One-Fourth of Workers Would Forgo Vacation to Double Income

By SHRM Online staff Feb 17, 2010

One-fourth of full- and part-time U.S. workers would work 365 days a year if it meant that their income would double, according to a new survey released February 2010 that looked at Americans’ relationship with money.

It was conducted online Jan. 14-15, 2010, for Capital One Banking. Among the findings, for which more than 1,000 employees were surveyed:

  • 35 percent would agree to work holidays.
  • 25 percent would work every day of the year if doing so doubled their income.
  • 19 percent would give up all of their vacation days to receive twice their salary.

The United States is the only industrialized nation without a mandated minimum annual leave for workers. A 2007 report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research dubbed the U.S. the No-Vacation Nation. The report, which looked at vacation practices in the U.S. and 15 other countries, noted that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays and that this is “particularly acute” among low-wage and part-time workers and employees of small businesses.

John Schmitt, CEPR senior economist and lead author of No-Vacation Nation, thinks the finding has more to do with Americans’ level of economic anxiety during the recession than about their long-term feelings about vacations.

“Americans have little in the way of savings and not much of a social safety net to speak of—only about 40 percent of the unemployed qualify for unemployment insurance, for example,” he told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

So when the unemployment rate is in the range of 10 percent, and expected to stay there through the rest of [2010], with not much relief forecast for 2011, many Americans seek security in higher incomes.

“Working every day of the year is such an extreme case—working on Christmas, Thanksgiving, no time off for a kid’s graduation or an out-of-town wedding—I just think people are answering out of anxiety, not any calm reflection on the merits of time off,” Schmitt said.

Other surveys have shown year after year that some U.S. workers who receive paid vacation don’t use all of the time they’ve earned. A December 2009 survey by Right Management, for example, found that two-thirds of 667 U.S. workers surveyed had not used all of their vacation time for 2009.

That’s not necessarily because they prefer the job to sitting around the pool with a cool beverage in hand, though.

“Cutbacks, restructurings, mergers and more have all contributed to heavy workloads,” Right Management President and COO Douglas J. Matthews said in a news release. Right Management is a talent and career management consulting firm.

“Employees likely have not taken their full vacation for fear of job security as well as inadequate support to fill in for them when they are out. Today, many organizations have cultures that demand for people to be ‘on’ all the time. And technological advancements continue to enable this 24/7 mind-set,” he said.

Not taking time off, he cautioned, can lead to more stress and related health issues, ultimately hurting performance, productivity, creativity and retention.

Sometimes, though, workers have altruistic reasons for not taking time off. In January 2010, co-workers in Genesee County, Mich., gave up their vacation days to a fellow law enforcement officer who returned to his native Haiti to search for his family in that earthquake-ravaged country.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

Related Article:

Pressure to Work Is Often Self-Imposed, SHRM Poll Finds, HR News, May 5, 2009


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