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Americans are taking fewer vacation days

Raghu Manavalan Jul 17, 2015
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Though summer can conjure images of vacations, resorts and road trips, fewer Americans are actually taking time off from their jobs to go on those vacations. 

Katie Denis is senior director at Project: Time Off, an organization that researches paid time off in the U.S and its effects. The company is powered by the U.S. Travel Organization, which represents many companies in the travel and tourism industry.

In a recent report, Project: Time Off found that the declining American vacation is actually a relatively new problem. “When you look at how much vacation we’ve taken historically, there’s this idea of the storied American work ethic, and that’s always been part of the fabric of our country. But we looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that starts back from the ’70s to about 2000, we have this really static trend line of taking about 20.3 days vacation.”

“And then we start to drop off. And the drop off has not slowed. In just the last 15 years, not even 15 years, we’ve managed to lose almost a full work week of vacation,” Denis says. “Most people when we talk about this say, ‘Well, you know, we’re not going to be France.’ No one says we have to be France. We can be the U.S. 15 years ago. It doesn’t have to be a massive, massive overhaul of everything we can consider normal.”

Denis mentions that the traditional thinking that as hours worked goes up, productivity must follow, is also an inhibitor to why we don’t take time off.

“I was actually looking at the typical hours per week that [people in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries worked. Germany has one of the lowest hours-per-week-worked countries out there. And I think everyone really highly regards their economy— Greece in particular. They’re highly productive, but they’re on the lower end of hours. 

“I think that if you’re overworked, your productivity drops off. There’s tons of studies that show that. It’s one of those things. I know I went through that when I had my first child. I put way more hours before, but day care does not care about your work life. My productivity, if anything, went way up.”

Most people who eschew taking time off worry that work is going to pile up if they leave the office or that they don’t want to be seen as replaceable. 

Denis, though, says this is the wrong mindset. “As much as we’ve talked to employees, we’ve also talked to company leadership, managers, [human resource] leaders, trying to get a sense of what they think about the issue. And what we’re finding is they are overwhelmingly positive. They know all the benefits and taking time off. They know it’s good for their employees, but they don’t talk about it. When we ask employees, ‘OK, what do you hear from company leadership, management, about this issue?’ two-thirds say, ‘I don’t really hear anything.'”

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