The Best Argument We’ve Heard for Taking All of Your Paid Vacation Days

Paid vacation
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Back in July, the best study ever was published — in my humble opinion, at least.

The study, titled “The State of American Vacation: How Vacation Became a Casualty of Our Work Culture,” is actually a lot more exciting than it might sound.

U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off surveyed 5,641 Americans who work at least 35 hours a week and receive paid time off. The findings were, well, disappointing.

Last year, 55% of Americans did not use all of their vacation days, which means we’re leaving 658 million paid vacation days on the table, according to the study.

Plus, 222 million of those vacation days could not be rolled over, paid out or used for another benefit. That means an average of two vacation days per worker were swept right off the table and into the garbage.

A lot of us — another recent study says 75% of us! — receive paid vacation time as part of our compensation.

So why aren’t we taking advantage of it?!

Why Don’t Americans Use Their Vacation Days?

After all, doesn’t a beach vacation sound nice right about now? Or even a couple of days with the kids or your pup? The cat? A dark room with Netflix, anyone?

But for a lot of Americans, the thought of a few days off is anything but relaxing.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans reported the number-one reason for not taking vacation was “a fear of returning to a mountain of work.”

“No one else can do the job” and “I cannot financially afford vacation” tied for second, with 30% of respondents offering each of those reasons.

Other reasons include “taking time off is harder as you grow in the company,” “want to show complete dedication” — that’s a Dwight Schrute move for sure — and “don’t want to be seen as replaceable.”

Plus, nearly two-thirds of employees felt as though their boss and cohorts didn’t support their decisions to take vacation.

Why You Should Use Your Paid Vacation Days (If You Get Them)

Listen: Now, more than ever, vacation is important. In this time of glowing computer screens, unavoidable phone updates and swiping to find your next date, our brains need a break. Less stress equals more happiness, right?

And remember those 658 million unused vacation days Americans aren’t taking? According to the study, that equates to millions of days of “free work” and $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits.

Take a minute to digest that.

That’s not all — the study found those who take more than 10 vacation days have a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period.

Those who took fewer than 10 vacation days per year had only a 34.6% chance of getting that raise.

Will Taking Vacation Really Get You a Raise?

So all you have to do is take your vacation days and — voila! — you’ll start making more money?

Not necessarily.

It’s an issue of correlation versus causation. The study can’t necessarily conclude that if you take vacation, you’ll get a raise. Those who feel more secure in their jobs might be more likely to take time off, or they might already be eligible for a raise.

Or maybe it’s that those vacation days really do reduce stress and rejuvenate the brain and an employee’s creative prowess.

I spoke with my boss, The Penny Hoarder founder Kyle Taylor, to get his take. Taylor admits he doesn’t pay attention to how many vacation days his employees take.

“In general, I agree with the sentiment that taking frequent breaks makes us more creative, more productive and all around happier employees,” he says.

“I don’t think there’s any virtue in not taking vacation; it just leads to burnout.”

Taylor does notice, however, if an employee doesn’t properly prepare for a vacation, which he might consider in a performance review.

So, in conclusion, we can’t really say that taking vacation days will get you a raise, but the better questions is: Why not take those vacation days?

And for the one-third of you who don’t take vacation for financial reasons, you can’t use that excuse anymore. We have plenty of resources to help you afford a getaway.

Your Turn: If you don’t take advantage of all of your paid vacation days, why not?

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.