Atlanta CVB's William Pate: Unused Vacation Time Costs Workers and City Tourism

William Pate

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Have you started planning your summer vacation yet? If you haven’t, you are not alone. American workers are facing a troubling trend in the workplace – we are not using our vacation time. For tourist destinations like Atlanta, this can have a significant impact on the hospitality business.

From 1978 through 2000, the average American worker took off 20.3 days. By 2014, that number had fallen to 16.2 days, but has since rebounded to 16.8 days. More than 50 percent of us will end the year with unused vacation time.

In fact, according to research, Americans fail to use 662 million vacation days annually. If that number improved by just 10 percent (66 million) and if Atlanta could capture just five percent of those vacation stays, we would add an additional three million hotel room stays annually, increasing our total visitation to the city by roughly six percent. The additional visitors would also drive incremental traffic to our attractions, restaurants and cultural institutions.

Those idle days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016. That additional spending would support 1.8 million American jobs and generate $70 billion in incremental income for American workers. If the 54 percent of workers who left time unused in 2016 took just one more day off, it would drive $33 billion in economic impact across the country.

U.S. Travel Association sheds light on the issue of unused vacation days through its Project: Time Off initiative.

Planning ahead appears to be one of the biggest obstacles to taking time off. Two-thirds of workers cite a lack of certainty with their personal schedules as the main barrier to planning vacations, followed by unpredictability of work schedules, and coordinating children’s schedules and extracurricular activities. Life keeps getting in the way.

Then there are the “work martyrs.” Project: Time Off reveals 38 percent of employees want to be viewed as work martyrs by their bosses. But what these employees don’t understand is that work martyrdom doesn’t help them in their careers and, in fact, could actually hurt them. While these employees believe sacrificing vacation time will help them get ahead, self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely (79 percent to 84 percent) to report receiving a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who did not subscribe to the work martyr myth. And when it comes to promotions, they are no more likely to receive a promotion than the average worker. They do, however, earn more stress.

Why are we so afraid to take vacation? According to U.S. Travel Association studies, the top three reasons are:

Fear of returning to a mountain of work;

Presuming no one else can do the job; and

Struggling to take time off in senior positions.

Yet the benefits of taking vacation are undeniable. Nearly two-thirds of employees say their concentration and productivity at work improve after using personal time. Senior business leaders echo this sentiment, 91 percent of whom believe employees return from vacation recharged and renewed.

To break the cycle, try these steps:

Be proactive. This is your time to be with family and friends, and recharge. What else is more important to your health?

Block your calendar for vacation, even if you aren’t sure of your plans yet. This will increase the likelihood you will use the time.

Talk to your supervisor about your plans as early as possible, so he or she can plan for your absence.
Create a bucket list of places you want to go.

Select your destination and don’t get swallowed up by the details. You don’t need a complete itinerary to make the request. It is easier to cancel requested time off than to make a request too late.