Just This Year, Can We Say It Made Real Sense That Americans Didn’t Use All Their Vacation Days?

There’s an evergreen story at the end of each year, we hear over and over that Americans don’t use all their vacation days at work. We get fewer paid vacations than employees in other countries, too. Look, tradeoffs. Required vacation, severance and the difficulty firing employees is also why it’s difficult to get a permanent position in the first place in places like Australia. It’s common there to be on fixed-duration contracts without the same coveted protections.

Still, I agree that most people don’t get the most out of the vacation time they do use and could do more with their weekends at least, approaching each opportunity with abandon.

But now that we’re again seeing stories about Americans not using their vacation days again in 2020 can we at least say, sure, this year I get it?

  • The government was telling people to stay home.

  • With uncertainty, recession, and high unemployment people were rationally focused on showing up for work and demonstrating value.

This year was stressful. People felt cooped up. It would have been nice to get away. I just did a weekend at the Texas beach adding on a couple of vacation days in addition.

Sure, it may be true that “the average workday lengthened by nearly an hour.” People no longer had to commute. And people have “shortened, postponed or canceled their planned time off” as well.

But when I read that “[j]ust 42% of companies said they are making changes to vacation policies to boost flexibility, including increasing carryover limits for unused time off” I want to punch air. Just? 42% of companies said they are making changes to vacation policies because of the pandemic, isn’t that sort of amazing?

I want people to take more trips and better trips, though I also think Jeff Bezos is right that the phrase “work-life balance” suggests a tradeoff which doesn’t have to exist, and also that you’ll enjoy vacation more if you work while you’re away.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In a previous job, I worked with a vile, arrogant person who had one quality that we could all admire.

    She worked Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm, and not a minute more or less.

    She didn’t dick around on personal email, shopping, Candy Crush, or any of those time wasters that plague most of us in the office. She would stop and chat around the proverbial water cooler, sure, which is how I learned about her horrible political views that make her a terrible, terrible person.

    She was a very high performer who delivered work of the highest standards. Most other people in the same role, because of a lack of discipline at work, ended up working 60-70 hours at times to meet deadlines. The awful person worked 40 hours a week from the moment she onboarded to the moment she left for her next gig.

    Needless to say she worked not one second on vacation. I don’t know where she vacationed since I did not care to follow her personal life after learning about what a ridiculously bad person she is. But the point is, when she was OOO, she was was really OO the phuckin’ O!

  2. I used every single one of my 25 vacation days in 2020, and will do so again this year. And all 5 of my personal days as well.

  3. I managed to “use” all of my vacation days this year. I was able to cash in 10 days, which left me 9 days to use or lose in December and I used all of those bad boys!

  4. It must suck to be raised on concrete while you schlep along in life wondering if that Christmas bonus will be there.

  5. @ Jason

    “She was a very high performer who delivered work of the highest standards” but a terrible person because you don’t like he politics? For real? Or just trolling? People like who you say you are actually exist? That’s how you decide what kind of person someone is? btw, we could generally all do with less being judgmental.

  6. have 2 weeks left of PTO since our trip to the UK was canceled and there is NO place to drive to in New England that we have not been to before or want to go to now.

  7. You would never have known there was a Pandemic here in Miami. Tons of tourists in the last few months. Now, in January, we see crowds greater than we had in 2019 with pool parties, beach parties, and tons of traffic. Few wearing masks. Very odd bubble here.

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