The State of the American Vacation

Executive Editor
Published 8/15/15
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When I tell people the news, their reaction occurs predictably in this order:

  1. Blank stare
  2. Look of supreme disbelief
  3. Exclamation (“Really?” or “You’re kidding!” or “Wow, that’s fabulous!”)

I’m not telling them I’ve won the lottery. I’m explaining that Miles, my employer, offers unlimited vacation to full-time employees. However, I might as well be telling folks I won the jackpot. Since only about 1% of U.S. companies offer unlimited vacation time (according to Inc. magazine), it’s something that few people have even heard about. Companies including Expedia, Prezi, Ask.com, Netflix and now Miles are among the few to offer this benefit.

Most of us are familiar with the travel habits of our European friends, who typically take three weeks at a time to rest, relax and explore new destinations. This July, on a vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I met a lovely French family while on a whale-watching excursion (see the enormous humpbacks in this video taken off Provincetown, plus my cameo appearance). The couple and their two teenage daughters were exploring the East Coast of the U.S. on a 21-day adventure. C’est incroyable, n’est-ce pas?

It sounds incredible because most Americans have somehow forgotten how to balance work and play. It wasn’t always this way. Statistics show that most Americans take a full week less of vacation than they did 15 years ago, even though they have the time. In fact, the average worker in the U.S. earns 21 days off each year, but uses only 77% of that time. While some companies allow vacation roll-over, one in four employees loses unused paid time off altogether.

Why did this happen? Perhaps job insecurity or the American competitive spirit is at play, since recent studies have shown that workers who take time off fear being seen as “slackers” (not to mention the huge pile of work they anticipate after their return). Sadly, this belief is self-defeating: Skipping out on vacation does not result in raises or promotions. Quite the opposite. In fact, U.S. workers who forfeited the most paid days off (11 – 15 days) were 6.5% less likely to receive raises or bonuses compared to those who used all of their vacation time.

The benefits of vacation are huge. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that the result of Americans actually using all of our time off would be a positive impact of $284 billion annually on the U.S. economy. More jobs, more business growth, higher worker productivity. And there are other happy economic side effects for companies who offer this policy: Money is saved by eliminating hours spent tracking and managing vacation time, plus the policy eliminates the liability and expense of paying out accrued vacation days if employees leave. Beyond that, unlimited vacation is certainly a perk to help recruit and retain great candidates.

And that’s not even mentioning the human benefits: Less stress. More connection to loved ones. Creating a culture of trust in the workplace that lasts throughout the year. And the new friends we make and the memorable experiences we have along the way.

Here are some additional articles on the topic of unlimited time off:

http://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/all-work-and-no-pay-impact-forfeited-time

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/travel/u-s-workers-vacation-time/

http://www.inc.com/jerome-ternynck/5-reasons-ceos-should-offer-unlimited-vacation-in-2015.html