In most workplaces throughout the United States, employees receive vacation days to use every year as a benefit, and in some cases, unused vacation days expire at the end of the year. According to the latest survey by Expedia, on average, Americans earned 14 vacation days this year but used only 12. While the survey represents a larger percentage of taken vacation days than I’d assume would be the case, those 12 days are low compared to vacation days taken by employees in other countries.
In France, Spain, Denmark, and Brazil, workers receive 30 vacation days on average, and they take each of those vacation days. Is the lack of vacation in the United States a symptom of an economy under pressure to grow? Since this is a pattern that’s been consistent for many years, can we attribute the country’s growth as a major economic power in the twentieth century a result of the American workforce’s dedication to sitting in the office? It can’t be a result of the economic recession, where employees must work harder because companies are forced by their financial situation to produce more with fewer resources.
According to the survey, 58 percent of Americans say that both their work schedules and the economy do not affect their decisions about taking vacation days away from the office. Sometimes survey respondents lie, and sometimes they are unaware of their motivation and can’t accurately report it on a survey, but if the average American is leaving two vacation days on the table this year, there must be another reason.
Vacation days are different for the slice of the American workforce that includes entrepreneurs and business owners. Running your own business, particularly if your business consists of only you or of a small number of people, is a type of employment that invades your personal life. The responsibilities of a business owner are different than the responsibilities of someone who works for a large corporation. Most employees can leave their work at the office at five o’clock and dedicate the rest of their time awake to themselves or their families.
Many business owners, on the other hand, live and breathe their businesses and can’t do a good job of putting their work to the side. I haven’t had a vacation in years where I completely set aside my work on Consumerism Commentary. In the past, I’ve planned for a trip by writing articles for the website in advance and scheduled them to be published at the right times, but I’d still be on call twenty-four hours a day to make sure the site continued to operate correctly, answer important emails, and ensure a constant stream of people would visit.
In some cases, I’ve even used traveling for vacation as an opportunity to meet colleagues and clients in the area I visit. My recent trip to California to visit family also gave me a chance to meet Neal from Wealth Pilgrim and other potential partners behind the scenes. Perhaps the lack of vacation days taken by Americans on average is affected by a higher concentration of workers, like business owners, who feel — or are — personally responsible for the success of their business.
Perhaps there is another explanation, as well. On a scale from socialism to capitalism, the United States economy falls somewhere right of center. Workplace benefits of any type are results of left-of-center policies, and with “socialism” being a dirty word in today’s economy, there might be a stigma against those who make taking vacation days an issue for discussion with their supervisors. Some corporate employees want to be competitive in their workplace in order to secure their jobs, and not taking vacation days or other voluntary benefits is one way to show your dedication to the corporate entity.
While the average American leaves only two days on the table, based on an average full-time salary, that’s $34.3 billion in benefits that will go unused this year in total.
Do you receive a benefit of vacation days from your employer? How many did you take this year?
Updated December 2, 2011 and originally published December 1, 2011.