Va­ca­tions be­com­ing a relic of the past?

U.S. work­ers are tak­ing fewer days off, for­feit­ing $52B in ben­e­fits per year, study shows

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

The Amer­i­can habit of tak­ing four weeks off work each year seems to have gone with the wind.

A new study finds that U.S. em­ploy­ees now av­er­age a mere 16 va­ca­tion days from work the low­est an­nual amount in the last four decades.

In ad­di­tion to keep­ing their noses to the grind­stone, U.S. work­ers are for­feit­ing $52.4 bil­lion in time-off ben­e­fits a year, said the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion’s Travel Ef­fect ini­tia­tive, which com­mis­sioned the study from Ox­ford Eco­nomics.

This is tan­ta­mount to em­ploy­ees work­ing for free for 169 mil­lion days, said the study, not­ing that it’s un­com­mon for un­used va­ca­tion days to roll over to a new year, be banked or be paid out in other ways.

“Amer­ica has lost nearly a week of va­ca­tion,” said Katie De­nis, se­nior pro­gram di­rec­tor for Travel Ef­fect, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s re­search-based ini­tia­tive that looks at the ben­e­fits of tak­ing earned time off.

If the trend to­ward tak­ing fewer va­ca­tion days con­tin­ues, “what’s go­ing to hap­pen for my kids or my kids’ kids? Is this some­thing where the fam­ily va­ca­tion be­comes a relic of the past?” asked Ms. De­nis, not­ing that an Idaho travel group is al­ready re­mind­ing par­ents that they only have “18 sum­mers” with their young chil­dren, “so make them count.”

It would be “a true loss for our fam­i­lies and our coun­try” if the “va­ca­tions of our child­hoods” be­come a thing of the past, said Roger Dow, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion.

Hu­man re­sources ex­perts agree that tak­ing va­ca­tion is very im­por­tant for a healthy, pro­duc­tive work­force.

About three-quarters of HR pro­fes­sion­als “agree or strongly agree that em­ploy­ees who take most or all of their va­ca­tion [time] are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence higher lev­els of job sat­is­fac­tion (78 per­cent), be more pro­duc­tive (77 per­cent) and per­form bet­ter (75 per­cent) com­pared with em­ploy­ees who take less va­ca­tion,” said the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment (SHRM).

Em­ploy­ees, how­ever, list health care and re­tire­ment sav­ings as top ben­e­fits, SHRM re­search has found.

Paid leave time is a ma­jor ben­e­fit for em­ploy­ees who are be­ing re­cruited to a job, but when it comes to re­tain­ing em­ploy­ees, com­pa­nies found the top ben­e­fit is­sues were health care, re­tire­ment sav­ings, pro­fes­sional or ca­reer de­vel­op­ment, and flex­i­ble work­ing hours, SHRM said. Mil­len­nial-age work­ers, it added, es­pe­cially value flex­i­ble work sched­ules.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent New York Times ar­ti­cle, some com­pa­nies are go­ing to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to sweeten ben­e­fits for work­ers: Fe­male em­ploy­ees of Face­book can be re­im­bursed up to $20,000 to freeze their own eggs, while other big com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing “un­lim­ited” va­ca­tion time, free gourmet meals, on-site gyms and per­mis­sion to bring pets to work.

While perks like th­ese are un­heard of in most work­places, they also support a 24/7 work life — “They’re golden hand­cuffs,” one re­search sci­en­tist told The New York Times.

Re­fer­ring to the new survey — which was based on fed­eral la­bor data and a June 2014 survey of 1,303 U.S. work­ers — Adam Sacks, founder and pres­i­dent of Ox­ford Eco­nomics’ Tourism Eco­nomics di­vi­sion, con­cluded that “Americans are tak­ing the value of their time for granted.”

The U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion said that if peo­ple va­ca­tioned like they did be­fore 2000 — tak­ing an av­er­age of 20.3 days off a year — those 768 mil­lion days could im­pact the en­tire U.S. econ­omy by $284 bil­lion, in­clud­ing $118 bil­lion in di­rect travel spend­ing.

While travel is cer­tainly a way to use va­ca­tion time, “our fo­cus is to make sure that peo­ple take ad­van­tage of their ben­e­fits,” said Ms. De­nis.

“Whether they travel, whether they de­cide they want to put a deck on their house ... or whether they just want to re­lax and check out a new restau­rant and stay home,” the im­per­a­tive is to take the earned time off, for the sake of peo­ple’s health, well-be­ing, re­la­tion­ships and pro­duc­tiv­ity, she said.

More­over, the study found that work­ers who skip va­ca­tions to spend more time at the of­fice are not more likely to get bonuses or raises than oth­ers who take va­ca­tions, nor are they likely to be at peace with their work lives.

“Amer­ica’s work martyrs aren’t more suc­cess­ful,” said Mr. Dow. “We need to change our think­ing. ‘All work and no play’ is not go­ing to get you ahead — it’s only go­ing to get you more stress.”

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