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Vacation Time - Today’s Guilty Pleasure?

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Post By Connor Hanrahan: Summer Intern, LBF Recruitment Strategies

The International Labour Organization (ILO) found, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” “The average paid vacation time in the United States is roughly 13 days per year, compared to a European country like France, that offers employees on average of 30 days of paid vacation per year.”

On average, American workers leave five paid vacation days unused each year. FIVE DAYS? That’s one full work-week of paid time off. Just left on the table. Every year.

But, why?

Employers and employees agree vacation time is crucial. That’s why PTO (paid time off) is a pretty standard benefit these days. But, time and time again studies show a direct correlation between refusing to take time away from work and a decline in both productivity and quality of work. So, why are employees shying away from taking advantage of what they’ve earned?

Are they afraid that supervisors or co-workers might label them as lazy, unmotivated or not career-focused if they request time off for a vacation? Would it be essentially impossible to exceed, or at the very least, meet yearly goals and objectives? Or, do some companies just make it plain difficult for employees use PTO, or to even enjoy some very needed time away from the office?

Ironically, employees actually aren’t the only ones impacted by the untouched vacation days. Adam Sacks, President of Tourism Economics at Oxford Economics, found “on average, businesses owe each employee $1,898 in accrued paid time off, and carry 5.7 days of accrued vacation per employee. For firms with more than 500 workers, the cost per employee is higher, at $2,609 per worker.” U.S. firms are faced to deal with $224 billion owed for the costs of the liabilities [1] of accumulated unused roll-over employee vacation time.

So, with all of the talk about what companies are doing to establish progressive policies around work-life balance for their employees, is it all just a farce? A scheme to get people in the door? Is it the true, underlying feeling of employers that the fewer vacation days you use, the more you are actually rewarded?

Perhaps for some, but not for all.

A growing number of companies are shifting away from a formal PTO structure, to an unlimited time-off policy. Companies as large as Netflix to the smaller, Chicago-based multimedia production company, Jellyvision, both believe whole-heartedly in this new approach. Daniel Jacobson, Netflix’s VP for Edge Engineering, and Mary Beth Wynn Vice President of People at Jellyvision, acknowledge the policy doesn’t literally allow employees to take all the time off they want. “It is a simple mantra that basically states that we are all adults, so let’s all behave and treat each other like adults. And if a person is not consistently behaving like an adult, they should not work at Netflix.” Wynn strongly vouches for unlimited vacation, “It’s a system that requires trust on both sides. We trust our employees not to abuse it, and employees have to trust us that the flexibility is really going to be there.”

Some others have instituted new methods specifically to incentivize employees to use their earned vacation days.

Bart Lorang a 35-year-old CEO of FullContact a 5-year old software startup with 57 employees in Denver Colorado, wanted to implement a culture that made it not only possible and also profitable for employees to use vacation days. Through his innovative employee benefit, named “paid paid vacation,” employees of FullContact notify management of their preferred time to take vacation and receive (before even leaving) a $7,500 bonus. The bonus, meant to comfortably cover the cost of an actual trip, does however come with one guideline that must be followed: the employee must completely and entirely disconnect from the office, including disabling all work related communications (phone, email, etc). Lorang’s one rule for the “paid paid vacation” brings up a valuable point that not only is important for employees to take time away from the office, but to take a vacation from their smartphones, as well.

Frankly Speaking: our wise 16th President once said that “It’s not the years in the life, but the life in the years.” Basically meaning…when you’re sitting on your death bed one day, in the way too inconceivable future, you’re not going to be reflecting on your amazing wonderful life and wished you just worked that one Friday night until 11pm of postponed your trip to help a sales pitch go more smoothly. Nope, that’s not going to happen. No one ever wishes they spent more time working, or took one less vacation day.

We all know how quickly life flashes before our eyes, so don’t hesitate using your earned vacation days just because Dwight over there hasn’t taken a vacation day since Nam’. Work responsibilities and opportunities will come and go, I promise. However, the vivid memories from weekend getaways, special occasions, and tropical vacations that you relive in your mind during the ridiculously long and monotonous Monday morning meeting that could have easily been sent as a mass email… will last a lifetime.

Connor Hanrahan is a summer Recruitment Intern for LBF Recruitment Strategies. A rising Junior at Denison University, Connor is an Economics Major by day, and superstar college athlete by night. Connor will be taking advantage of some of his own “earned vacation time” during his upcoming study abroad program in New Zealand.


1. “The liability doesn’t include sick or personal leave, but has been generated by years of workers’ rolling over unused paid time off, according to the researchers, who say the debt grew by $65.6 billion last year alone.”

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