The U.S. Travel Association thinks Americans are unwittingly harming themselves – and the economy – by working too hard.
That is, working too hard and not using all of their paid time off.
Mountains of unused paid time off accumulate yearly, more than 429 million days of it, according to research by Oxford Economics. That’s an average of 3.2 days per worker. It also represents more than $160 billion in lost spending that could support another 1.2 million jobs.
Add an estimated $21 billion in lost tax revenue on top of that, and it’s a real eye opener.
Those findings are part of a new report called “The Day Off Dividend.” The findings form the cornerstone of an initiative announced last week by the U.S. Travel Association aimed at increasing the use of paid time off in an effort to boost leisure travel.
Travel Market Report spoke with Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association about the first-of-its kind initiative.
Americans pride themselves on hard work. Haven’t you seen that Cadillac commercial bragging about how little vacation we take?
Dow: Yes, and as you know it received some pretty scathing criticism.
We are talking about a cultural shift here, a lifestyle shift. Americans are working themselves to the bone with no personal benefit other than working hard.
Research shows that business productivity actually grows when workers take their time off. They come back refreshed and recharged. That sounds like an old wives’ tale, but it’s accurate.
How did the idea for this initiative come about?
Dow: U.S. Travel had such great success with business and meeting travel in recent years. We wanted to make a difference in leisure travel. We read stories about communities paying out millions in unused paid time off. Then we began some preliminary research on the topic of unused time.
What did you find?
Dow: We found lots of evidence about the benefits of taking time off – studies that show people who take more than two weeks of vacation are less likely to have a heart attack. Things of that nature. We realized there was a monster opportunity to look at the bigger picture.
We hired Oxford Economics to study the overall effect of what happens when American workers leave their PTO [paid time off] on the table. What does it mean to retail, to restaurants and other businesses?
We found that if people take off only one of their unused PTO days, it could mean an additional $73 billion in spending for the economy.
Aside from the economic benefits, what about improving the lives of the workers?
Dow: Taking time off is extremely important as far as improving people’s lives. Research shows that employees know this. They believe that time off improves their family life, social life and makes them more focused on the job.
Employers also believe it’s a good idea. The problem is that employees don’t believe their bosses. There’s distrust and a dichotomy in the workplace.
We’ve got to get employers to do a better job at encouraging their people to use their paid time off. We don’t want them to simply say, ‘Use it or lose it.’ It’s better to show employees the research that says everyone benefits.
This doesn’t seem like a short-term project. What time frame are you looking at?
Dow: It’s a five- to 10-year effort. First, we have to get people to understand the problem. We’re going to spend the next year to improve awareness. This year, we’re laying the groundwork and creating the blueprint. Internally, we’re calling this The Travel Effect. We have an advisory committee set up to move this forward.
How do you plan to measure success?
Dow: We’ll measure success in several ways. One is when we see those average unused PTO days start going down. Another measure is when we start seeing other organizations come on board.
Right now, AARP is very interested. They believe that travel plays a major role in mental acuity. The Society of Human Resource Managers is really excited about our findings on productivity.
We’re hoping to see the health care industry involved in this as well. If an insurer asks how many employees smoke or have diabetes, they should also ask about the average use of paid time off. It’s that important.