The amount of vacation time people don’t take will sadden you

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Nothing is more fraught in the American workplace than vacations: how much time you get (or don’t), whether you’re actually allowed to take it, whether you actually do take it even though you’re allowed to, how totally stressful it is to prepare to go away and leave your work in the hands of co-workers, and whether or not you’ll choose to work during your holiday, then resent yourself and your employer after you do it.

With that in mind, Celebrity Cruises conducted a survey of 1200 employees, 750 of who had paid time off. They got down to the underbelly of the world of American vacations and paid time off.

Across industries, the median number of paid days off annually is 14. A decent percentage would like more days and would sacrifice money to get them: 18% of employees would prefer five extra paid vacation days to a 10% raise.


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Because we feel guilty about taking the time off that is rightfully ours, 47% of employees surveyed left paid vacation days unused.

Perhaps some of that 47% had vacation requests denied. Everybody knows the disappointment of being left out of a fun weekend in Bridgehampton because “we’re understaffed,” and 21% of employees had a vacation request denied in the last year.

Rich use it, poor lose it

Everybody’s heard the phrase “use it or lose it” when it comes to your days – but sometimes you can’t afford to use it. According to the survey, those who earned more tended to take more of their time off – and the opposite was true as well. The highest earners – at incomes of $100,000 or more – were the most likely (98%) to use their time off. The lowest earners – with incomes of $24,999 or less – were less likely (83%) to use their time off.

Pre-vacay stress

The pre-vacation scramble is the worst, as you rush to get everything done. (Because if you don’t do it correctly, who will?) A full 62% of employees put in extra hours the week before a vacation – usually between one and five. And 50% of women said they felt extra stressed the week before a vacation. Men were more relaxed, with only 36% feeling more stress.

The stress boils down to:

  • The amount of work I’ll have when I return: 65%
  • Worry that my work will not be handled correctly while I’m away: 61%
  • Trying to finish all my work before leaving: 56%
  • I don’t want a co-worker handling my work: 39%
  • Worry my employer will think I’m not dedicated to my job because I’m taking time off: 26%

Geez, no wonder people don’t take all their vacation time.

Will you or won’t you?

Now you’re at your final destination. The palm trees are swaying gently in the breeze. The phone rings. Who do you think it is?

Don’t answer – 63% have been contacted by work while on vacation. And 72% said it could have waited until they got back.

But what if – what if something needs to be done? Oh, forget about it. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed didn’t work while on their vacation. When they did, it was usually between 10-30 minutes.

For those who did work from the beach, they usually suffered the consequences. Working while vacationing caused fights between nearly 40% of couples. Other people who worked on vacation felt stressed (77%), missed plans (21%), stressed out their travel companions (23%), and one step further and annoyed their travel companions (36%).

Just remember: you’re probably not being paid enough to work off the clock. Happy trails!