For Americans, working all the time has become more of an accepted norm and less of an indication that work-life balance is off-kilter.
The State of American Vacation 2018, a report conducted by Project: Time Off, which is a national campaign dedicated to proving the value and necessity of taking time off, found that the average American employee takes about 17 vacation days annually, and that over 50 percent of Americans leave vacation days on the table at the end of the year. As a nation, that amounted to approximately 705 million unused days in 2017.
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The Project: Time Off report revealed an alarming trend: Over the last 40 years, American vacation usage has declined dramatically. From 1978 to 2000, Americans took an average of 20.3 days of vacation, but in 1998, usage dropped and has yet to recover. Usage declined further beginning in 2008 — the same year of the U.S. financial crisis. Between 2008 and 2014, Americans used two fewer days, a decrease from over 18 vacation days to 16.
Following the economic free fall, the U.S. unemployment rate hit a high of 10.2 percent in October 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the era of widespread layoffs, downsizing and cutbacks, Americans defaulted to survival mode. Employees looking to position themselves as indispensable and maintain employment chose to sacrifice their vacation time.
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Unemployment currently hovers at a 10-year low of 3.9 percent, but old habits die hard. It appears that forfeiting vacation days is the new normal, and 61 percent of Americans cite the fear of looking replaceable as the leading cause of not using vacation time.
But think of not using your vacation days as what it is: working more for the same amount of money. If that’s not enough of an incentive to take what is rightfully yours, know that the U.S. economy wants your money: Airfare, gasoline, hotel accommodations, meals and even your souvenir T-shirt help drive economic growth. The 0.4 day increase in vacation usage between 2016 and 2017, for example, delivered a $30.7 billion impact to the U.S. economy, according to Project: Time Off.