Americans are donating an average of $604 in work time to their employers every year in unused vacation time that can’t be rolled over or paid out, according to a 2017 estimate from the US Travel Association.
Nearly half (49%) of American workers said they can’t vacation because their workloads are too heavy, according to a 2016 survey from NPR, Harvard, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And 42% of those survey respondents said they felt they couldn’t take all their paid vacation days because there weren’t enough people to cover for them.
But there are some signs Americans are starting to change their ways: a 2018 report from the US Travel Association suggests that after two decades of declines in the number of vacation days workers took per year, employees who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off are now starting to both earn and use up more allotted holiday time than they did a few years back. In 2017, vacationers spent an extra half day away from their desks on average than they did in 2016, according to the report.
Although it can feel tough to get away from the office, employees are not doing themselves any favors by working themselves into the ground. There are real, important benefits to a restful vacation.
The opposite of vacation — overwork — can lead to health problems. Researchers studied the work habits of more than 600,000 people in the US, UK, and Australia, and found that people who work more than 55 hours a week are 33% more likely to suffer a stroke and have a 13% greater risk of heart attack than those who work 35-40 hours weekly.
Economists have even calculated the most productive and efficient schedules for factory workers, and found that working much more than 48 hours a week tends to make productivity plummet.
Even anticipating a vacation can improve your mood. Researchers who studied 974 vacationers from the Netherlands discovered that planning for a vacation makes people happier before they go.
Researchers who followed a group of 749 women from Massachusetts for two decades found that those who went on vacation less than once every six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop heart problems than women who vacationed twice a year.