Don’t leave days off—or money—on the table.

By Lauren Phillips
January 15, 2021
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If you're fortunate enough to receive paid time off—aka PTO—or paid holidays, you know the anticipation of waiting for the next day off. The darker flipside of PTO is that you probably also know the stress of managing your time off. Depending on the office culture in your workspace, requesting time off can be stressful, or you may feel discouraged from taking your time off, particularly if the business isn't doing well or you have a critical role.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 79 percent of private industry workers have access to any paid vacation, and 80 percent have access to any paid holidays. Further BLS data shows that, in 2020, full-time employees in private industry receive an average of 11 paid vacation days per year after one year of service, with as many as 20 vacation days (on average) available to workers with 20 years or more of service. Data from the U.S. Travel Association shows that U.S. workers didn't use 33 percent of their time off last year (which is in line with years past, despite the pandemic)—but not using your vacation days means more than just missing out on a great trip or staycation.

At most employers, PTO is incorporated into the total compensation package, along with healthcare, salary, and other benefits of employment. Those vacation days have value: They are days where you get paid even though you don't work, and working through those days (or not taking them) means working extra hours or days for the same amount of money. By not taking your allotted vacation days or PTO, you are sacrificing relaxation time with no substantial reward.

Still, knowing you should take advantage of your PTO—not everyone gets paid vacation days, remember—isn't always enough to convince you to actually put in those time-off requests. Just as figuring out the right salary makes it easier to know if you're being paid what you're worth, knowing the value of your PTO can give these days a numerical value that helps clarify their worth. If you didn't have paid vacation days, that is money you would lose when you took time off. By receiving that money as part of your salary, you are actually being paid to take time off—so when you don't take that time, you're sacrificing days away from work that you have earned.

How to calculate the value of your vacation days

The calculation to determine the value of your vacation days is easy: Simply divide your annual salary by the number of working days in a year, says Rob King, CLTC, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual. In 2020, there were 252 working days, according to CRM.org, a customer relationship management site; you can use 250 on average for your calculation for easier numbers.

The resulting number is your daily pay (which you may not be familiar with, if you're a salaried employee). That is how much each day you work—and each vacation day or paid day off—is worth.

When you take those days, you receive that money without having to work; when you don't take them, you receive the same amount of money, but without the stress-relief or relaxation that can come with time off. Knowing the value of those days can help you determine how best to use them, King says, to ensure you're not missing out on any of the benefits of your employment.

The year is still young. Take a little time now to plan out when you will use any vacation days that cannot be rolled over to next year—even if your plans are just taking a well-deserved long weekend to decompress—and you can be certain that you're making the most of your paid vacation benefit. If you need a little boost before requesting that time off, take a look back at the value of those days off and remember that they are days that you've earned: You deserve to take a little PTO for some TLC.