Are we taking fewer, or different vacations?

Learn more about what Americans are doing with their unused bank of vacation days.

The author(s)

  • Oscar Yuan President, US, Ipsos Strategy3
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With September comes the end of the annual summer vacation season. Most kids are back to school and workers are resettling into their daily routines. For many workers, it’s a time to reevaluate the unused bank of vacation days they need to use, lose or roll-over.

Just half of American salaried workers and a third of hourly workers said they had or would use their allotted time off for 2016, in one Ipsos survey. Yet, about six in 10 Americans say that taking an annual vacation is important, per a recent survey on behalf of Allianz Global Assistance.

The survey defines a vacation as “leisure travel of at least a week to a destination at least 100 miles from home.” One in five Americans who said an annual vacation is important weren’t confident that they would take one in 2018. That gap is a “vacation deficit.”

Redefining time off

Many have cited that we are in a “vacation crisis,” whereby Americans aren’t taking enough time off to allow them to be re-energized, focused, and committed to their work. But rather than a crisis, perhaps we are merely adjusting and redefining what time off means. One could argue that the American concept of vacation is antiquated.

The push for paid time off for American workers has gone on for a century. It started with the idea to refresh weary farm and factory workers. Today, the growth of knowledge workers and technology enabling flexible schedules is rendering the longstanding definition of a vacation less relevant.

It’s not that people aren’t taking time off. They’re doing it in different ways. In some businesses, this shift already is happening. Companies from Grubhub to GE offer unlimited vacation time while other firms offer variations of flex time, telework and sabbaticals. Affluent Millennials increasingly opt to take mini-trips over one extended holiday, which fit well with their careers in the rise of the Gig Economy.

New ways to vacation

Consider that 40 percent of Americans say they aren’t taking a summer vacation, according to an Ipsos study on behalf of HomeAway. This mirrors the global average for taking a week away from home, according to the 2017 Ipsos Global Advisor study. Another study from earlier this year found a smaller group who said they would likely skip vacation this year. Another third say they plan to take one trip and another third plan two or more itineraries.

Today, going to New York or Los Angeles for a weekend is an increasingly common occurrence. Getaways, staycations, and other ways people are hacking together breaks in their lives might work better for the world we live in.

The structural elements in the work world and travel industry are making that possible. Today, low-cost airlines allow flights for $59 and home rentals companies like Airbnb can help lower the cost of vacations. People stay for shorter visits for less money but more frequency.

Now, there’s more flexibility in how people take vacations. Hotels and airlines give incentives to travelers to tack on weekends to their business trips for “bleisure” travel. Cruise lines that used to sail for a week to 10 days now offer three- to four-day excursions.

New generation view on business and leisure

Even when this new generation of workers isn’t getting away, their ability to seamlessly blend work and leisure is commonplace. For example, taking a 15-minute social-media break. While on vacation, we constantly check our phones for maps, airline schedules, and local restaurant recommendations. About half of global workers check their work email while they’re on vacation.

At the same time, employers must understand what it means to be flexible beyond trying to copy new economy companies that offer unlimited vacation time. A New Zealand company is testing a four-day work week. Thinking about how we structure our relationship with work hours versus non-work hours is where we’re heading – and that could be a win-win for both employees and employers.

This article was originally published in GenPop, a magazine powered by Ipsos, about people and what makes them tick. Each article is grounded in research, but layered with perspective, examples, insights and stories. Click here to visit GenPop today.

The author(s)

  • Oscar Yuan President, US, Ipsos Strategy3

Consumer & Shopper