missed a total of 1 sick day in 4 years.

I try not to go to the Doctor because I know that my bosses have a low opinion of people who miss work due to illness.

I try not to take vacation most of the time, except on weekends I know my boss may be out on vacation. If he cancels his that week, I cancel mine.

I want to keep my job so I work very hard. Probably too many hours, but I can't do anything to risk getting fired. I usually work from around 8am till 7pm or 8pm M-F, and from around 12noon till 6pm on Saturdays. But those are just my regular hours, and I typically work much more than that on weekends and holidays, and am always on call on my cell phone.

But that is the price we all must pay in the current economy it seems. Everyone is always available all the time to do any work no matter how long it takes or what it interferes with. To have any other attitude towards work as coming before family, before health and before anything else, is to put yourself in a position to be fired.

We technically get "10" vacation days per year, but they do not stack from one year to the next. I do not know anyone in our office who has ever taken all 10 of their sick days. Most will take 3 or 4 a year, but never all 10. Anyone I know who came close to using all 10 has been fired.

We also are supposed to have "5" sick days per year, again, they do not stack. I suppose I know others who have used 2 or 3 sick days before. Anyone I know who used more than that has been fired.

In a small company with about 20 employees, I can say that I have seen at least 12 employees be fired in the past 4 years. That turnover rate may not be that high compared to retail or fast food, but for a professional office setting, it sounds higher than average.

Although I have limited managerial responsibilities, and none regarding how much work or vacation time to take, I get asked questions about it all the time. All I say is this: "Well, you can talk to office manager about that, but if you're asking me personally I only use 2 vacations days a year, but thats not official company policy, thats just me personally"

Its now become ingrained in my brain that anyone who expects to take more than a few vacation days a year is asking to be fired. It may not be the wonderful life filled with vacations that everyone wants, but its the reality we seem to be living in.

We took two weeks this year. Next year, my taxes will increase $8000 and we will not reduce our charity or kids college savings. Something has to give so no vacation because We the people have to balance Our budgets. Math is math.

I have lived and worked in Norway for thirteen years and it has taken me all of that time to finally get used to taking the five weeks of vacation that all in this country have guaranteed by law. Norwegians think failing to take time off is a form of mental illness. It is sometimes a strain to cover for colleagues who are on vacation but everyone gets their turn so the burden is gladly shared.

I work for a company that only offers 12 days of PTO (that's vacation AND sick time rolled into one) each year; accruing at 1 day per month over the course of the year. That's far less than any other company that I've ever worked for; but in this economy, one cannot be choosy when a steady paycheck is offered.

I never ever take any lengthy vacations,I take my days off linked with a national holiday. I have been layed off or gone through too many restuructures in 32 years to not believe that taking a vacation affects your career.

After four years at my present employer, the PTO increased from four to five weeks. PTO is Paid Time Off. It includes sick time, but if you're not sick, it's all vacation. We are forced to use it all, every year.

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