Why you should definitely take your vacation days this holiday season

The average American leaves four vacation days unused each year.

On average, Americans throw away four vacation days per year.
On average, Americans throw away four vacation days per year. –iStock

With the holiday season approaching, you’re probably trying to figure out how many vacation days you have left and how to use them, or if you’re like the average American, whether to use them at all.

A recent survey from online travel company Expedia found that the average American leaves four full vacation days unused each year, averaging just 11 of the 15 days available to them. As Fortune magazine points out, if you multiply that by 122 million full-time workers in the U.S., it adds up to 500 million days left unused.

What gives?

Some studies have suggested that vacations stress Americans out. As time off approaches, some people worry co-workers can’t handle their workload while they’re away, while others stress about the amount of work that will be waiting for them when they return.

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It’s worth noting that Expedia has a vested interest in encouraging workers to use their time off, but the study mirrored a larger trend of American workers using the smallest amount of vacation time in nearly the last four decades.

You could pat yourself on the back for being such a diligent employee, but research shows that taking vacation is important for physical and mental well-being, and can have a positive impact on relationships outside work. Some studies show that taking time off can lead to a burst in creativity upon returning to the workplace.

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Jobs with the best work-life balance, according to Glassdoor:

If you can afford it, The Atlantic suggests taking an international vacation: “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and…the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,’’ said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. Sounds good to us, but keep in mind that all of these positive side effects of taking time off probably only work if you’re fully disconnected from your job – which many of us aren’t.

A Glassdoor survey from 2014 found that 61 percent of respondents had worked while on vacation in the past twelve months.

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Perhaps we should take a lesson from Europeans, who not only get twice as many days off as Americans, but also generally use all their vacation time. Workers in Germany, France, Spain, and Finland are offered about 30 days off per year, and told Expedia they use nearly all of those days.

“We continue to find that Europe’s attitudes towards vacation are overall much different than North American and Asian attitudes,’’ John Morrey, vice president of Expedia.com said in a statement. “For some workers, vacation is a right, and for others, it’s a guilty pleasure. Some workers also fear that their bosses will disapprove. A healthy work-life balance is critical, not only to give workers a chance to enjoy their lives outside of the office, but also to recharge, making you more productive when you get back to work.’’  

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