Opinion: It’s summertime. Why aren’t you on vacation?

Panda playing high atop a tree at the Chengdu Panda Research Base. Visiting the preserve is the kind of vacation that requires more time than most American workers are willing to take off.
(Scott Martelle/Los Angeles Times)

My wife and I returned Friday from two weeks of vacation in China, hanging out with one of our sons (posted there with the Peace Corps) and his girlfriend. We were mostly unplugged, wandered miles every day, traipsed the Great Wall and watched pandas, among other exotic (to us) exploits. And that’s what vacations are for – time away from the desk to, as an old friend once described it, get a chance to rub our fur in a different direction for a while.

Who knew we were so rare?

The folks at Vox report, based on recent federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data, that fewer Americans are taking weeklong vacations than in previous decades, for a range of reasons including fear of career repercussions to jobs that don’t offer accrued vacation days. According to Vox:

“Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations.


“Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.”

American workers receive an average of 14 vacation days a year, according to annual studies by Expedia. The average for the industrialized world is 20 days, led by generous time-off policies in many European countries. Yet Americans last year only used, on average, 10 of their 14 vacation. Many opted to leave the days in the bank, planning to use them later on, or hoping to cash them in at retirement.

But others cite difficulty in scheduling the time away (conflicts with fellow workers’ time off and synchronizing vacation time with working family members), lack of money to pay for trips, and job insecurity. When it comes time for layoffs, you don’t want to be the person deemed most expendable.

Glassdoor conducted its own survey and found some different results: It says Americans took only about half of their allotted vacation time, though the reasons were similar to Expedia’s findings. When we’re on vacation, most of us still stay connected to work through email or other methods (guilty of that myself). Glassdoor found that those who reported working while on vacation cited the sense that no one could do their work while they were away (33%) and fear of falling behind (28%), among other reasons – including fear of getting fired.

And that’s not healthy. When we work all the time and skip vacations, we often become burned out, resulting in reduced productivity and increased stress that can affect our physical health and personal relationships.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check the office vacation calendar for next year. It’s never too early to plan.


Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.