Hey! Stop wasting your vacation time

A new survey finds that while economy has cut paid days off, US workers won't even use the ones they have.

By Jason Notte Nov 16, 2012 4:42PM

Image: Businesswoman working at computer - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Blend Images, Getty ImagesIf you're not going to take the vacation days you're given, don't complain that you never get any time off.

According to an annual survey by travel site Expedia (EXPE) and Harris Interactive, U.S. workers received an average of 12 vacation days in 2012, down from 14 in 2011. Those workers didn't help their cause by only taking 10 of those days off and lagging not only their notoriously holiday happy counterparts in Germany, France and Sweden, but Singapore, Brazil and Malaysia as well.

You know those days aren't a suggestion, right? They're not a trick to lull the laziest, dumbest worker bees into a brutal swatting by management. They're yours for the using, and U.S. workers are just using them wrong. It's easy for U.S. workers to look at the 30 vacation days workers take each year in Spain and call it a symptom of their economic woes, but workers in Brazil and France take the same amount of time in far more comfortable and industrious economies.

British, Norwegian and Swedish workers take all 25 of the days they're given, while stereotypically fastidious Germans are also among the world's most prolific tourists and vacationers -- taking 28 of their possible 30 days off. Meanwhile, the Japanese take only five vacation days out of a possible 13 each year and their economy is contracting.

So what's your excuse, Americans? Some of you can blame the recent economic downturn and the fact that you're coming back to work at new positions or careers with less seniority and vacation time. When folks in the rest of the world can't use vacation days, it's because they are banking days for future use (23%) or just can't coordinate with the folks they want to vacation with (23%). In the U.S., 28% percent of workers who don't use their vacation days answered, "I cannot afford to take holidays."


We understand that if you're self-employed, own your own business or perform any of a variety of tasks that don't come with vacation days, vacation is money out of your own pocket. But if you're given vacation days, those are paid days. You're paid the same for those hours whether you show up or not.

Folks who don't have vacation days to throw around want to take your calendar and club you over the head with it every time you play vacation martyr, put your hand to your forehead and declare that you simply can't afford a day off. Maybe you can't afford a weekend in Paris, but sleeping in, having an extra cup of coffee, catching up on reading and doing just about anything short of work while getting paid for it doesn't have to be expensive.

You know who gets this? Canadians. Yeah, those folks just to the north of us sulking their way through a hockey lockout and bracing for a long winter. They get roughly 16 vacation days a year and use roughly 16 vacation days a year. Want to know why? Because they're not trying to make a statement or impress the European and Asian countries with just how quickly they can work themselves to death.

Not that those countries are all that impressed with U.S. workers' flair for the dramatic, either. Taiwan -- you know, the place all your Wal-Mart stuff is made in -- actually wants to know why you're not taking more vacation days. Taiwanese workers get an average of 15 vacation days a year. Know how many they take? 25. If you're not going to use all your vacation days, the Taiwanese will gladly take those extras off your hands.

Don't think that all those austerity measures on in Europe are making that continent any less vacation inclined either. Not only do Norway and Sweden love taking vacation days, but more than 84% of bosses in each country encourage it. You don't even have to cross the Atlantic to find bosses more encouraging than the 73% who back their employees' vacations in the U.S. A full 83% of Brazilian bosses also encourage their employees to take off, have fun and bring back lots of pictures.

If you wouldn't leave a portion of your paycheck unused, don't just leave paid vacation days sitting on the table, either. The only thing that proves is that you're remarkably adept at wasting both time and money.

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Nov 16, 2012 5:56PM
Take a vacation, what?  I would suspect most don't for about the same reason I don't.  Work extended hours for two weeks prior and after just so I am not too far behind my deadlines.  I can take a vacation from work sure, but it just means I have the same amount of work to due in less time to accomplish it.  Maybe it shouldn't be this way, but it is.
Nov 16, 2012 8:21PM
Part of the problem might be that companies are expecting 110% of last years production on 85% of last years staff. It is time to put a foot down and stop acting like we can make do.  I can see a temporary and infrequent need to shoulder more, but quite frankly making a trend of it is a problem. A soul can put off recharging the batteries for only so long, similar to kicking the fiscal can down the road - soon enough and likely at a very inconvenient time, the gauge is gonna read 'E". 
Nov 16, 2012 4:56PM
Take your vacation, economic times are hard, but your need rest and leisure time also.
Nov 16, 2012 6:50PM
I think the issue is that we aren't encouraged to take time off. You are even discouraged from it and made to feel guilty if you do. I worked for a company for 12 years that didn't give vacation and sick days, they gave paid time off so you had a choice vacation days or sick days. If you planned vacation, don't get sick or plan in shortening your vacation. Plus we had blackout days (no vacation time allowed at major holidays) and you could only take one week off at a time during the summer so you couldn't plan long vacations, so if you have kids forget taking a trip during the summer unless you could work it out to get 10 days off (we worked alternating weekends). This is the problem in this country, companies give vacation days to make it look good, but they don't really want you to use them, period.

Nov 16, 2012 8:53PM
I have worked hard to get my 15 days off with pay - so I'm taking them and enjoying every second of them! 
Nov 16, 2012 6:45PM
It is a common practices in many businesses that no matter when you want to take vacation there is always a reason the boss doesn't want you to take it then.  You submit your request up to 3 months in advance and its all go until about a week or two before you go and then you are told you can't take it then.  Airline tickets, none of that matters.  I use to work for a place where if you used the excuse you had non refundable tickets - you had to bring in proof.  Later you will have work piled on you when you come back - as a sort of punishment for taking the time off. 
Nov 17, 2012 3:55PM

I hope the author actually looks at these responses and follows up with some "real world" interviews.  What is obvious from the responses is

a.) overworked and understaffed prevents time off

b) fear of job loss prevents time off

c) PTO (combo of vacation & sick time) prevents full utilization of vacation for fear of getting sick

d) Keeping a cushion in case of layoff prevents time off

e) Scumbag managers taking advantage of the crappy economy to keep your nose to the grindstone

Taking vacation to "recharge" is obviously good for your health and helps reduce stress, however, balance that against the current economy and the stress encountered worrying about losing your job while on vacation.  I think we all agree the former stress is preferable to the latter.

Nov 17, 2012 5:27PM
Now how is my CEO going to get another million in bonuses if I take all of my vacation days? 
I get 160 hours a year.  I can 'bank' 240 total and after that I either use it or lose it.  I am permitted to donate 80 of those hours to someone who might have come into problems (cancer treatment, caring for a terminally ill spouse or child, got hurt in an automobile accident ... etc)  and I do that.  That leaves 80 hours per year that I have to either use or lose. Problen is our staff has been cut back 8% per year for the last MANY years.  We are down from 110 full time employees when I started to 82 full time employees now.The work load has actually INCREASED significanty all the while we are told to do more and more with fewer and fewer people.  Next year we will lose another 5 - 8 people and another 5-8 kn 2014 as well.  I would love to take my leave ... but the work doesnt stop just because I am not there to do it.  It keeps right on piling up and if it gets too far behind the regulations start piiling on the fines.  Puts a whole new light on that whole "Big Government getting bigger" statement doesnt it.  OH .... didn't I mention?  Yep ... I am one of those lazy useless overpaid government workers you complain so bitterly about.
Nov 16, 2012 8:31PM
I work for a major corporation and I receive 22 days of what is called paid time off which is a combination of vacation and sick time.  Even though we are "encouraged" to take our time reality kicks in and the bosses want this and that, oh, of course it is all due yesterday.  Planning to take a week?  Have to work 60 hours the previous week to prep and then work 60 hours the week after to catch up.  Will I complain?  Hell no.  There are a 100 guys waiting in line to take my job - maybe at 30% less than my rate.  I may have my faults but being stupid isn't one of them.
Nov 17, 2012 2:14AM
Right.  Use my vacation time.  So while I am gone I can come back and find I have been downsized.  My last job I was told I had used too much vacation time.  I had ten days banked - not to be earned, but already earned - and used two - TWO of the ten.  I was told my time off was excessive.  What?!
Nov 16, 2012 10:17PM

I’m in the damned if you do damned if you don’t situation in which I’m maxxed out on vacation yet can’t use it.  If I were to take off every day from now to the end of the year, I still couldn’t get down to the limit of 320 hours.   Year-end deadlines make taking even one day unlikely.

I get lip service from my supervisor, The Donna, that she doesn’t want me to lose my vacation.   However, the department is woefully understaffed and when push comes to shove and I request time off she vacillates and then pelts me with all kinds of questions and demands about the workload to the point that it’s not worth it to even bother asking.  Upper management won’t allow payouts of excess (except for them), stressing the importance of vacation being for rest and refreshment;   but then they won’t authorize anywhere near adequate staffing levels.  

I own my company so I really don't get vacation days. Then again, no one is going to lay me off.
Nov 16, 2012 5:08PM
I've had people in Human Resources tell me not to use all of my vacation days, when they are first introducing me to the company and telling me how many I have.  They monotonously state "you get 10 vacation days don't use them all"  like it's something they tell all of the new hires, and they say it so boredly, like they figure this rule is common knowledge.  It's the employer's way of telling you that you don't actually get that many.  Both times it happened, it was long before our current economic recession.
Nov 16, 2012 11:36PM
I have never taken all of my earned days off in many years if ever. You are loaded down with so many emails from counterparts not on vacation that it is a monumental task to  answer all of them or have massive attachments  with each one having  deadlines due in an almost impossible turnaround time( like the day you get back), So what do we do, we take our computers with us and spend what truly should be time off answering emails. There is something to be said about going somewhere where there is no communcation connections to computers or cell phones to truly get away.
Nov 17, 2012 12:18AM
I end up spending my vacation days catching up on around-the-house work, so even the days off aren't days off.
Nov 17, 2012 9:01AM
What I've been doing and I imagine others too is keeping my PTO balance as high as possible as protection against being let go. I can carry 200 hours into the next year so I typically 'trim' the balance by taking VAC late in the fall to not lose any hrs over 200. Unless and until the unemployment rate drops I feel this is a hedge against becoming unemployed. We're cut a check if laid off. But what I wish my company allowed for was to cash out of some or all of the balance. I'd vote for a federal law that forces all employers to offer buyback of PTO.

What this article missed (typical of MSN) is WHERE and WHO does/has the discretionary income come from to take vacation in this economy? So what if you earn PTO, you need money to to travel unless its gonna be a 'staycation.'

Nov 16, 2012 9:46PM

Making up work missed during even a week's vacation can leave one more stressed out before he or she left on the so-called vacation. Even if you have decent vacation time, taking too many days off (all earned by the employee, mind you) can conflict with billable time goals and leave you at the mercy of a complaining employer. This gets even worse in understaffed companies.


I spent one of my best vacation days missing a company athletic tournament and visiting a local spa for the day instead. Most coworkers did not want to go either but attended because they did not have the nerve to tell management they did not want to go.

Nov 16, 2012 6:01PM
I don't take all my days. If I work those days instead of staying home, the next January, I get paid for the unused time. It is like getting an extra bonus right after the holidays. It's great!
Nov 17, 2012 1:08AM
I work in healthcare.  Hospital has cut nursing positions.  Only a certain number of nurses can be off at any given time, so, if someone is on maty leave, or off for surgery/illness/FMLA , or if census has been running high (the norm these days). . . no one else can take vacation.  If you max out your vacation time, that's OK . . we've been told that by contract we are allowed to accrue a certain number of hours, and since no one is taking anything AWAY from you, if you've maxed out, but can't take vacation it's OK, because you aren't actually losing vacation. . .you simply aren't accruing any more.  :)  Ha Ha.
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