America’s vacation behavior is changing—and for the better.
State of American Vacation 2018 shows improvement in America’s work culture. While a transformation is not at hand, the beginnings of change may be. Employers are showing signs of having more encouraging vacation cultures, and employees are feeling more confident about using the time they earn.
There is still a long way to go, with more than half of Americans leaving vacation time on the table. In analyzing how vacation time was spent, the data shows an unmistakably strong correlation between travel and happiness that forces the question, does the function of the time or the time itself have a greater impact?
Average Number of Vacation Days Taken in 2017
American Employees with Unused Vacation
Total Unused Vacation Days Annually
Total Forfeited Vacation Days Annually
Potential Economic Impact of America’s Unused Vacation
Potential American Jobs Created by America’s Unused Vacation
Does Three Make a New Trend?
Fewer Americans left vacation time on the table in 2017. While still a majority, 52 percent of employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year, compared to 54 percent in 2016 and 55 percent in 2015.
Though a two percent change might seem small, the impact is mighty. Americans used nearly a half-day (.4 days) more of vacation than the previous year. The increase marks the third straight year of increased vacation usage and brings the national average up to 17.2 vacation days taken per employee. It also marks more than a full-day increase since the lowest point in America’s vacation usage in 2014, when that number stood at 16.0 days.
The increase in vacation usage from 16.8 to 17.2 days delivered a $30.7 billion impact to the U.S. economy. It also produced an estimated 217,200 direct and indirect jobs and generated $8.9 billion in additional income for Americans.While the numbers are moving in a positive direction, more than half of Americans are still not using all the vacation time they earn. The 52 percent who left vacation on the table accumulated 705 million unused days last year, up from 662 million days the year before.
Though this increase may seem counterintuitive to Americans using more vacation time, it is a function of employees earning more time. The average employee reported earning 23.2 paid time off days, an increase of more than half a day (.6 days) over the previous year.
Of these days, Americans forfeited 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. That means employees effectively donated an individual average of $561 in work time to their employer in 2017.
The more than 700 million days that go unused represent a $255 billion opportunity that the American economy is not capturing. Had Americans used that vacation time, the activity could have generated 1.9 million jobs.
Work Challenges Remain
The turning trend line is a clear sign that Americans are increasingly realizing the value of their vacation time. Yet challenges remain—particularly when it comes to workplace optics.
Work-related challenges had the most influence on Americans’ ability to vacation. Employees who were concerned that they would appear less dedicated or even replaceable if they took a vacation were dramatically less likely to use all their vacation time (61% leave time unused, compared to 52% overall). Those who felt their workload was too heavy to get away were also more likely than average to have unused vacation time (57% to 52%), as were employees who felt there was a lack of coverage or that no one else could do their job (56% to 52%).
Alleviating the barriers in the workplace rests on creating a positive vacation culture. With nearly four-in-ten (38%) employees saying their company culture encouraged vacation, there has been improvement in employees’ perception of their company’s level of support for vacation (compared to 33% last year).
The other barriers had far less influence on vacation behavior. When asked about the barriers to taking time off to travel, unsurprisingly, cost is at the top. However, the respondents who agreed that cost was a barrier take about the same amount of vacation time as average (53% leave time unused, compared to 52% overall). Everyone has a budget—the variable is how large. Where 71 percent of overall respondents said cost was a challenge, that number drops just slightly to 68 percent for Americans with household incomes over $100,000 annually.
Other top challenges also had little impact on vacation behavior. While children, pets, and the logistical hassles are felt by many Americans, the experience of travel makes overcoming those challenges worth it, as evidenced by their vacation usage being the same or close to average.