Skip to content

Health & Balance

Font Size

Help for the Vacation-Deprived

Experts explain why many Americans aren't taking advantage of the vacation time they're entitled to.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Do you know where your vacation days are? If you're like many Americans, you've allowed unused time off to either collect dust in your employer's file cabinet, to roll over until next year, or to disappear into a black hole.

Or you might have already made your escape earlier in the year, but you squandered some of it checking work email, voicemail, or fielding job-related questions.

The good news is that you've got plenty of company. A 2006 Expedia.com survey revealed that 23% of Americans have checked work email or voice mail while on vacation. The survey also showed that one-third of U.S. adults do not always take all their vacation days.

The bad news: You join many hardworking and vacation-deprived Americans who experience burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, stress, or stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease, or stomach ulcers.

In the U.S. the growing demand for more work hours and the corresponding loss of leisure time in the last two decades is a big crisis, says John Weaver, PsyD, a psychologist and owner of Psychology for Business, a workplace consulting firm based in Brookfield, Wis.

"People are staying at work longer to get ahead more," says Weaver. "To a large degree, there's been an expectation by business owners that this is, in fact, the way that it should be, rather than looking at it and saying that this is somehow out of balance."

Weaver and a few other mental healthmental health, travel, and career experts talked with WebMD, sharing their thoughts about the state of work and vacation time in the U.S. They explained the consequences of having so little time off and gave eight tips for workers in need of a break.

Why Americans Skip Vacations

Compared with other industrialized nations, the U.S. is known to be stingy with vacation time for workers. According to Expedia.com, Americans receive an average of 14 vacation days per year, while the citizens of Canada get 19 days, Great Britain 24, France 39, Germany 27, and Australia 17.

To make things worse, the Expedia survey found that, on average, Americans did not use four days of their vacation time, giving an estimated $76 billion back to their employers.

The top three reasons why survey respondents did not fully use vacation days were as follows:

  • They needed to schedule vacation time in advance (14%)
  • They were too busy at work to get away (11%)
  • They got money back for unused vacation days (10%)

Another analysis showed other reasons for reluctance to take time off. A 2006 CareerBuilder.com survey reported that 16% of workers feel guilty about missing work while on vacation, and 7% actually fear that time off could lead to unemployment.

Technological advances, the transient job market, competition, and globalization have made people seem dispensable in today's corporate world. Weaver says people want to work more in order to prove their effectiveness.

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
 
mature woman with glass of water
Do we really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
 
man reading sticky notes
Quiz
worried kid
fitArticle
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Woman opening window
Slideshow
 
Woman yawning
Health Check
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
brain food
Slideshow
laughing family
Quiz