More Americans are taking the vacation time that is part of their benefits packages, according to a new report, State of American Vacation, from Project Time Off.
Fifty-two percent of employees reported leaving unused vacation days at the end of the year, compared to 54 percent in 2016 and 55 percent in 2015, the group said in its annual report. Workers’ reasons for staying on the job remained the same: heavy workloads, lack of coverage at work, and pets were the top three.
“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,” said Project Time Off, which is sponsored by an array of travel industry organizations and destinations. The group says vacation is essential for strong bonds with family and friends, a productive workforce, and a fulfilled life.
Human resource experts said the intrusion of mobile devices into time off might have something to do with the trend.
“We have reached a point where people feel like work intrudes too much on their personal lives, and that happens kind of just organically because we’ve made it so easy. Technology, with computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones where you can be at work when you’re not really at work, it becomes very easy to notice you got an e new email and then quickly check it, and then checking it turns into responding to it, and you end up working instead of taking that time really away,” said Toni Vandel, HR services manager at the Idaho National Laboratory, which has about 4,600 employees. “The last couple times I have been away, I turned off any notifications I have that are work-related; that’s how I force myself to take time away.”
Vacation time usage hit a low of 16 days in 2014 before it started climbing back up, the report said.
“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,” Project Time Off said in its report. “Americans forfeited 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits.”
Many employers encourage their workers to take the vacation time that is due to them. The fact that more people are doing so now is probably the result of the millennial generation entering the workforce in increasingly large numbers, said Peggy Jones, the vice president for human resources at Albertsons LLC.
“This is somewhat of a generational thing,” said Jones.
Research shows Gen X and millennial workers have always valued time off and flexibility more than the baby boomers did, said Patti Perkins, the CEO and owner of Calyx-Weaver & Associates, an HR management company. Also, with unemployment at historic lows, workers might feel more secure about taking their time off, instead of worrying they will be replaced, Perkins said.
Like Vandel, Jones, who is taking 10 days off to travel with friends in July, said she thinks attitudes to work have changed.
“I think today people are recognizing in general that people need a break,” she said. “Everything has gotten so digital, you just can’t get away unless you really do take a break, so it’s encouraged. Some of us in the baby boomer generation, I think what I am hearing from people is, ‘I don’t feel quite as guilty when I take the time maybe as I did before.'”