Not Taking Your Vacation Days… Is Essentially Leaving a Giant Bonus on the Table.

Italy grants workers an average of 42 paid days off per year. What the hell are we doing wrong? Even with the meager scraps of paid time off that the average American is dealt, a whopping 13 days per year, only 57 percent are actually taking what they’ve earned. The other 43 percent of us are leaving money out on the table to be swept into the trash.

You’re not saving your employer money because that time is already paid for and invested in you as an employee upon your hiring, or annual contract negotiations. Sure, you might argue that you add extra productivity those extra two weeks that you show up. But for every hard-worker who totes around the perfect attendance badge, another one of us is draining that company savings by showing up to work sick. Or burned out. Or hungover. Because too many of us convince ourselves that showing up looking like you were hit by the plague bus is better for your professional image than not showing up at all.

There are jobs out there that don’t grant you any vacation or paid time off simply for signing onto the company. I have known people in positions where you have to wait six months to earn a paid sick day. Now that’s not quite as common in today’s modern workplace where flexible arrangements are almost necessary to retain good talent. But unfortunately not every company cares about retaining good talent, and don’t provide benefits and compensation in line with that objective.


Paid time off, or PTO as it’s referred to in the HR world, is given to most employees as part of a compensation package, meaning a supplement to your promised earnings, salary or commission structure, because basically it means they can pay you less out of pocket by providing non-monetary benefits that are still valuable and already paid for as part of a group plan. And most people would probably take those benefits over a slight pay increase. So essentially, if you are given vacation, personal and sick time as part of a compensation package, and you’re not taking it because you think it will make you look more dedicated… all you’re doing is leaving a big fat bonus on your desk and walking away.

Take your time off. Find somewhere to go, something to do, or someone to call or catch up with. Nurse yourself back to health, if need be the case. Implement one of those fancy recession buzz words and make it a “staycation”. There are plenty of things to do here in New York City. You can take the water taxi from lower Manhattan to Long Island City, Queens for about four bucks, check out a cool summer beer garden, then hop on the G train over to Williamsburg for BBQ-ed glory at Fete Sau, and afterwards hop the L back to Union Square and take in a show at Webster Hall. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then skip Williamsburg all together and check out the farmer’s market instead.

But if you’re not a New Yorker, it’s still worthy to look at the potential value of what you’re throwing away. Not all companies will roll over vacation or sick days at the end of the year, and even those who say that they will in the employee handbook… can change their minds. My last company did- that went over real well with employees who had saved up a month-plus vacation time in hopes of getting a nice, lucrative monetary compensation for it.


So many American workers, and job seekers, fail to prioritize their health and well-being when it comes to managing their careers. Feeling like we all have to prove ourselves even harder in a downturn economy to keep our jobs, we work past the clock, take on extra projects, and voluntarily give up valuable benefits that are already paid over to our name. Money is not saved, only wasted. We have one of the most expensive and inefficient healthcare systems among the world’s most developed nations. For a country of folks crying the financial blues, why are we all so quick to leave money on the table and raise healthcare costs in the process?


Not only are you allowed to take your vacation, personal and sick days, but it is assumed that you will do so in the best interest of the organization.

If you are a dedicated, hard-working, talented professional in your field, and you are a quality employee who is an asset to your organization, operating at your most productive levels each day is the best way to position yourself for success and positive acknowledgement. There is a big difference between demonstrating productivity, and faking productivity. People who pay attention to their own health and wellness are far more productive than those who think burning the oil at both ends and sending emails at 10pm to acknowledge passively that yes, you’re still in the office. At the end of the day companies want to hire quality employees who will add to the productivity of the company, proving a nice sweet return on their decision to hire you in the first place. Think about that, the next time you consider succombing to the “a$$-in-seat” complex and struggling to breath through your emails, versus taking a nice, easy day at home watching Law & Order reruns.

Your company, your colleagues, and the rest of us (tax-paying-healthcare-utilizing-Americans) will thank you.

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4 Comments on "Not Taking Your Vacation Days… Is Essentially Leaving a Giant Bonus on the Table."


[…] Often with full time employment, paid time off is part of your compensation package, a benefit that’s taken into account when calculating your gross salary.  Not taking your vacation time is essentially the equivalent of leaving a wad of cash on the table and then walking away. So help yourself to what you’ve already earned!  […]

12 years 9 months ago

At my previous job I was able to influence the vacation buddy policy. When I started you were expected to be available at all times even on vacation. The first vacation I took I was on a cruise where cell recepition was no existant and internet was slow, expensive and limited. I worked with my co-worker so she would receive my emails and calls while I was out. The system worked because she could deal with immediate issues and let clients know when I would return. Since then it became a company wide policy that when Account Managers took vacations they could assign a “buddy”, giving everyone the opportunity to actually unwind on their earned vacation.

12 years 11 months ago

This was a fabulous article! Fortunately, I fall into the category of American employees who actually take their vacations. I must admit though that I often feel guilty for using my PTO. Especially if it falls in a timeframe when I’m working directly with clients.

I think a great follow-up article to this would be “So you’ve taken your PTO – now shut down your email, your phone, and all communication with work.” I think this would be a great topic to write about because for those of us who DO use our paid time off, we never completely disconnect from our work. It’s nearly impossible to set boundaries with clients, colleagues, and bosses these days about cutting off communication during vacations or while on leave.