Workers in the U.S. took an average 17.2 days of vacation in 2017 — the highest in four years — but that’s only a half-day jump from 2016.
Americans are getting somewhat better about taking time off.
A new survey from Project Time Off found that U.S. workers took an average 17.2 days of vacation in 2017, that’s nearly a half-day jump (.4 days) from 2016. Although tiny, this bump marks the highest level of American time off usage since 2013, and a more than full-day increase since bottoming out at just 16 days in 2014 — which is proof that small progress is being made, at least, when it comes to taking a well-deserved break.
“Even though it’s not much, people are feeling more confident to take off because employers are understanding that vacation time is an important benefit that can improve creativity, increase productivity, innovation and retention,” Katie Denis, Vice President of Project Time Off, told Moneyish.
But most employees (52%) still reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year, which was only slightly better than the 54% in 2016. Americans forfeited 212 million paid vacation days last year, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. That means employees effectively donated an average of $561 in work time apiece to their employers in 2017.
Dennis says this is because there’s still a stigma attached to missing work. “Everything that stopped people from using their days is related to workplace pressure,” she explained. “People are worried about looking less dedicated.”
And some prominent, accomplished men and women have even been called out publicly for taking a much-needed timeout. Just ask Olympic gymnast and four-time gold medalist Simone Biles, who was trolled on social media for hitting the beach last summer instead of training on the uneven bars.
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 9, 2017
“Seems like u have partied non stop for a year #trash #unfollow #suckya** rolemodel,” an Instagram user wrote in a now-deleted comment to a snap of Biles sunning herself in Hawaii.
The 20-year-old champion flipped it back with: “Talk to me when you train for 14 years and earn 5 Olympic Medals … My year off is well deserved! Take a couple seats.”
Because while yes, vacationing can be fun and relaxing, it’s also imperative to your mental health, experts suggest.
“Research shows that a third of workers say that they are extremely stressed out,” Michael Erwin, senior career advisor at CareerBuilder.com, told Moneyish. “So taking vacation is a great way for out you take a step away from your job and recharge, and get those creative juices working again, so when you come back, you’re feeling excited about being there, and you’re going to be a more productive worker.”
Yet an Associated Press poll last year found that 43% of Americans didn’t plan to take a vacation that summer. And in 2016, those that did take off didn’t really get away, since 61% admitted to still working or checking in with the office.
Why is everyone staying put? About half can’t afford to take a trip, the AP found in its report, especially since 41% of working Americans said they don’t get paid vacation time their employers. But another 11% said they can’t miss the time off from work.
Plus, humblebrags about working too hard to have any fun has become the new status symbol, according to a report released last year that found being busy has become the new aspirational American status symbol.
But research shows that we can’t afford to skip getting a little R&R. Here are four reasons to spend some time away from your desk.
It’s healthy. More than half of Americans (53%) are burned out and overworked, according to a survey by Staples Advantage. And the cure for that is rest. Researchers from the State University of New York at Oswego found men ages 35 to 57 who didn’t take at least one week-long vacation per year suffered a 30% greater risk of dying from heart disease. Work martyrs are also at risk for stress-related issues like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
The longer you work, the less productive you get. Research shows that employee productively drops after a 50-hour work-week, and plummets after 55 hours. And an internal study done by the Ernst & Young accounting firm found that for each additional 10 hours that an employee took for vacation, his or her performance review was 8% higher the next year.
You could make more money. Those who take all of their vacay have a 6.5% better chance of getting a promotion or a raise than those who don’t take 11 or more days of their paid time, according to Project: Time Off. So work martyrs don’t have anything to lose by getting away – but could have everything to gain.
Vacations inspire great ideas. Getting away from the daily grind can give you the next Big Idea to bring back to work. A 2008 study found that multicultural experiences enhance creativity and generate ideas. Howard Schultz had the brainstorm for Starbucks during a 1983 trip to Italy. Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the Broadway smash “Hamilton” while vacationing in Mexico to recharge from his previous hit “In The Heights.”
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