By: Neil Mrkvicka

With Labor Day past and another summer officially coming to an end—Have you taken all your vacation days? Vacation days are often cited by employees as one of the most appreciated and loved benefits, but, as we regularly see reported, few employees take full advantage of the vacation days offered to them.

​​ We’ve got an abundance of information from our latest survey to help employers benchmark and/or navigate vacation plans. I also have a few tips to help employees find ways to use their vacation time—whether your view of vacation is a stress-free break or stressful Griswoldesque adventure, using your vacation time is good for you and your employer. 


As part of its yet-to-be-released Employee Benefits Survey, the Foundation found the vast majority of employers (97%) offer paid vacation. More than half (53%) have separate paid vacation plans, while 43% have PTO banks (a plan that combines vacation time, sick time and personal days into one bank).

​ ​The number of vacation days offered per year varies by years of service. At one year, the most common number of vacation days offered is 10, at five years its 15 days, and at 10 and 20 years its 20 days. PTO banks follow a similar pattern of days offered by years of service but tend to be slightly more generous in the number of days offered. About one in ten employers (11%) offer additional vacation/PTO days to midcareer hires (automatically or determined on case-by-case basis).

[Related: Sample Documents for Members: View paid tim​e off policies
shared by International Foundation members.]

Three in five employers (59%) allow vacation/PTO days to be carried over to subsequent years. About one in six employers (16%) have buy and/or sell vacation/PTO policies allowing employees to buy additional or sell excess time off. Allowing employees to sell their excess time in these employers is more common than allowing employees to buy additional vacation, and the policies most commonly allow up to five days per year to be bought/sold.

Vacation/paid time off (PTO) was the third most commonly cited benefit among employers that workers appreciate and love the most behind only health care and retirement benefits. However, a recent report by the U.S. Travel Association titled Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Earned Leave?  found a striking disconnect between the importance that workers place on taking PTO and the ease with which they feel that they can take it.

  • The vast majority of workers say that taking PTO is important.
  • Only about three in five workers say the process of taking PTO as easy.
  • Four in ten workers do not take all of their PTO each year.

Want more time off? Some employers
let workers buy extra vacation days

The report goes on to show workers who feel it is easy to take time off rate higher on mood, outlook, job satisfaction, personal finances, professional success and personal relationships—suggesting time-off benefits can be used as a win-win for employers and employees. To maximize these benefits, it is recommended employers actively encourage time off (in policy and/or communications), and senior leaders serve as examples taking time off themselves making sure to unplug during vacations.

How can employees use that earned time off?  

What are you waiting for? Don’t let a “Cousin Eddie” stop you from taking advantage of the vacation days your employer offers!

Consider planning extra time off around a holiday . . . 

  • The vast majority (98%) of employers offer paid holidays off. Ninety-five percent of employers offer a paid day off for Labor Day, or maybe you’re lucky and work for one of the 15% of employers offering Columbus Day off (10/13). Additionally, about half of employers (46%) offer floating holidays—typically one or two per year (5% give employees the day off paid to celebrate their birthdays!).

Consider checking in with your employer prior to booking . . . 

  • A small portion (5%) offer travel planning benefits to employees, and 2% allow employees access to company vacation resort facilities.

Consider being generous with those days…

  • Nearly one in five employers (18%) allows employees to donate time off to employees in need, and a few employers (2%) allow employees to donate cash value of time off to charitable organizations. 
  • About one in five (19%) offers paid leave for volunteering—An additional 7% offer unpaid leave for volunteering, and about 8% offer paid leave for attending child’s activities.

A couple weeks of vacation not going to cut it?

  • More than one in seven organizations (15%) offer sabbatical leaves (4% offer paid sabbaticals).
  • A small select portion of organizations (1%) offer unlimited vacation days.

So in the immortal words of Clark Griswold: “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.” Get out there and find your fun!

Follow Neil Mrkvicka on Twitter at @​Nei​lMrkvicka.


Neil Mrkvicka

Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation service/product: Our member surveys!

Benefits-related topics that catch his attention: Health & wellness, financial wellness/security, behavioral economics/psychology

Favorite Foundation moments: Foundation research survey release days.

Personal Insight: He’ll easily get lost in a good economics book or statistical analysis, but quiet Neil lives life out loud—give him an athletic competition, a new adventure or a chance for a good laugh and he’s there.  

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