A new study on the harmful economic impact of unused time off by U.S. employees released by the U.S. Travel Association comes at the end of a year that has seen a flurry of advocacy for the travel industry by the organization.
The study, conducted for U.S. Travel by Oxford Economics and entitled "An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.," finds that reducing the amount of wasted time off by just one day per employee could translate into an extra $73 billion in output for the U.S. economy.
The new study is part of U.S. Travel's Travel Effect campaign, a multi-year, multimillion-dollar advocacy effort that was launched a little over a year ago in January 2013. The Travel Effect campaign includes research projects and studies aimed at demonstrating the positive effects of travel on people's lives, careers and communities.
U.S. Travel continued its advocacy efforts during the budget sequestration crisis of early 2013. When budget cuts impacted the operations of travel-related government agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection, the organization launched a grassroots campaign aimed at pressuring policymakers to limit the negative impact of the budget battle.
U.S. Travel has also shown support for issues aimed at boosting travel such as expanding the Visa Waiver Program, streamlining airport security procedures through programs like TSA PreCheck and immigration reform. Recently the organization argued that provisions in the Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act (H.R. 1354) could add more than $7 billion to the U.S. economy and support more than 40,000 additional American jobs.
Time Off Study Findings
"An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S." has found that U.S. employees left an average of 3.2 paid time off days unused in 2013, adding up to 429 million unused days total.
While most managers in the study recognized the benefits of paid leave (among them higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention and significant health benefits), employees reported difficulty in using their paid time off. Nearly 34 percent of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, and 17 percent of managers consider employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated. Four in ten American workers said their employer supported time off, but their heavy workload kept them from using their earned days.
"Despite the myriad benefits of taking time off, American workers succumb to various pressures—some self-imposed and some from management—to not take the time off to which they are entitled," said Adam Sacks, president of the tourism economics division of Oxford Economics. "Leaving earned days on the table harms, not helps, employers by creating a less productive and less loyal employee.
"Further, it is a misconception that employers are ahead of the game when workers don't use the time they've earned. In fact, stockpiled time off creates considerable financial liability for companies and governments when employees 'cash out' upon departure."
Other key findings? If U.S. workers had used all of their available paid time off, the economy would have seen an extra $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, spending that would support 1.2 million jobs in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing to transportation.
"Underutilized time off is a monstrous missed opportunity, not only for American workers and their families, but also for employers and the broader economy," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "Americans take great pride in their work ethic, and our country's prosperity is a testament to that. We decided to explore why Americans understand the value of time off, continue to need it, yet squander so much of it. We seem to be wired to put the pedal to the metal, but there are also undeniable benefits to tapping the brakes.
The study was based on a survey of 971 employees, 700 of whom receive PTO as part of their benefits package, conducted between September and October 2013.