Benefits, Leave Management, Policy, and Compliance

U.S. Workers Only Using Half of Eligible Vacation Time

While many Americans are preparing for summer vacations, many are likely not. According to a new survey from Glassdoor, the average U.S. employee (of those who receive vacation/paid time off) has only taken about half (54%) of his or her eligible vacation time/paid time off in the past 12 months. This is relatively consistent with how much vacation time employees reported taking in 2014 (51%), when Glassdoor first conducted this survey.


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However, more Americans (66%) today report working when they do take vacation compared to 3 years ago (61%). This survey, conducted online in March-April by Harris Poll among 2,224 adults ages 18 and older, took a look at employee vacation time realities, including the percentage of eligible vacation time/paid time off employees actually take, along with how much they work and why while on vacation, among other trends.

Of employees who receive vacation/paid time off, nine out of 10 (91%) report taking at least some time off in the last 12 months, up from 85% in 2014. Over the same time period, 23% reported taking 100% of their eligible time off, while another 23% of employees reported taking 25% or less of their eligible time off (both down two percentage points from 25% in 2014). Nine percent reported taking no vacation or paid time off at all.

Despite slightly more employees taking vacation time overall, it doesn’t necessarily mean more are getting away from work. Fewer employees who take vacation/paid time off report being able to completely “check out” while they are on vacation (54% in 2017, down from 63% in 2014) and more than one quarter (27%) are expected to stay aware of work issues and jump in if things need their attention while they are away, up from 20% in 2014. More than one in 10 (12%) employees who take vacation/paid time off are expected to be reachable, deliver work, and/or participate in conference calls etc. while on vacation (compared to 9% in 2014).

Given these expectations, it may be no surprise that many employees remain in contact with colleagues and managers while using paid time off. While on vacation, 29% of employees who took vacation/time off from work in the past 12 months report being contacted by a coworker (up from 24% in 2014) about a work-related matter, and one in four (25%) report being contacted by their boss (up from 20% in 2014).

Work is also on Americans’ minds more even when they are on vacation, as 23% of employees who took vacation/time off from work in the past 12 months said they had a difficult time not thinking about work while on vacation (up from 17% in 2014). Fourteen percent also said a family member complained that they were working while on vacation (up from 9% in 2014). However, not all employees who used vacation time actually intended to take a vacation. More than one in 10 (12%) of employees used their paid time off in the past 12 months to interview for another job.

Of those who reported working while on vacation, the top reasons they said they do so are because:

  • They fear getting behind (34%),
  • No one else at their company can do the work while they’re out (30%),
  • They are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and
  • They feel they can never be disconnected (21 %).

“We are seeing a push and pull situation when it comes to employees taking vacation and paid time off, in which people attempt to step away from the office for a break from work, but technology is keeping them connected with the swipe of a finger,” said Carmel Galvin—Glassdoor Chief Human Resources Officer—in a press release. “While taking a vacation may make employees temporarily feel behind, they should realize that stepping away from work and fully disconnecting carries a ripple effect of benefits. It allows employees to return to work feeling more productive, creative, recharged and reenergized. In turn, employers should consider what a vacation really means – to actually vacate work – and how they can support employees to find true rest and relaxation to avoid burnout and turnover within their organizations.”