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Americans don't use vacation days

Why will US workers give up $34.3 billion in annual paid vacation time -- or 226 million days off -- this year?

By Giselle Smith Dec 1, 2011 10:29AM

Most American workers will forfeit two of their paid vacation days in 2011 -- just as they did last year, according to an annual survey from

Given that the average full-time U.S. employee makes $39,416 per year, those unused days -- 226 million nationwide -- add up to $34.3 billion, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The Vacation Deprivation online survey (.pdf file), conducted in September and October by Harris Interactive for Expedia, polled 7,083 employed adults in 20 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia.

The results showed that Americans, who receive an average of just 14 paid days off per year, are already "vacation deprived," as are other residents of North America (Canada and Mexico), as well as those in Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

"Vacation-rich" countries include the European nations of Germany, France, Spain and Denmark, as well as Brazil, where workers earn an average of 30 days of vacation per year.

In Singapore, workers also get only 14 days of paid vacation but don't let any of them go to waste. Others who don't waste vacation days are workers in Brazil, Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden and the UK, according to the survey. Post continues below.

Expedia began its annual analysis of American vacation habits in 2001, and in 2005 expanded it to compare trends internationally.

Why don't we use our vacation time?

The top reason Americans gave for not taking vacation time was money (34%), followed by poor advance planning (15%) and the statement "work is my life" (15%).


"Now that companies are doing more with less, people have a hard time taking vacation because there's so much work to do," Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for job placement firm Adecco, told the Chicago Tribune.

Interestingly, the Expedia survey found that although 20% of workers in India gave "may be perceived negatively at work" as a reason for not using all of their vacation time, only 6% of American workers listed that reason, and 73% said their bosses encouraged employees to take time off. (In Italy, 32% of workers said their bosses were not supportive of doing so.)

Even more alarming studies

A separate study, by Hotwire, found that the average American worker doesn't use 6.2 days of paid vacation time each year.

Another survey, this one from JetBlue, painted an even more alarming picture, indicating that most Americans will give up an average of 11 days of paid time off this year. That's more than two full weeks.

The JetBlue survey, also conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 57% of American workers will have unused vacation at the end of the year, with 39% of respondents having reservations about asking their bosses for time off.

What about you? Will you use all of your paid vacation time this year? If not, why not?


More on MSN Money:

Dec 8, 2011 9:56AM

That's the problem with this country, work, work, work! It's a wonder why so many people are stressed and depressed, and in poor health, because they are not taking time for themselves. It’s not just the obesity problem this country has, but too many people are working too many hours! I’m sure we all appreciate a hard worker but there are so many people who don't know what work/life balance is. I work for a large corporation and they offer paid time off in addition to 3 weeks of vacation (you have more paid vacation days depending on length of service). You best believe I take ALL my vacation days, and sometimes I purchase a few more days off. You need that break from work! Life is too short to stress over work!! We understand that a lot of companies are downsizing, cutting back, etc, because of the economic conditions, but in no way that should mean someone should give up vacation or not take time off because of things you can't control! (economic conditions, company issues, etc). Be grateful you have a job yes, and do the best that you can at it, but remember you have a life, take time for yourself and your family! You will appreciate it and your family will! It will make you very relaxed when you go back to work!

If you own your own business, now it's understandable that you cannot take vacation days, depending on what kind of business you have. Live life people! Your body, mind and soul will appreciate some time off every once in a while! This country needs to adopt ‘Siestas” Spain : )



Dec 8, 2011 9:49AM
f**kin ridiculious - work is life?  taking a saturday off a treat?  good luck with that when you're dead and in the grave.  work is a means to get by and ENJOY what life has to offer.  maybe before 09/11  i had that work is life mentality but being in NYC that day changed my prespective on life. get out. live it.  you never know when it's too late.  i'd like to survey those 75-85 (years old) and what % wish they WOULD have used their time 40 years prior.
Dec 8, 2011 10:16AM

"Work is my life."????


I have heard too many people saying stuff like this.  Work is NOT my life.  Work is how I pay for my life.

Dec 8, 2011 8:53AM
Sad, sad, sad. Nobody will ever lay on their deathbed wishing they had worked more hours. You cannot get back this lost time, and it's one of your ever-shrinking job benefits. Take ALL of your vacation days folks!!
Dec 8, 2011 11:39AM

Work like the devil, never take a day off, pop a vein and have a stroke.  Everyone feels sorry for you, but you are replaced and life moves on without you.  Everyone says "you should have taken your time off."


Take your time off (that was given to you by the company), return to work, find yourself replaced or downgraded, complain about it and get fired or forced to quit.  Everyone says "you should have been more careful in this economy."


Choices.  Responsibility.  Crap shoot.  Guesswork.  Health.  Peace of mind.


How did it all get this crazy?  I do not know.


I take my time off for a change of pace and to feel refreshed, but also realize others cannot or will not dare to take time.  The workplace is a battlefield with potentially hidden land mines for no reasons whatsoever.


Good luck to all as I have no answers and am not qualified to give advice.





Dec 8, 2011 9:56AM
Employees work harder and longer hours in today's economy because they know, as do their employers, they are very expendable. Sure, they are told they have 'X' number of vacation days per year. However, they also know that the pressure is always on to perform at peak level and get the work done and out. In a a word they are motivated by fear. Fear of losing their jobs as there are, as we all know, thousands of people who will willingly replace any "slackers" in the company.
Dec 1, 2011 2:35PM
Just how Congress and big business want things. Companies laying off people at the drop of a hat and the people left behind doing their work and who knows how many other peoples work. Meanwhile the CEO is looking for a new jet or plane and is using all of his work days as vacation days along with upper management. They contribute oodles to Congress and Congress is at their beckon call while the naive American worker continues to slave away and not take vacation. Wake up Americans and DEMAND more from these crooked companies and most of all from your worthless Congress.
Dec 8, 2011 8:34AM
I fully intend to use my remaining 3 days off this year and have NEVER left any vacation on the table.  I don't want to look back on my life when I'm 60 and realize I spent it at the office.  Work hard, play hard, stay away from debt, be generous and giving and you'll do alright for yourself.
Dec 8, 2011 9:26AM
As a small business owner, vacation is not an option for me.  Just getting a Saturday or Sunday off here and there is a treat.  But I make my employees take every bit of their vacation each year, and I encourage them to use it in at least 2 day blocks, and not just a half days.  Though they grouse and fret that work will go undone while they're away, when they come back they're always cheerier and more productive.

I think that somewhere between the workaholics here in the States and the layabouts in Europe there's a happy medium as far as the amount of vacation time.

Dec 8, 2011 9:51AM
If anyone wants to donate any of their vacation days they're not going to use for no good reason I'll gladly take them.

Dec 8, 2011 9:38AM
There is nothing like conditioning people to a future of no vacations, benefits, or wage increases. After all to complain about the free loaders on the top who make record profits and are unwilling to share any of their gains over the past 30 years might get you the label of Socialist. How dare anyone criticize our society which serves the interests of the wealthiest few only while the masses suffer the consequences of their unbridled greed.
Dec 8, 2011 12:15PM
I ALWAYS take all of my vacation days and sick days. This is included in my benefit package and I will use it. Even if I didn't have money to go out of town on vacation I would use it for a day by myself at home or spend it with family at home. I do not answer my phone if work calls on my day off - IT's MY DAY OFF! I did that at a previous job and will never do it again. One too many calls while I was enjoying the Empire State Building for stupid questions cured me of answering my phone. There is more to life than work. I'm not rich and I have to work to get the bills paid so I will enjoy the days off I get. If you don't take vacation you need to. Find something else is life other than work.
Dec 8, 2011 10:02AM
I get 3 weeks vacation a year after 6 years here. I can take it, but the peojects don't stop when I'm gone. when I return to work I end up working 60 hour weeks until everything is caught up, so the time off versus the extra work hours is a wash. And, yes, I'm salaried.
Dec 8, 2011 8:38AM

Truth is ... everyone is replaceable. Learned that back in the '80s. Company 'disloyalty' did NOT begin with the babyboomers as one poster mistakenly stated. It began with the Companies' 'mass layoffs' back in the early '80s. Go read a book or something. Vacation ? Damned right I use it. I 'earned' it. Saving it for a 'cushion' doesn't make any sense to me. I have savings accounts for that. Vacations are for refreshing one's self and 'living' life. Get away from the everyday grind and be slothful for a week.

Dec 8, 2011 9:13AM
When one is interviewed for a position, there is a big deal about all the benefits one will receive and how generous the employer is and how great it is to work for this employer. After hiring, reality sets in. Yes, you accrue benefit time, but .... Vacation time - who will cover you and do your work since we are already short handed? Do you really know how inconvenient it is for you to take that time off then? Don't you feel guilty leaving the company in such a lurch? But then there is nothing like sick time - take it and lose your job !!  Obviously, the whole benefit game is just a hoax to get good, hard workers - then once gotten - who cares what they want !!  Its all about corporate earnings and an extra $34.3 billion lining their pockets. 
I get 14 days off a year(that number will go up to 16 next year. It is paid though, meaning I get money for staying home. They post a list every quarter for you to "Cash out" PTO hours and I always ask my co-workers why they do it. They always look at me and ask me "Why I dont do it?" Yeah getting cash for those hours would be nice(more or less getting paid 40 extra hours for free). But isnt staying home and getting paid much much nicer? I like my paid days off, even if I dont do anything but relax, maybe go to a show or sporting event, thats it. Let them cash out their hours all they want, every 6 months, I take an extra week off and still get paid!
Dec 1, 2011 12:31PM
The article does not mention vacation days that are allowed to roll to future years. In this era of "one life, many jobs," it's a good idea to stockpile as many weeks of vacation hours as possible - whatever a company will allow - for inclusion in the separation package.
Dec 8, 2011 11:29AM
this is NUTS!  I wish I had some vacation days to leave on the table.  I only get 5 sick,vacation, personal days per year total!  I desperately need a day to just sleep in, go to the dentist, clean my closets.  Use your days people!   You don't have to go anywhere, just stay home and relax.  It is important for your mental health or you will wind up burnt out like me!
Dec 8, 2011 11:19AM

I used to leave vacation days on the table, but never again.  I work for an old-fashioned southern company (and I'm NOT southern) who bend over backwards to let the married guys with children take their vacation at peak periods.  Last year upper management also granted 2 extra weeks of vacation days to a co-worker because his wife went to prison for embezzlement and he wanted to spend more time with his kids.  He also showed up late and left early nearly every day because he was upset about his wife and didn't feel like working.  Because I'm a single woman with no children, I was expected to pick up all of his slack and forfeit my vacation time since, you know, I have nothing better to do than work.


This year, I'm using every single one of the 20 vacation days I've been granted, and I'm not touching the slacker co-worker with the jailbird wife's files.



Dec 8, 2011 9:25AM
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we don't use our vacation time up. Most companies in the good old U.S.A. have done downsizing in one way or another, this means more work for less people and it becomes harder to get away without worrying about what is or isn't getting done while your gone. If you combine that with the fact that a lot of companies limit the times in which you can take vacation and then you factor in the fact that your fellow employee's need to take time off for vacation, illness or something personal. In the end you have small windows in which you can take your vacation time and it becomes impossible to make worthwhile plans to enjoy the time off so you wind up not taking it just to keep continuity at work. 
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