Employees Leave Unused Vacation Time Available. Who Knew?

Everyone has a different idea of what the perfect vacation is. For some, it’s camping in the woods and others enjoy being wined and dined somewhere new and exotic. Regardless of where you want to go, you’re going to need vacation time off work to go there.

People have many different viewpoints on whether you should use any of your vacation time. Some put their noses to the grindstone and don’t use it, while others support the movement of using all your vacation time for a little rest & relaxation every few months.

Last year was my first year of using vacation time and having a set number of paid days off. Before I worked here, I worked part-time retail which was pretty lax in requesting time off, as long as you didn’t want the Friday after Thanksgiving off you had a good possibility of getting it. With that being said, when I started here I hoarded my vacation days like a six-year-old hoards candy.

Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my vacation time hoarding. This is what I’ve found out about people’s beliefs on whether it’s best to use or lose their vacation time:

At the end of 2011, “about 57% of working Americans had unused vacation, and most of them left an average of 11 days on the table” according to a study performed by Harris Interactive for JetBlue.

Why was there this much vacation time left on the table? CNN found some possible reasons and factors:

The face of someone who has 2,483 unopened emails

Too Much to Come Back To:

Kyra Mancine (a catalog copywriter from Rochester, N.Y.) said, “I worry that if I’m gone for an extended vacation, the work won’t get down and I’ll come back to a huge pile-up of projects. I hate coming back to hundreds of emails.”

Too Expensive to Travel:

Emily Harley (a marketing and media relations manager based in Helana, Alabama) had this to say: “I can’t afford to do anything when I do take time off. It just wasn’t worth the trade-off to let work back up and cause myself stress, if the only thing I could do with time off was clean house!”

Emily isn’t alone with this problem. One fifth of workers who were asked if they could afford to travel said they couldn’t afford to. Rising airfare rates, high gasoline prices, and the high taxes of popular travel destinations is enough to make anyone dread taking time off work.

Some will go to great lengths to keep working while on vacation

Unemployment Rate in the US:

9 percent of respondents said they were fearful of taking time off work during an unstable job market. The unemployment rate is slowly improving, but at 7.9% it still is a factor that many people take into account before requesting time off. Maybe if the company realizes how easily they’re getting along without that employee, do they really need them? This question is enough to kill any stress-relieving benefits your vacation would foster.

Why You SHOULD Use Your Vacation Time!

Chronic stress can be experienced from an accumulation of those seemingly “small” daily stress that impact our decision-making skills. More stress equals more mistakes because our minds are going in a million different directions at break-neck speed. By taking vacation (or even a ‘staycation’) you can break the cycle that’s causing stress and give your brain a chance to recoup and recover.

Amazing how a little vacation not only helps your mood, but your health too!

Since 1948, the Framingham Heart Study has been observing generations of men and women and their lifestyle choices. Statistics from a 20-year study tell that women who take at least two vacations a year are eight times less likely to have a coronary disease. And according to the New York Times, men who choose not to take a yearly vacation are 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack and have a 21 percent higher risk of dying from all causes, than their peers who take full advantage of their time off.

You’re not a robot and eventually you will drive yourself into a pit of unhappiness if you keep working without a break. You need to shake up your routine and sleep until 11:30 in the morning instead of hitting the snooze three times at 5:30 in the morning. Keep your mental health in tip-top shape by taking a day or two to sit on your couch with your DVR full of every episode of your favorite television shows.

Why Should You Let Them Go?

Some companies allow employees to roll over their vacation time (or at least a portion of it) from one year to the next. This is extremely helpful if you know about an event next year that you want some extra time to enjoy, like a honeymoon or a vacation you’ve been saving up for years to afford to go on. Why not enjoy an extra few days?

It’s not common, but ‘buying back’ vacation time is a perk some companies offer

It’s not as commonplace, but can still be found in some organizations where the company will ‘buy back’ vacation time that the employee has. USG Corp., a building materials manufacturer based in Chicago, has over 8,500 employees. Two decades ago they introduced a buy-sell program for their workers to take part in. Nearly 50 percent of the employees buy one week of vacation every year (the cost is deducted in installments from their paycheck throughout the year), whereas some employees opt to sell their vacation time instead.

Now it’s your turn!

Do you use all of your vacation time? Why or why not? Do you agree that even a few days off for a “staycation” can work wonders for stress? Sound off below!

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How quickly do you use up your vacation time?

How quickly do you use up your vacation time?

Amy Hoidas

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ Community Manager. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on


  1. keith

    I definitely use up as much vacation time as I possibly can. Even if I don’t go anywhere, I will still enjoy the staycation. I’ll watch some movies, play some video games, anything to power off my brain from work. I strongly believe you need that time away atleast twice a year just to reboot. Any job can become way too stressful and you need that time off. I might let one or two go unused at the end of the year but no more than that if I can help it!

    • Amanda

      I agree, Keith! A staycation is usually much less stressful and much less costly than a vacation–and I tend to take those a few times a year. A couple chill days around the house can be super relaxing, and give us a needed break! =)

  2. Eric

    Interesting, Amy. I find it sad some folks resolve themselves to not taking any trips, even if the economy isn’t in the most ideal place for them. Part of what motivated my camping kick was the opportunity it gave us. If we provided our own shelter (a tent), and food (did our own cooking), most the major expenses were out of the way. They may not be as long or luxurious as some vacations, but they still get us out.

  3. Jana Quinn

    It’s extra crazy when you consider how few vacation days the U.S. gets compared to other countries:

    With the high unemployment and competitive job market, I think that staying late and refusing to take vacation time is seen as a mark for workers of being a team player and showing themselves as indispensable to their company. Plus, with so many layoffs, fewer people are now left to manage larger workloads, and those people definitely don’t want to be seen as workers who can’t manage their job.

    Maybe as the economy and job market recover, employees will allow themselves to relax some more in their job security and take a breather.

  4. Wash

    Personally, I like the idea of taking a few “mini-vacations” throughout the year (by taking long weekends) over taking one really long vacation once a year. I think it makes the most out of vacation time and gives you a few vacations to look forward to every year!

    • Amy Swanson

      I’m with you and your “mini-vacations” idea! In 2011 I took off an entire week for a vacation in the summer and then stressed about not getting enough time off at the holidays to spend with family. 2012 I took a few three-day weekends and found myself having plenty of time left over for the holidays.

      Plus, this style is a lot more convenient for the employer too (I would imagine). It’s easier to have someone cover a job for a day or two versus a week or two. Excellent suggestion, Wash! 🙂

  5. Mikey

    I still have yet to use most of my time off. Generally, I don’t like to take time off unless I have to. Additionally, I’m always afraid that, if I use it, it may not be available when an emergency or something comes up. But I do agree that even a short “vacation,” or even a day off can really help to recharge the batteries and help to get some rest. Heh, maybe if we got as much vacation time as some of those other countries, we’d be more willing to take the time off.

  6. Amanda

    Great article, Amy! I fall somewhere in the middle of these choices. I generally use most of my vacation time, but I don’t feel pressured to use it all. I know that I need some days off throughout the year to get extra things done, or to go on a trip, or just have a day by myself. But I do give myself somewhat of a guilt trip if I take a day off for nothing in particular. I end up running errands and cleaning the house and such anyway. LOL. We don’t take a lot of actual vacations–but do enjoy visiting family in AZ. That gives us something new, and fun to do, while keeping costs under control. Otherwise, for me, taking a Thursday & Friday off a couple times a year is wonderful, and gives me that re-charge we all need from time to time.

  7. Cybernetic SAM

    This is an interesting topic, one that really is only relevant to the USA. By this I mean everyone I have met from other countries is shocked by the American work ethic. For instance there was a girl from France that once said something I will never forget; she said that in America people live to work, you all work non-stop, America no one rests and has the time to appreciate. It is not the working American’s fault you are born to work and when you only have a week off that is NO time to go and experience anything, so you don’t know what you are missing. I will always remember that. It is strange how people hold on to their time-off. We are money driven and you don’t make money by relaxing and taking a view of the world I guess. Makes me kind of sad. Great Post it was really kind of interesting to learn about this!

  8. Rachel

    If I finished off a year without using up all the vacation time that I could, I’d be very upset! Your reasons for taking vacation time all ring true to me, Amy — sometimes the best days off are the ones spent sleeping in, or relaxing around the house, or going shopping (or just window-shopping) for fun. Little breaks throughout the year can make a huge difference in productivity and lowering stress, at least in my experience.

    Really interesting post, Amy — thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. david k waltz


    Since vacation is considered ‘compensation’ by companies, I think as a general rule you should take what you are allowed or at least enough to not lose any during ‘carry over’ periods, since it becomes your loss and the company’s gain otherwise. Once I had kids, the time off became a lot more valuable, they grow so fast and you miss a lot of it when you can only see them an hour or two a day.

    • Amy Swanson

      Hey David!

      My dad did the same thing with my sister and I when we were growing up. We would always go camping a few times during the summer and at holidays he always tries to take as much time as possible to spend with us. The addition of having his first grandson come this year definitely made it easier for him to say, “see you in a week” at work 😉

      Always love seeing your name in the comment section, David! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  10. Rachel

    I’ve earned that vacation time and I will use it throughout the year even if it’s for a staycation. We need to recharge.
    As for vacation buy back programs – two of the companies I’ve worked for had programs – one paid you $.70 on the dollar, the other $.80. There again if I take the vacation I get 100%!

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