If you’re leaving vacation days on the table this year, you’re not alone.
More than half of people who get paid vacation time won’t use all their days off this year, and it’s often not just one or two wasted days. A report from New York-based Bankrate.com found the average amount of leftover days is 19, and the median is seven.
Millennials are the biggest hoarders. One in four workers in the 18-25 age group say when the calendar flips to 2017, they will not have used a single day from 2016. That’s compared with fewer than one in 10 employees overall.
“Younger millennials in general feel that they’re laying the foundations of their career,” said Sarah Berger, personal finance expert at Bankrate.com. “They feel like they have something to prove and that’s really why they’re not taking as many days off.”
Banking the days to be used the following year is the most popular reason for not using vacation days, but other reasons reflect today’s worries in the workplace.
Twenty-three percent said they feared the mountain of work that would await them upon their return from time off. Other reasons for eating the days included enjoying work, not being able to afford a trip and worries about their jobs being at risk if they spend too much time away.
So what’s the problem with staying in your cubicle, diligently working away? Vacation is good for you, and good for your employer. It helps workers recharge, mentally and physically, and prevents burnout, said Lotte Bailyn, a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management who has studied managerial practices and their effect on people’s lives for years.
“People need to replenish their energy, they need to do different kinds of things,” she said in an email. “Creativity comes more easily when people are not focused completely on what they’re doing, but have a chance to reflect.”
Besides benefiting from that creativity, employers benefit by saving on health care costs, she said.
Vacation days have become a casualty of a technology-driven work world, said Katie Denis, senior director and lead researcher of Project: Time Off, a campaign funded by the U.S. Travel Association to encourage people to take off the time due them.
“We’ve given people phones to use for work, we’ve given them the ability to work from home,” she said. “All of these things are great, but we don’t give them the ability to manage it.”
American workers left 658 million vacation days unused in 2015, according to Project: Time Off’s State of American Vacation 2016 report, released in June. About 222 million of those days were lost because they could not be rolled over or paid out.
That’s a lot of wasted benefits, Denis said. “That’s saying, ‘I’m going to work for free,’ and that’s to the tune of $61 billion,” she said.
America trails much of the world when it comes to using vacation time, according to Expedia’s Vacation Deprivation report, released last month.
American workers were given an average of 15 paid vacation days this year and used only 12, the report found. In contrast, Finnish, French and Spanish workers were given 30 and used all 30. Italian and German workers were given 30 days and took 25 and 28 days off, respectively.
How can U.S. workers get back on track? Plan better, Denis advised.
“You just need to make sure you’re blocking your calendar,” she said. “You’re not going to find time anymore, you have to make it.”