by Sarah J.F. Braley | October 13, 2016

A new report from Project: Time Off has found that $272 billion in accumulated vacation time is sitting on the balance sheets of U.S. businesses this year. The study, The High Price of Silence: Analyzing the Business Implications of an Under-Vacationed Workforce, also notes that private-sector vacation liability has risen 21 percent in the last year.

The report -- based on a survey by GfK of 5,641 American workers working at least 35 hours per week who receive paid time off, and an Oxford Economics review of 10-K financial statements required by the Securities and Exchange Commission -- analyzed management's unique time-off viewpoints, pressures and privileges to evaluate contradictions that contributed to 658 million unused vacation days in 2015. 

"This is a $272 billion wake-up call for America's business leaders that they cannot afford to ignore vacation," said the report's author, Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off. "Beyond the red mark on balance sheets, not taking time off hurts employee engagement and productivity, affects talent retention, and expedites burnout - all of which hurt a company's bottom line."

While 93 percent of the managers surveyed have an overwhelming belief in the importance of time off, still 59 percent of them reported not taking all the vacation time allotted to them last year, compared to slightly more than half of employees (53 percent). Fully two-thirds (67 percent) of executive and senior leaders left vacation days on the table last year. Looking at the reasons why people don't take all of their vacation time, 33 percent of nonmanagers were worried about the work that was piling up, compared with 47 percent of all managers, 55 percent of senior leaders (those with titles like senior vice president, vice president, director or managing director) and 26 percent of executives (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CIOs, presidents and owners). More than a quarter (27 percent) of nonmanagers said they worry that no one else can do the work if they take time off, followed by 37 percent of managers, 52 percent of senior leaders and 35 percent of executives. Those finding it harder to take time off as they advance in their companies were represented by 23 percent of nonmanagers, 39 percent of managers, 48 percent of senior leaders and 38 percent of executives.

Project: Time Off concluded that the report revealed a troubling narrative about the stresses faced by senior leaders, caught between the C-suite and the rest of their organizations. This, in turn, can have a negative influence on company culture.

"From the C-suite down, managers need to embrace the potential time off holds for themselves and their employees. Choosing to ignore vacation is choosing to fall behind companies that appreciate its power," Denis concluded.