Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 7.
You don't use vacation days, and, at this time of year, it comes back to haunt you.
If you can't carry over vacation days to 2017, this is the part of 2016 where you're wondering how you can make the most of your remaining days off. In a survey by travel site Expedia, U.S. workers reported earning 15 vacation days, but used only 12 and left twice as many vacation days on the table in 2016 as they did in 2012. Not only does that vacation day allotment trail the 30 earned by workers in France, Spain and Gemany, but the days U.S. workers actually take off exceeds only the eight taken by workers in South Korean and ten by laborers in Japan. Meanwhile, a Harris survey indicates that more than 91% of U.S. workers do work-related tasks on their personal time, with 37% devoting more than ten off-the-clock hours to work each week.
A survey by the U.S. Travel Association industry lobbying group in Washington, D.C., found that U.S. workers used to take as many as 20.5 vacation days a year as recently as 2000. Now, roughly 55% of U.S. workers leave vacation days on the table, putting an estimated $61.4 billion worth of benefits back into employers' pockets. Are employers aware of this? Sure. Why else would they discourage the use of vacation days to the point where employees who take ten or less days of vacation time are more likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more. That's right, taking another day of vacation is viewed as weak and uncommitted.
That's created a neurotic base of employees that frets over each minute spent outside the workplace. Workers fear they'll return to a mountain of work (37%). They think no one else can do the job (30%). They feel it's harder to take time off the higher up you get in a company also featured prominently (28%). Most depressingly, they believe the only way to show complete dedication to their company and not be seen as replaceable (19%) is to forfeit vacation days.
Here's a hint, drones: the Great Recession showed that just about anyone can be laid off, and no one is irreplaceable. Also, every time you don't take a day off, you empower bad bosses to be even more horrible. While 80% of workers would take their full vacation time if their boss supported it, just 42% of employees feel their boss supports the use of vacation days. Even worse, 53% of their sycophant employees look down on coworkers who take all the time off allotted them.
But companies don't have to do anything to reinforce this idea: their silence makes it fairly clear. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of employees get either no direction, mixed messages or outright discouragement when they ask about taking time off. Meanwhile, 25% of employees think their company expects them to work while on vacation, with 31% of employees say they put "a lot" or "some" pressure on themselves to check in with work when they are on vacation. That's nearly double the percentage who report feeling pressure from their boss (17%).
As it turns out, working on vacation is the least of their fears. A Gallup survey finds that full 30% of U.S. workers are afraid they're going to have their benefits cut, down from 46% at the peak of the recession in 2009 but still worrisome. Another 20% see a pay cut in their future, while 19% are worried that they'll be laid off. Gallup also finds that not only do many U.S. workers absolutely hate their jobs, they've grown to resent their employers for exploiting their misery. Roughly 51% of all full-time workers in the U.S. are not involved in their work and put only as much into it as they're forced to. Another 17.2% are "actively disengaged" and so bitter about their work that they're actively trying to sabotage the workplace and make life miserable for everyone else.
Don't become that person. If you have vacation days left and don't want to play approval games with the boss, there are still plenty of "dark weeks" in December to unleash them on. With the help of the folks at TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, we've put together this list of ten destinations to help use up the last of your 2016 vacation days:
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.