Work Signals

The average American worker gets 14 vacation days a year and only uses 12 of them. That adds up to 226 million unused vacation days, or approximately $34.3 billion dollars of work. That’s amazing. It’s not that surprising though as we are in one of the worst periods of unemployment in quite some time and many people are probably cutting back on vacation days in order to be more productive. It’s not exactly fair but it’s human nature, if I’m concerned about getting fired then the last thing I’m going to do is take a vacation day. (more)

For workers ages 55 and older, the survey found that nearly 30 percent have between five and 10 vacation days left over at the end of each year. Further, it found that only a quarter of workers 55 and older had used up all of their allotted vacation time by year’s end. (more)

66% of employees failed to use up their vacation days last year. … “Tons of people feel they don’t have the discretionary spending to take vacation, so they just stay at work.” That’s a very bad idea, experts say. “The research is clear that failing to take a vacation creates higher levels of stress and greater levels of disengagement at work,” Matthews reports.

“It’s silly to think that giving up vacation is going to make your colleagues think how important you are,” says … a career services expert. … “Take your vacation and let them miss you.” After all, you can never get back those days you didn’t use–or the once-in-a-lifetime memories they might have produced. “Vacations are underrated,” agrees Joan Kane, a Manhattan psychologist who has worked as a therapist for 22 years. … They satisfy a deep need to feel that you’re in control of your own time. “On vacation you have no boss to satisfy.” (more)

Oddly, most who comment on unused vacation time both note that there exist signaling incentives to work more than required, and tell people that taking vacation time would be good for them, as if they were ignorant of such advantages. This seems a common idealistic message – exhorting people to do what they would if there were no signaling incentives. If the point were to give people useful info this would be pointless, but if the point is to reaffirm shared sacred values, it works fine.

While many commenters lament the presumed inefficiency of this signaling equilibrium, it is worth noting that employees often also inefficiently go out of their way to signal defiance of employers. Most employers are reluctant to cut wages in a downturn, to give employees frequent direct negative feedback, or to require them to wear uniforms, sing corporate songs, etc., all because employers know that employees would respond badly with signals of defiance. These signaling equilbria can be just as inefficient as taking too little vacation, but few commenters lament these distortions. Because the sacred shared values we want to affirm are more about defying firm authorities, rather than submitting to them.

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