Summer is traditionally vacation time however a new study shows that American workers are often reluctant to take time off to enjoy it.  A survey of 5,641 full-time Americans workers found that more than half (55 percent) left vacation days unused in 2015, forfeiting $61.4 billion in benefits. They left a cumulative total of 658 million vacation days on the table last year—of those 222 million were simply lost and could not be rolled over, paid out or banked for another benefit. That translates to an average of two full days lost per worker.

A Trend of Declining Vacation Time

The issue of Americans not utilizing their allotted vacation days has been brewing for some time. Research conducted by Project: Time Off shows that from 1978 to 1998, Americans took an average of 20.3 vacation days annually. This figure began falling in 2000, steadily declining to an average of 16.2 vacation days in 2015. American workers receive an average of 21.9 paid days off annually.

Why is This Happening?

Project: Time Off has identified numerous reasons why American workers are reluctant to take vacation time. In the most recent survey, which targeted workers and managers at companies around the country, 37 percent said they were worried that they would return to a mountain of work; 30 percent felt no one else could do their job; 22 percent believe that not taking a vacation is a way to show complete dedication; and 30 percent admitted that they cannot financially afford a vacation.

However, the organization suggests that management is also part of the problem. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the respondents report that they hear “nothing,” “mixed messages” or “discouraging messages” from their superiors about taking time off. Eighty percent of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their bosses, they would be more likely to take more time off. Fifty-three percent of the respondents sense a lack of support from their colleagues about taking time off.

Advances in technology means that employees can be in touch with their offices 24/7. Nearly one-third of employees surveyed say they put “a lot” or “some” pressure on themselves to check in with work when they are on vacation. One in four (25%) of respondents are” unsure” or “agree” that their company expects them to work while on vacation.

Additional Findings

In addition to harming the overworked individuals who routinely forego vacations, the practice is hurting the American economy because unused vacation days represent billions in lost economic potential. Project: Time Off estimates that if Americans had used all the vacation time they earned in 2015, it would have meant an additional $223 billion in spending for the U.S. economy. If Americans were to take just one more day off annually, it would represent $34 billion in total spending for the U.S. economy.

Study Recommendations

Project: Time Off maintains that breaks from work are important; giving employees the opportunity to relax and recharge so they can return to work refreshed. To ensure that they take their allotted time off, Project: Time Off advises workers to plan their annual vacation time in advance. Last year, 51 percent of those who planned in advance took all of their vacation time, compared to 39 percent of those who did not plan in advance.

Project: Time Off has found that planning time off is directly correlated with increased happiness. Of those who consciously schedule time off, 97 percent report being happier in their personal relationships with family and friends; 87 percent are happier about the company they work for; and 90 percent are happier about their physical health and well-being.

The organization believes that an open conversation about vacation time needs to occur in workplaces and homes. American families need to prioritize and plan time off. Managers must communicate the importance of taking time off and lead by example. Companies must make vacation an accepted and encouraged practice.

Finally, technology enables workers to be in touch 24/7. Employees must consciously set boundaries for connectivity if they truly want to take time off.