A Case for Using Unused Vacation Time

“According to the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. companies are carrying more than $200 Billion worth of unused vacation time on their books” (Bank of America, n.d., para. 1).[i]

When was the last time you took a week or two of vacation just to unwind and spend some quality time with those you love?  Maybe you are one of those workers who routinely takes their vacation and uses it as a time of rest and rejuvenation.  If you are, then you are part of a dwindling number of workers.  Researchers are telling us that unused vacation time is at a 40-year high (Langfield, 2015).[ii]  Workers are either taking the money instead of the time, or they are just giving away their vacation time at alarming rates.  In an article in HR Magazine, author Stephen Miller (2016) reports that the average U.S. worker took 20.3 vacation days a year from 1976 to 2000.[iii]  Since that time, the average has slipped to 16.2 days per year.

Business leaders may be pleased with the prospect of their organization getting a greater return on their employees because of the extra time worked.  Or they may be thinking their organization is saving a lot of dollars with employees giving away time off.  Many experts offer a word of caution.

The benefits associated with time away from work have long been documented.  Research indicates that vacation can reduce emotional exhaustion and increase employee engagement (Kuhnel & Sonnentag, 2011).[iv]  Vacation time can also serve to reduce stress and burnout which can cost an employer as much as $7 for every dollar saved when employees do not use their vacation allotment (Borins, as cited in Galentine, 2011).[v]

Scripture provides some perspective on the importance of rest as well. One of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament for a day of rest (Leviticus 23:3) provides.  In Mark 6:30-32, we find Jesus encouraging his disciples to “rest a while.”  And in Matthew 11:28, we find Jesus offering to be a source of rest for anyone who may be tired and burdened.

As an organizational leader or manager, one of our top priorities should be to gain competitive advantage through effective use of our available human capital.  What would a more rested and engaged workforce mean for your business?


[i] Bank of America. (n.d.). Turning your dream vacation into a reality. Retrieved March 23, 2017, from https://www.bankofamerica.com/credit-cards/education/planning-your-dream-vacation.go

[ii] Langfield, A. (2014). Unused vacation days at 40-year high [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/amy-langfield/

[iii] Miller, S. (July/August, 2016). Unused vacation time: Paradise (and productivity) lost. HR Magazine, 61(6), 17. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/

[iv] Kühnel, J., & Sonnentag, S. (2011). How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(1), 125-143. doi:10.1002/job.6992014)

[v] Galentine, E. (2011). The original wellness plan. Employee Benefit News, 25(5), 44-45. Retrieved from http://www.tfimg.com/IMG_Media/EBframe.html

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