Research done over the course of 2014 has shown that Americans are leaving more paid vacation days on the table than any time in the last 40 years – providing an average of $504 in free labor to employers. The effects of not taking vacation are well known: more employee dissatisfaction, a decrease in productivity, and higher employee turnover.
So why is it Americans take less vacation days than almost any other country on Earth? Well, it’s complicated, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effect Initiative, which describes Americans as “Work Martyrs”.
Many Americans don’t want to be seen as “slackers”. Compared to similar countries, American workers are for more concerned with how they are perceived by their colleagues . If you take more vacation days than a coworker, the general feeling is that you will be seen as less valuable, and therefore replaceable. Over 40% of respondents believed that “nobody else can do the work while I’m away.” And an astounding 67% believed that there was a negative company culture relating to time off.
And what’s worse, increased hours do not correspond to increased productivity. Germany, which boasts the world’s most productive workforce, has a mandatory 34 days off for every full time employee. Compare that with the United States mandatory time of…O. That’s right, the U.S. is the only economy in the top 20 which does not have government mandated vacation time.
The effects of overwork can be devastating. Research has shown that workers overwhelmingly report higher levels of satisfaction, greater clarity, and greater work appreciation after returning from a break. It allows an individual to feel free from their jobs, and provides greater context as to why we work.
The concept of vacation for personal growth is foreign to a majority of American workers. In many countries, concepts such as gap years are widely accepted as a rite of passage for individuals prior to entering the workforce. Without similar experiences, American are left without the same feeling of normalcy Europeans tend to associate with time off from work or school.
So, if you’re American and reading this, take all your vacation days. Seriously. Americans are afforded so few to begin with, that to leave any unused is a great waste of the minimum time given. You’ll feel happier, you’ll get more work done, and just feel better about life in general. Remember, you can always work more – but you can’t have your days back.