Aug 22, 2014 - 10:45am

No Vacation Nation: 40% of American Workers Won’t Use Paid Time Off

Are you stressed and overwhelmed at work? Do you feel like no one else could possibly fill your incredibly large shoes? Do you brag about how many vacation days you carry over each year? Do you even know how to set an “out-of-office” email reply?

You, my friend, may be a suffering from the completely curable “work martyr complex.” And you are not alone.  

According to a new study released by the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effects, four in 10 American workers allow some of their paid vacation days to go unused and expire—even though 96% of workers claim to see the virtue in taking time off.

Fear of being replaced and work piling up coupled with a lack of employer support and communication is keeping Americans from using the time off they have earned, according to the study, “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?” 

“Americans suffer from a work martyr complex. In part, it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”

A few more findings:

Senior Business Leaders Agree: Paid Time Off is Good for the Company

  • More productive employees. Senior business leaders agree that employees who use their PTO return recharged and renewed, ready to work more efficiently and productively (91%).
  • Fewer sick days and improved morale. The vast majority of senior business leaders agree that using PTO cuts down on sick days and burnout, reduces turnover rates and improves morale, and boosts employee focus and creativity (90% for each). 

Encouraging Workers to Use Their PTO Makes Them Happier, Healthier, and More Successful

  • Happier personal lives. Employees’ whose companies encourage the use of PTO have happier personal lives. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of employees whose companies encourage PTO use report being “extremely” or “very” happy with their personal relationships with family and friends.
  • Happier at work. Workers who are “extremely” happy with their jobs work within corporate cultures that encourage PTO. Over half (55%) of extremely happy employees are encouraged to use PTO, versus only one-third (32%) of the total population.
  • More successful and financially secure. Companies that encourage PTO employ more people who are “extremely”, “very”, or “somewhat” happy with their professional success and personal financial situation compared to those companies that discourage PTO, send mixed messages, or send no message on PTO (91% vs. 79% and 84% vs. 68%, respectively).

The full report can be read here.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sheryll Poe is a former senior writer at the U.S. Chamber, who covered public policies affecting businesses including the three "T's" - transportation, trade and taxes.