Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

If you want to get Josh Leibowitz going, ask him about the unused vacation time Americans leave lying on the table.

It's a pet peeve for Leibowitz, senior vice president of Cunard Line and chief strategy officer at Carnival Corp.

In a TED talk delivered in Coconut Grove, Fl., earlier this year, Leibowitz said that Americans racked up 662 million days of unused vacation last year.

Imagine how many more cruises could be sold if employees would only take the days off they are given!

Why don't they?

In his talk, Leibowitz fingered the main culprit as workplace cultures that aren't supportive of time away from work. Even when on vacation, 75% of the people who answered one benefit survey confessed to working all or part of the time while on vacation.

Two-thirds of that group said their bosses and colleagues don't support the time off, Leibowitz said.

Leibowitz said employers need to model the idea that it is okay to fully disengage. When one of his own employees dialed into a conference call while supposedly on vacation, Leibowitz said he had everyone hang up and then he changed the number for the call. A new number was e-mailed to those working.

The value of earned but unused vacation is more than $52 billion a year, according to a 2015 study done for the U.S. Travel Association.

On average, it found businesses owe each employee $1,898 in accrued paid time off, and carry 5.7 days of accrued vacation per employee. For firms with more than 500 workers, the cost per employee is higher, at $2,609 per worker.

That's literally a cruise vacation for each employee - and not an inside cabin on a cruise to Nassau either.

Business doesn't bear the sole blame. One suspect practice, widespread in the public sector, is the granting of banked vacation time, where workers headed out the door can get cash for unused days.

How many days?

Some digging in California by the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2014 found that one state bureaucrat had hoarded 498 vacation days, six times over the theoretical limit.  He was set to cash out $317,000 on retirement, or nearly two year's salary.

More than 300 state employees had banked at least a full year of time off, the report said. Rules seeking to limit the bank to 80 days are waived after the fact. More than 35,000 California state employees busted the 80-day cap.

So as the summer vacation season gets into full swing, let's hope that employers in both the public and private sector get serious about making their workers take the vacation time they have earned.

For cruise agents, the benefit is clear. There are an untold number of new cruise vacations waiting to be sold. 


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