How Much Vacation Time Should Employees Get?

Employees need to take short breaks during the day to recharge from a full day at work. If they don’t, they may start to lose focus or get easily frustrated. Likewise, employees need longer breaks during the year to recharge on an even deeper level. That’s where vacations come in. Vacations are just as important as the lunch break and two fifteens, if not more.

Employers need to understand the importance of paid vacations and holidays so that their employee’s work does not suffer. Holidays and vacations allow employees the chance to spend time with family and friends, take time out for themselves, work on new projects, or discover new places. When they do this each year, they return to work recharged and more productive.

While taking time off to travel or relax may seem a superfluous or exorbitant, it is, in fact, a very important factor in our ability to focus and be creative long-term.

HR Tools analyzed vacation and productivity in a recent article saying,

“The most productive, successful employees are typically those that utilize their vacation time and return to the office with a renewed sense of drive and determination.”

This isn’t really news to the individual. We all know how bad we feel when we go too long without a break and we know how great we feel when we take vacations. But sometimes employers can forget this very important point and wonder why they are paying their employees for time that they don’t spend at work. Allow me to reiterate.

When we’re talking productivity, we’re talking dollars. Without vacations, employee productivity wanes, which is costly. Allowing employees to recharge once or twice a year helps employees to do more, better quality work.

Laws Governing Vacation Time

In the US, there are no laws governing paid vacation. This is not the case in many other countries, however! Look at this bar graph to see the requirements for paid time off around the world. Now, some states, like California, do consider vacation time as wages. So if you offer vacation time, you must pay it out like wages upon termination of employment.

How Much Vacation Time Should a Company Offer?

Helping customers set up their accruals tracking over the years has given me the opportunity to observe trends in how much vacation time employers offer their employees. The differences are dramatic!

Smaller and, in particular, young companies often offer slightly less robust benefits packages with fewer vacation and sick days, but not always. Below is a chart of vacation allowance averages. In reality there is a wide range of variation among companies.

Average number of total paid days off in the United States

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, 2004 SHRM Benefits Survey.

The accruals tracking software offers full accruals tracking to make the tracking process simple. Each employee will have their own accruals set up so that their amount to accrue and even their accrual rate will be specific to them. Then, employees enter requests that employers either approve or deny. In addition to tracking vacation and sick hours, employers can include holiday hours on the final payroll report too.

Standard Paid Holidays

Paid holidays are another important benefit. These are days people typically spend with friends family or engage in special events. They are important days because they bring us closer to the ones we love, and love and friendship make us healthier people! Granted, not everyone takes advantage of holidays in the same way but, for most of us, we’ll be picnicking in the park or cozying up by the fire with family on these special days. We will then return to work with a renewed sense of peace and drive, which is always great for business.

There are a lot of holidays during the year that employees could take but the most common paid holidays are the following:

  1. New Years Day
  2. Memorial Day
  3. Forth of July
  4. Labor Day
  5. Thanksgiving
  6. Christmas

Other Important Time-Off

There are other types of time-off that employees should be paid for. Jury duty is one that is mandated by law.

Paying for bereavement is optional as far as the law is concerned but it is one employers should really consider paying for. When loved ones die, like close friends, parents, spouses, and children, the emotional effects can be devastating and distracting. Keeping the stages of grief in mind, it may not be the first day or even the first week that an employee needs to take time off. It may not be until the forth stage that employees feel they really need to take time to themselves. It’s different for everyone and it can be really helpful if employers are sympathetic to employee’s needs and differences during these difficult times.


  1. I totally agree with you. Everyone needs to have a vacation to recharge our battery in order for us to be more productive at work. For me, every employee should have 4 days of vacation.

  2. I think new employees should start with one week and at six months they get an additional week. A minimum of 2 weeks going forward, increased as they gain in seniority. Holidays should be at least 9. Those making the rules can’t relate to single parents and how much time is needed for medical appointments, etc. They also probably don’t remember being an hourly employee or perhaps never were. Many employees have to use vacation hours to cover personal appointments and can’t just flex their schedule as exempt staff can. Work-life balance!!

    1. Thank you for your input. It is certainly true that working parents have a lot of responsibilities and could easily use a good chunk of the PTO in appointments and child sick days, leaving little for vacations. If employers are able, this should be considered. However, many small business owners have their own set of challenges and may not always be able to accommodate.

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