When was the last time you used all your paid time off? Have you always used all your paid vacation days and paid holidays? If you are an American, chances are 50/50 it was far too long ago, if ever.
Americans’ vacations have drawn a lot of attention in the past few years for one simple reason: Americans are not taking vacations.
The “No-Vacation Nation”
Back in 2019, before the pandemic, The Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) analyzed paid vacations in America compared to many countries in the rest of the world. Their conclusion?
There was “a significant disparity between the United States and the rest of the world’s rich countries. The United States is the only advanced economy that does not mandate any paid vacation time for workers, and it is one of the only countries that does not require employers to offer at least some paid holidays.”
As a result, one in four working Americans does not receive any time off, the study reported.
Yet even when Americans do receive vacation, they find it difficult to take all the time off. According to a study by the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of Americans did not use all their time off in 2019, resulting in 768 million days left unused—236 million of those days could not be rolled over to the next year.
Why would Americans leave vacation unused? A study by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology showed that Americans who struggle to take time off, often do so because they have trouble disconnecting from work, don’t think the vacation will go well, and anticipate being stressed from things like finances.
According to the USTA’s study, 80 percent of Americans thought it was important to travel during their time off but don’t for similar reasons: too hard to get away from work, financial stress, and frustrations around air travel.
Has the Pandemic Changed Anything?
A lot has happened in the world since CEPR’s study in 2019. Most notably, the pandemic changed the way many in the world work: offline to online, in the office to working from home.
Has this improved our ability to take a vacation?
“In many ways, yes,” says Global Rescue’s Stephanie Diamond, vice president of human capital management. “All of a sudden, people were spending more time with their families and being reminded of what is most important in life. And with the increase of remote work, people felt they could travel more often.”
Indeed, since the pandemic, there has been a significant rise in bleisure travel, and many employers offer it as a benefit to attract new hires.
Yet, for some, the rise of remote work has blurred the lines between work and time off more than ever.
Ed Zitron shared in The Atlantic about his struggles detaching from work, before and during the pandemic. As the CEO of the technology public relations firm, EZPR, and the author of the tech and culture newsletter, Where’s Your Ed At, the responsibilities felt too overwhelming to escape. Yet, his experience contracting COVID-19 showed him that working from home had become a “productivity trap” that he needed to address, for himself and his employees.
“I’m slowly learning that a few hours, or a day, or even a week away won’t bring the world to an end and that those emails will be waiting for me when I’m done relaxing,” he writes.
Diamond agrees that the practice of taking time off is something that must be learned in American culture.
“Because it’s not in our country’s culture, it is certainly a shift for employers and employees,” Diamond says. “Leaders almost have to tell people how to unplug, and then employees have to take responsibility for doing so.”