But before we can say “I want more vacation time” - let’s first look at how this country’s corporate culture feels about vacation.
Vacation pay is not required by U.S. law. In fact U.S. employers don't have to offer vacation time off even without pay. Vacation pay is strictly voluntary for employers, but many offer it as a benefit to attract and keep employees. This traditional approach to a vacation policy has been working up to now, but does it meet the requirements of the emerging generations, attract top talent, or allow us to compete effectively on a global basis? Maybe not, but let’s look at our current US vacation policy and trends.
If employers do offer vacation pay, then employees are entitled to it under the terms and conditions in their related policies. Most employers offer the standard 2 to 3 weeks and sometimes allow employees to purchase and/or accrue based on policy or contract. In some states, they must offer the accrued vacation days paid when employment ends. In most cases, U.S. employees reaching incumbents of 5, 10, 15 or more years of service are awarded time-off allowances that are similar to those mandated by the government in other countries for all employees, regardless of tenure.
Current research shows about 90 percent of U.S. employers offer vacation. Workers received an average of nine days of paid vacation and six paid holidays, a total of 15 days off per year. 28 million Americans don't get any paid vacation or paid holidays.
Because offering vacation pay is voluntary for employers, they may impose other conditions and restrictions as well. For example, your employer can likely require you to schedule your vacation in advance, only during identified times of the year, or have you postpone it. Some companies won't allow you to take more than 1 or 2 consecutive weeks of time off. There always seem to be a feeling of never having time to take a vacation.
We all want more vacation, but the surprising statistic is that US workers often give back more vacation days than they actually take off, depriving themselves of much-needed breaks. On average, Americans leave at least four days unclaimed annually.
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays. As we move towards developing new vacation policies and innovative flexibility to attract talent on a national and global basis, it will be interesting how the US adopts creative and new vacation policies to attract the talent we need to fill our open jobs. I would think we would all want to change our way of thinking about vacation time but culturally we tell a different story.
Many European employees take up to a month off for vacation at one time (especially in the summer month of August). So why is it so difficult for us to take the little vacation time we receive? A recent study shows that US employees are doing it all wrong by taking short holidays or none at all. It shows that this can create even more stress and that short team breaks do not recharge our batteries.
It’s important for us to recharge our batteries with lengthier periods of vacation time. Similarly, it’s critical for US companies to adopt more creative vacation policies and flexible working environments.
Maybe it is a generational condition that is leaving the market with the baby boomers and one that we will no longer see as the next generation of talent enters the workforce? Or maybe employers just simply need to rethink their vacation policies to remain competitive in the war for talent.
Then again, how many of us go on vacation and don’t check our work email?