Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu March 26 2015

Study: U.S. Workers Squander $52.4 Billion a Year in Unused Paid Time Off

Destination & Tourism | U.S. Travel Association | Patrick Clarke | March 26, 2015

Study: U.S. Workers Squander $52.4 Billion a Year in Unused Paid Time Off

A recent study on vacation time conducted by economic analysis firm Oxford Economics and commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association reveals that many Americans are hurting themselves and their companies by refusing to capitalize on paid time off. 

According to Rachel Emma Silverman of the Wall Street Journal, Oxford Economics' research found that Americans are wasting $52.4 billion in earned benefits each year as a result of unused paid vacation days, while U.S. businesses are left with $224 billion in liabilities for accumulated vacation time.

The study found that, on average, workers vacate roughly five vacations days every year.

"This is not only not good for employees, it is not good for companies," said president of tourism economics at Oxford Economics and study author Adam Sacks.

Sacks points out that the big issue for companies is that those unpaid vacation days "are still on their books in terms of a liability, which can be quite burdensome from a cash-flow standpoint."

Therefore, companies that allow employees to bank vacation days—rather than lose them if they don't use them—must be ready to pay up whenever the employee leaves. 

That's significant because "on average, businesses owe each employee $1,898 in accrued paid time off, and carry 5.7 days of accrued vacation per employee," writes Silverman. "For firms with more than 500 workers, the cost per employee is higher, at $2,609 per worker."

Oxford Economics' research also found that 84 percent of workers whose companies place expiration dates on paid time off ("use it or lose it" policies) used all of their vacation days, while just 48 percent of employees whose companies allow them to amass paid vacation went away on their employer's dime.  

What makes the research even more disconcerting is that it's trending in the wrong direction.

According to analysis from the USTA's Project: Time Off initiative, the average worker took 16 vacation days in 2013, compared to nearly 21 at the turn of the century.

While the travel industry undoubtedly benefits from workers taking more time off, as TravelPulse columnist David Cogswell stated earlier this month as part of a broader discussion, "Americans need more vacation time."

"They need to reduce stress," writes Cogswell. "Maybe enjoy life a bit."


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