America is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn't require any vacation time for workers. Such a law, however, likely wouldn't make any difference because most Americans are too scared to be away from their jobs.
According to a new study by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Effect Initiative, American workers willingly gave up $52.4 billion in vacation days in 2013, noted CNN.
Employees are "providing free labor for their employers, at an average of $504 per employee," said the U.S. Travel Association study. "Americans are work martyrs. Tied to the office, they leave more and more paid time off unused each year, forfeiting their earned benefits and, in essence, work for free."
The average American worker is given 10 days of paid vacation and six paid holidays each year by their employer voluntarily, but France and the U.K. require about a month of vacation days by law.
"One, workers are afraid to take their vacations in the layoff era," stress management trainer and employment author Joe Robinson told CNN. "It might mark them as less 'committed' than coworkers. It's futile. People who don't take their vacations get laid off just like everyone else."
Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, agreed, "They say, 'I don't want to be seen as a slacker. I want to be seen as someone who is really dedicated.' But it does them no good whatsoever. People who take more time off tend to get more raises and promotions."
"About 40% say they're afraid of all the work they're going to get to when they get back from vacation," added Dow. "Work pileup scares the hell out of them."
Some companies are changing their policies.
"We're seeing multiple companies, Expedia and Netflix and others, that are doing away with their vacation policies entirely," stated Dow. "They've just said, 'We no longer have a vacation policy, please discuss with your boss and take the time off you need.'"
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According to a study earlier this year by the employment website Glassdoor.com, American employees used only half of their vacation time during the past 12 months.
"Fear is still motivating people to not be away from the workplace," Rusty Rueff, a workplace expert at Glassdoor.com, told CBS News. "There's a lot of motivation that says, 'I'm afraid of being away for too long.'"
The fear is part the collateral damage caused by Wall Street's 2008 meltdown, which cost Americans trillions, noted PBS.
"Companies still haven't hired back to the levels they were at before the Great Recession, so while workers are more confident, they're doing the job of multiple people," added Rueff. "There's still this fear that I'd better be good at it, so I'm recognized as a good performer."