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Work Hard, Play Hard? Not in the United States

Why you should care

Because Americans may be working hard, but they’re not playing hard enough — at least that’s what it looks like from the HR department.

For Americans, the Memorial Day weekend signifies the start of the summer vacation season. You’d think it’s time to break out the suitcases, paperback novels and frequent flier miles. But for the work-addicted, it might just mean more time spent around the watercooler rather than the water park.

A recent Glassdoor survey found that the average American employee used only half of their vacation/paid time off in the last year. That’s fifty percent of lost time that could have been spent at Disneyland — or binge-watching House of Cards during a staycation. Whatever happened to the Clark Griswolds of society? Surprisingly, it’s not like most employers have dramatically changed their policies.

Analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in private industry, the availability and costs of leave benefits like paid holidays and paid vacations were “virtually unchanged” when you compare data from 1992-1993 through 2012. But in the United States, about one in four Americans still don’t even get paid vacation or paid holidays.

On the other hand, a small minority of employers — famously Silicon Valley-based Netflix — have ditched the generic two-weeks-of-vacation-a-year mantra and have adopted looser unlimited vacation policies. That flexibility is certainly a big draw for employees and according to the Society for Human Resource Management, is a benefit used to recruit millennials.

Yet even the privileged few don’t seem to be using their time off. The Glassdoor survey (conducted online by Harris Interactive) found that 61 percent of those taking vacation/paid time off are doing some work during it. Of those folks, a third claim that no one else at their company can do the work, while a smaller 22 percent are brown-nosers, claiming they are completely devoted to their company.

Out of the workaholic vacationers, 19 percent say they feel like they can’t be disconnected.

But it’s not just commitment to “the man”: About 1 in 10 employees are also using vacation time to interview for a new job.

Ask the travel companies, like Expedia, and they’ll tell you regions like North America, Japan and South Korea are “vacation-deprived,” while countries like Brazil, Germany, France, Spain and Denmark are “vacation-rich.” And many Europeans have legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation annually, while the United States doesn’t technically guarantee paid vacation at all.

Which makes us dull boys and girls, indeed.

Vignesh Ramachandran is a tech buff and journalist living in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @VigneshR.

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Vignesh Ramachandran

Ozy Author

Vignesh Ramachandran is a journalist and tech buff. He reports from the San Francisco Bay Area.