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Why are Americans so vacation-deprived?

We're midway in the heart of the traditional eight-week summer vacation cycle, so if you haven't taken any time off yet, we have a question for you. Why not? It might be that you are one of the 49.4 millions Americans who are "vacation deprived." According to an annual survey conducted by Expedia, about one-third of employed U.S. adults, or 34%, do not use all their allotted vacation days. That's up from 31% last year. And it's not like the time off isn't needed: About two in five employed U.S. adults (37%) report regularly working more than 40 hours per week.

And not only does a large percentage of Americans leave vacation days on the table, many don't leave the job behind even while they are on vacation. About 1 in four report that they check work email or voice mail while vacationing, and about 30% say that they often have trouble coping with stress from work at some point during the vacation cycle.

Expedia has been conducting this survey for 8 years, and during all this time, the U.S. has had the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest vacation deficit, averaging only 13 vacation days per year, some of which go unused. This year however, workers in Japan win the distinction for being the most likely to leave vacation days on the table with 92% reporting they will not use all earned vacation days.

Country - Vacation days / avg unused vacation days
France 38 / 2
Italy 31 / 6
Spain 30 / 3
Germany 27 / 2
Austria 27 / 4
Great Britain 26 / 2
New Zealand 21 / 3
Canada 19 / 2
Australia 19 / 3
Japan 15 / 7
U.s. 13 / 3

Why are we so vacation deprived?
Vacation serve as a release valve for stress and help us to recharge our batteries. Taking time away from work leads to a healthier, more balanced life. Time away from the job can also foster creativity and productivity. Author Scott Berkun comments that "It’s interesting how us Americans are fond of taking pride in our freedoms, yet when it comes to time off we are the least free for much of the Western world." In an essay on the topic of whether Americans should get more vacation time, he notes that "hours are a lousy way to measure value" and suggests that "All sorts of goodness happens when managers learn to reward results, not effort. And this starts but getting past the stupid pretense of effort known as hours." He discusses shifting the way we think about time vs results, and offers suggestions for variable approaches that employers might consider for vacation and unpaid leave.

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