Americans Aren't Using Up Their Vacation Days

CC BY 2.0. Mish Sukharev

It's a sad state of affairs for a nation already notoriously overworked and overstressed.

The United States has earned the unfortunate moniker of "no vacation nation." A recent study by Kimble, a company dedicated to improving business practices, has revealed that nearly half (47 percent) of American employees did not use all their vacation days last year, and 21 percent left more than 5 vacation days unused. (The average Canadian leaves 3 days unused each year.)

The report surveyed 1,200 Americans with full-time jobs that are eligible for paid time off. Many (27 percent) said they have too many work-related projects on the go to be able to leave, while some (13 percent) fear the amount of work they'll return to, and so find it easier not to go away. Others worry about employers' reactions, with 19 percent feeling pressured by managers to stay and 7 percent nervous that requests won't be approved.

The findings are troubling, since vacations are actually very good for professional performance. Taking time off allows for mental rejuvenation, catching up on sleep deficits, physical relaxation and reduced stress levels, not to mention reconnecting with family and friends.

Vacations can even save lives, as one Canadian news report stated recently. The journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that middle-aged men with a high risk of coronary heart disease were "21 percent less likely to die of any cause other than old age, and 32 percent less likely to die of heart disease" if they went on vacation once a year.

Changing one's surroundings is healthy for the brain, improving its neuroplasticity, or the "ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections." There have been links drawn between international travel and boosted creativity. Therefore,

"It stands to reason that travelling will boost creativity and result in increased job performance" (via Global News).

That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy a plane ticket to Europe. Staying close to home while unplugging from the work world -- and the world of social media -- can do wonders for mental wellbeing. The Kimble report found that nearly half of employees check in with work while on vacation, which defeats the purpose of getting away from it all.

The responsibility for fixing this state of affairs lies with both employers and employees. The employers need to foster a workplace culture that recognizes the benefits of time off and encourages employees to take it. Employees, in the meantime, need to take these opportunities and show that they're valued, all the while realizing that they're actually doing their employers a favor by prioritizing their own mental wellbeing.