Americans Afraid to Take Full Vacations

Forget that week-long cruise, drive through the national parks or journey to London.

These days Americans are taking shorter trips -- mostly extended weekends -- and leaving a large chunk of their paid vacation days unused.

Americans already have fewer paid vacation days than their European counterparts, but now comes news that only 57 percent of people here are taking all of their vacation time.

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"People are fearful for their jobs. They want to stay there and work but they also need the money," said John Wright, a senior vice president at the research firm Ipsos. "They don't want to miss out on anything at work because they don't want to fall behind or lose their job or something like that."

Ipsos teamed up with Reuters to look at where workers were more likely to use all of their vacation days.

North American and Asian countries were at the bottom of the list, with Europeans and Latin Americans taking the most advantage of their time off.

"There a number of different countries that have mandated or legislated periods of rest. You look at France being at the top of the list. Italy is also there," Wright said. "It's not uncommon for some of the countries to basically shut down for four weeks."

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Italy has the most vacation days, with the average worker there getting 42 paid days off, according to the World Tourism Organization. Next was France with 37 days, Germany with 35, Brazil at 34, the United Kingdom at 28, Canada with 26 and Korea and Japan both with 25. The United States was near the bottom of the list with the average worker getting 13 days off.

But even with those 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all. Eighty-nine percent of the French use all of their days off.

Kathleen E. Christensen, the founder of the Workplace, Work Force and Working Families program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and author of the book "Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th-Century Jobs for a 21st-Century Workforce," says a lot of this is cultural.

"Within different countries there is just a clear cultural norm that people take their vacations. In France, the country -- particularly in the cities -- virtually closes down during the month of August," she said. "In the United States we don't have any kind of prevailing cultural norm that is so dominant, that defines that this is a vacation month."

Americans Take Only Half Their Vacation Days

Many of these countries have strong labor unions and the workers are more protected than in the U.S., Christensen said.

"Certainly the United States economy has been suffering over the last several years. People are afraid of losing their jobs," she said. "There's the old adage: out of sight, out of mind."

She added that people will do whatever it takes to protect their jobs now and that the latest trend is for long weekends rather than a week or two-week-long vacation.

"I think people have to be not too short sighted when it comes to vacation," she said. People do have to take a break. People are typically more effective if they are more engaged in their work."

Wright noted that younger workers in America are more likely to use their full time off than older ones. And how about the boss? They are more likely to have plenty of days leftover at the end of the year.

Here is the full list from Ipsos of percent of workers in each country maximizing their vacation time:

France: 89 percent

Argentina: 80 percent

Hungary: 78 percent

Britain: 77 percent

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