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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Study Finds Americans Taking Fewer Vacation Days

Americans on average receive 14 vacation days, but only use ten of them, according to a new study. (Royce Bair/Flickr)

Americans on average receive 14 vacation days, but only use ten of them, according to a new study. (Royce Bair/Flickr)

Many Americans think they work too hard, which might make you think they love using their vacation days. But a new survey finds Americans lost more than 500 million vacation days last year.

The 2013 Vacation Deprivation Study by Expedia found that Americans get average of 14 vacation days, but only take 10.

Derek Thompson, business editor for the Atlantic joins  Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to explain the study’s findings.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.

Janet Yellen is a step closer to becoming the first woman to head the Federal Reserve. In a 14-8 vote, the Senate Banking Committee approved her nomination today. Now it's on to the full Senate, where she's expected to be confirmed. So Yellen's likely headed to a new job, but what about people who want to take a break from their current work, you know, vacations?

Well, a new survey shows that, on average, most Americans get 14 vacation days, but they take only 10 of them, meaning they lost, in total, more than 500 million vacation days this year. That is a lot. Derek Thompson, business editor at The Atlantic, joins us, as he does on most Thursdays. Hi, there, Derek.

DEREK THOMPSON, BYLINE: Good to be back.

CHAKRABARTI: So you're working. OK, that's good.


CHAKRABARTI: Well, so we should say this survey was done by Expedia. We're going to talk about that in a second. But it's got a great name: the 2013 Vacation Deprivation studies. It shows that this year, Americans left four days of their vacation, on average, unused. What gives?

THOMPSON: Vacation depravation, yes. We are the no-vacation nation. And I think there is a short-term reason and a long-term reason. The short-term reason is that the economy is still sort of stinks, and people are fearful for keeping their jobs and work, more so during bad economies than good. The long-term reason, though, is that Americans are workaholics, the end. We worked longer hours than Europe in the 1950s, in the 1960s, every single decade up to now.

What's more, we've transitioned, I think, from a factory-based economy - where we're all sort of replaceable cogs, anyway - to a service-based economy where we're supposed to show our bosses that we aren't replaceable. And so, perhaps we're so worried about taking time off and having people realize that they can get on without us, that we choose instead to simply never stop working.

CHAKRABARTI: I note, though, that the Expedia survey finds that Japan and Korea take the least vacation, just seven days a year. So they're even toiling away even more continuously than we are here in the United States. And also, we ought to point out that not every American gets vacation days, you know, if they're working, that 25 percent of American workers don't get any vacation time or paid vacation time at all. But on the flipside, I see, in the same survey, that it shows that American bosses are actually more supportive of vacation than supervisors in other countries?

THOMPSON: Right. Well, I mean, to answer your first point, you're right. The U.S. is practically the only developed country in the world that does not require companies at a federal level to give workers time off. You have some state and local laws. And I'm here in New York, where I am speaking from. But in some states, you do have laws that say you have to give your employees some vacation time.

But to your second question, you know, the idea that American bosses seem somewhat ironically more supportive of vacation. You know, I think this is two things happening. One, I think some of these bosses are lying.


THOMPSON: They're being called on the phone and being asked: Do you support your employees having vacation? And they say, oh, well, of course I am - I support vacation among my employees. But when you get right down to it, you know, of course they would prefer a more productive workforce than their competitors. There's that.

And then, you know, I also think that perhaps because there's an expectation among employees that we don't take that much vacation until the sort of bleak mid-winter of December, that bosses feel more comfortable essentially saying, oh, sure, my workers could take more time off, knowing very well that they won't.

CHAKRABARTI: Right. So, I also see that Europeans, overall, feel the most vacation-deprived, even though they take the most vacation days. So I suppose that's a universal thing, that no matter how much we get, we don't think it's enough. But in the last couple seconds we've got, Derek, I got to ask you: This was done by Expedia. Don't they have all the motivation in the world to say, travel more? Take those days off.

THOMPSON: That was certainly their hope. I think Expedia, what they were trying to do here was probably to guilt bosses and guilt employees into saying, oh, my God. We're doing so much worse than the rest of the world in terms of honoring vacation. Maybe we should go on Expedia.com and buy some tickets to fly to Bermuda or something.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, you're going to keep working. So, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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