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For US workers, a vacation deprivation

About one-third of American workers won't use all of their vacation time this year. Among the reasons: They're too busy, and they can't afford to travel.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 4, 2007



Ah, summer, glorious summer. It's the season to loosen your collar, lighten your steps, pack your bags, and head off on vacation.

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Or is it? Ask Stefanie Stadler, an account supervisor for a communications firm in McLean, Va., if she uses all her vacation every year and she replies with a quick No. "I do lose hours," she says.

But don't think Ms. Stadler's boss, Lisa Throckmorton, is playing Simon Legree and blocking the door. As Ms. Throckmorton explains, "Every week when I meet with her, I remind her of her paid-time-off balance."

It's a reminder Throckmorton, a senior vice president, could use herself. "I have 100 hours of vacation already this year," she says.

As both women forgo time they could be spending at the beach or in a European cafe, they have plenty of company. This year an estimated 51 million Americans – more than one-third of the workforce – will not use all their vacation days, according to a survey by Expedia.com. In what the company calls "vacation deprivation," each worker will pass up an average of three days off.

Other workers face a different challenge. Almost 1 in 4 Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. In a new report, "No-Vacation Nation," the group notes that the US remains the only advanced country that does not guarantee workers a paid vacation. By law, Europeans have the right to at least 20 days of paid time off per year. Some countries guarantee 25 or 30 days.

Americans offer many reasons for not taking vacations. "For some workers, it is a show of loyalty to be at work all the time," says Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, Calif. "It shows your commitment and what a wonderful employee you are."

Some workers say they cannot leave because they have too much to do. Others can't afford a getaway or say they are too tired to plan one. Some want to save vacation time for emergencies. Still others don't want to come back to a heavy workload. Dual-career families find it especially hard to coordinate schedules. Some employees take their cues from those around them.

"A lot of people give up vacation days because they see their boss or co-workers giving up their days," says Noah Blumenthal, president of a coaching company on Long Island. "This creates a vicious cycle in which no one wants to be the first to take all their days, but everyone wants the culture to change."

This summer, with gas prices soaring, more Americans may choose shorter vacations closer to home. Some will simply stay home, taking what is called a "staycation."

For Stadler, who is in her mid-20s and single, giving up part of her time off is a matter of priorities.

"I'm ambitious," she says. "I look at the time I could be in the office helping clients. It's a trend of this age group. You don't want to be spending money when you might invest it, or spending time away when you don't necessarily need to. It's a life stage. I'll grow out of it. I love to travel."

Even the summer hours some companies offer, with half-days on Friday, can subtly alter vacation patterns. "I look at those and think that is like a mini-vacation," Stadler says. "I don't need a week at a time to refresh myself."

Throckmorton finds that the growing ranks of singles also have an effect. "We've got a lot of people in their mid-20s. Seemingly nobody in that age group has any vacation plans for the summer. I don't know if it's financial, or being single and not planning."

By the numbers: Vacation time

15 Average number of paid vacation days (9) and paid holidays (6) given to US workers each year.

69% of workers earning less than $15 per hour receive paid vacation time, while 88% of workers who earn more do.

45% of US workers did not use all of their vacation allotted in 2006, and 15% of workers lost at least one of their vacation days, claiming they didn't have time to use it.

43% of workers say they don't get enough paid vacation.

Source: The Center for Economic Policy Research "No-Vacation Nation," May 2007; Yahoo HotJobs survey of 1,800 professionals; CareerBuilder.com survey of 6,823 private sector employees.

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