Thanksgiving Is One of Few Paid Holidays U.S. Workers Have Off. They're Not Grateful for Stingy Vacation Policies — and the Breaking Point Is Near. Joe Mull, a 20-year HR veteran and author of the new book 'Employalty: How to Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work,' reveals what's at stake.

By Amanda Breen

Key Takeaways

  • American employees receive an average of 10 days of paid time off (PTO) in the private sector, notably lower than in other developed countries.
  • The European Union Working Time Directive mandates a minimum of 20 paid vacation days in all EU countries, leading to longer vacations for employees in many European nations.
  • The lack of paid vacation time in the U.S. can lead to high levels of burnout, difficulty attracting and retaining top talent, and a negative impact on overall mental health and productivity.

The U.S. comes in second on the list of 10 countries offering the least amount of paid vacation time, according to a report from career-resource platform Resume.io. In the private sector, American employees receive 10 days of PTO on average, not including holidays and sick days — a shockingly low number compared to those in other developed nations.

In many countries around the world, particularly those in Europe, it's not uncommon for employees to take vacations for months at a time, in many cases due to the European Union Working Time Directive, which requires a minimum of 20 working days of paid vacation in all EU countries, CNBC reported.

Related: How to Determine Your PTO Policy

"In the U.S., it is estimated that less than 50% of workers who get paid vacation time use their full allotment each year."

"[The disparity] has largely been driven by American business resisting any kind of mandate to provide paid time off for workers," Joe Mull, a 20-year HR veteran and author of the new book Employalty: How to Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work, tells Entrepreneur. "For more than 100 years, all proposed national laws guaranteeing paid leave to workers have failed to pass. In nearly every other developed nation on earth, workers are guaranteed paid time off."

Thanksgiving is around the corner in the U.S., and although 39% of private industry workers nationwide will have the day off, most of them aren't grateful for the stingy vacation policies their employers subject them to year-round. And even those lucky enough to have more PTO at their disposal are tired of being unable to use it.

Related: These Are the 10 Countries With the Least Paid Vacation — and Where the U.S. Ranks Might Surprise You

"In the U.S., it is estimated that less than 50% of workers who get paid vacation time use their full allotment each year," Mull says. "The most common reason given for not taking vacation time is fear of falling behind at work." And many other workers feel they must reserve paid vacation time for when "life happens," including issues surrounding childcare and elder care, sickness, transportation and more, he adds.

"A functioning society with optimal mental health requires periods of rest and restoration."

What's at stake if the U.S. doesn't catch up? According to Mull, a lot: American employers can expect continuing high levels of burnout (77% of U.S. professionals have experienced burnout at their current job, per a Deloitte survey) and will struggle to attract and retain top talent.

"Much of the turmoil in the labor market in recent years has been driven by employees changing jobs in pursuit of better quality of life," Mull says. "So the business case here is that employers reduce employee churn and deliver better products and services to customers when they have a full complement of healthy, engaged employees."

Related: 3 Truths About Unlimited PTO — Why Employees Are Worse Off With Endless Vacation Days

But there's an even bigger issue at play, Mull warns: "A functioning society with optimal mental health requires periods of rest and restoration, and our current culture around work and paid time off doesn't support this."

"It's a symptom of several larger issues related to rising workloads, childcare deficiencies and more."

Mull compares the plight of U.S. workers to an engine that's been racing at maximum RPMs for long periods of time — "eventually, it gives out." That's why time away from work, and the restoration it provides, actually makes for more productive employees and better work outcomes, he says.

"What's important to note here is that it's not just about offering more vacation time," Mull adds. "Employers must create the conditions that allow employees to actually use it. In many ways, the rate at which we take vacation time isn't the problem — it's a symptom of several larger issues related to rising workloads, childcare deficiencies and more."

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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