Unused Paid Time Off Hurts U.S. Workers, Economy

More than forty percent of American workers who receive the benefit of paid time off (PTO) finished the year by squandering a portion of their allotted time, according to a new study by Oxford Economics conducted for the U.S. Travel Association. vacation time

Despite an intrinsic understanding that using the leave they've earned delivers considerable personal and professional benefits, Americans left an average of 3.2 PTO days on the table in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days among U.S. workers.

According to the study, most managers recognize the benefits of taking leave, namely higher productivity, stronger workplace morale and greater employee retention, as well as significant health benefits. Yet, what managers believe and what employees perceive can be two different things.

Nearly 34% of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, and 17% of managers consider employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated. Four in ten American workers said their employer supported time off, but their heavy workload kept them from using their earned days.

"Despite the myriad benefits of taking time off, American workers succumb to various pressures—some self-​imposed and some from management—to not take the time off to which they are entitled," said Adam Sacks, President of the Tourism Economics division of Oxford Economics. "Leaving earned days on the table harms, not helps, employers by creating a less productive and less loyal employee.

"Further, it is a misconception that employers are ahead of the game when workers don't use the time they've earned. In fact, stockpiled time off creates considerable financial liability for companies and governments when employees 'cash out' upon departure."

Other key findings:

  • Millions of Jobs: If workers used all of their available PTO, the economy would benefit from more than $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, spending that would support 1.2 million jobs in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing to transportation.
  • Even Small Changes Lead to Big Gains: If employees would take just one additional day of earned leave each year, the economy would benefit to the tune of $73 billion dollars in total impact.

"Underutilized time off is a monstrous missed opportunity, not only for American workers and their families, but also for employers and the broader economy," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "Americans take great pride in their work ethic, and our country's prosperity is a testament to that. We decided to explore why Americans understand the value of time off, continue to need it, yet squander so much of it. We seem to be wired to put the pedal to the metal, but there are also undeniable benefits to tapping the brakes.

"Leaving just one day less on the table—whether to tackle a project at home or simply enjoy a long weekend—would mean $73 billion in output for the U.S. economy and lead to significant positive impacts for employees and businesses."

[Source:  "An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S."  U.S. Travel Association/​Oxford Economics.  20 Feb. 2014.  Web.  21 Feb. 2014.]