The High Price of Silence: Analyzing the Business Implications of an Under-Vacationed Workforce

It is the punch-line to the clichéd, “What’s your biggest weakness?” interview question: “I work too hard. I care too much.” But somewhere along the way, the joke became prophecy.

The inability to take time off has become one of America’s greatest work culture failings, defining hard work quantitatively not qualitatively, epitomized by the 658 million vacation days workers left unused last year.

Americans consistently assert their vacation time is important, yet the majority leave days unused each year. Who is to blame? The strongest influencer over taking time off is not workers themselves: it is their bosses. The High Price of Silence analyzes management’s viewpoints, pressures, and privileges regarding time off.

We must better understand how to create meaningful solutions that work for individual employees and companies. The vibrancy and success of the American business community depends on it.


GfK conducted an online survey using the GfK KnowledgePanel® from January 20-February 16, 2016 with 5,641 American workers, age 18+, who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employer. GfK’s KnowledgePanel® is the only large-scale online panel based on a representative random sample of the U.S. population. This report looks at a subset of this data, including 1,184 respondents who have managerial responsibilities and 312 managers who are executive and senior leaders.

Throughout the report, the data will be referenced according to the following definitions:

  • Non-manager employees: respondents who are not involved in decision-making and do not have managerial responsibilities. These responses are exclusive of manager and executive and senior leadership responses.
  • Managers: respondents who have managerial responsibilities, inclusive of executive and senior leaders.
  • Senior leaders: respondents who are involved in decision-making at their companies and have a title comparable to senior vice president, vice president, director, and managing director.
  • Executive leaders: respondents who are involved in decision-making for their companies and whose current position title is CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CIO, president, or owner.

Oxford Economics completed a review of Form 10-K financial statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by 115 public companies employing 457,000 private sector workers. The financial statements reported the total cash value of accrued paid vacation time and the number of employees for each firm. These data were used to estimate a per-employee liability for the sample of public companies. Oxford Economics used the GfK survey to extrapolate the 10-K analysis to the broader private sector economy.

The Manager’s Contradiction: Beliefs Disconnected from Behavior

Managers’ perspective on vacation time is a study in contradictions. While managers are incredibly supportive of taking vacation, they are out of touch with employee attitudes concerning time off and how loudly their actions communicate a much different message to workers.

The High Price of Silence: Analyzing the Business Implications of an Under-Vacationed Workforce