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'No-Vacation Nation' Rethinking Paid Time Off
 

By Joseph Coombs  9/5/2013
 
You’ve probably heard the stories in the news: Americans aren’t using much vacation time these days, either because of economic concerns or the fact that they’re worried about job security and don’t want to be away from the office for too long.

But maybe there’s another reason that so many workers are taking less time off. A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that fewer workers’ employers provide paid vacation time, compared with 20 years ago.

In 2012, 77 percent of private-sector workers had access to paid vacations, according to the BLS report—that’s down from 82 percent in 1992-93. And only 35 percent of part-time workers had paid vacation time in 2012, a decline from 40 percent in 1992-93.

What’s more, there is growing evidence that some people can’t leave the office behind when they take a trip. According to survey research conducted by TeamViewer, a remote-control and online-meetings software provider based in Tampa, Fla., plenty of folks spend time at the beach much like they do while on the job: poring over e-mails, taking phone calls and conducting other business. In 2013, 69 percent of Americans who responded to the survey said they would bring a “work-capable device” with them on vacation; 61 percent planned to bring up to three such devices. In addition, 83 percent said that having to work during vacation “is becoming more common in America.”

So are we becoming the “no-vacation nation”? That’s the catchy title of a May 2013 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which says the United States is the only one of 21 “rich” countries that doesn’t require employers to provide vacation time.

We may not be enjoying as much leisure time as we used to, but the BLS has identified a couple of positive paid-leave trends. For example, more workers in 2012 had access to:

Sick leave (61 percent, compared with 50 percent in 1992-93).

Personal leave (37 percent, up sharply from 15 percent in 1992-93).

Family leave (11 percent, up from just 2 percent 20 years ago).

Employers are also offering consolidated-leave plans, similar to paid-time-off (PTO) packages that put all forms of paid leave under one umbrella, the BLS reports. Data were not available for 1992-93, but 26 percent of companies offered consolidated leave in 2012.

Two benefits specialists say that’s where the future lies for paid-leave packages.

“In my opinion, that is an effort for companies to save money and also [to] offer employees some flexibility with their leave-time usage,” said Lisa Mullins, SPHR, director of employee relations for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, during a telephone interview with SHRM Online. “It’s due to the flexibility demands of today’s workforce.”

There are employer benefits to consolidated leave, as well, commented Robert Micera, SPHR, president of the SHRM New Jersey Morris County chapter and adjunct professor at both SUNY Stony Brook and St. Joseph’s College. PTO plans might encourage workers to use more vacation time and, perhaps, rely less on the occasional sick day as a means of staying out of the office.

“The trends seem to be [leaning] toward PTO,” Micera told SHRM Online. “The reasons are to drive associates toward managing their time off to their desires and to decrease the number of unplanned absences that the employer has to deal with.”

For more information, please visit SHRM’s Labor Market and Economic Data page.

Joseph Coombs is a workplace trends and forecasting specialist at SHRM.

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