Career Development

Average Vacation Time: Definition and U.S. Averages

February 22, 2021

When you find a new job, your prospective employer may or may not offer you vacation time. If you're offered paid vacation time, in particular, this employee benefit can help you achieve a greater work-life balance while still earning your regular wages. Understanding what companies offer their employees regarding vacation time can influence your career path and potential job offer acceptances. In this article, we define vacation time, explain how it's accrued, provide you the average vacation times based on your years of service and list the benefits of having vacation time.

Related: What Is PTO? Definition, Types and Tips

What is vacation time?

Vacation time is the days you're off work outside of the regular weekend. Though the federal law doesn't mandate vacation time, many companies offer paid or unpaid vacation time as an employee benefit. Paid vacation time, in particular, means you can expect your normal wages during your leave.

It's up to your employer to decide whether you receive vacation time, how much of it you receive and other various stipulations. For example, a company can offer you vacation time only if you're a full-time employee, they can lump your vacation time with your sick time and they can determine how you can accrue vacation time. Also, your employer may require to you use your vacation days by a certain time. Regardless, both you and your employer agree upon your vacation time allotment—and whether you receive it—through their company policy, a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract.

To better understand vacation time, it's important to know the other terms related to time off. Here are some examples to provide clarity:

  • Paid holidays: This is paid time off you have because of a nationwide holiday. Every employer has a different holiday policy, therefore, the holidays a company acknowledges will vary.
  • Sick days: These are the days you're off work because of an illness or injury. It is up to your employer if they want to offer sick leave and if you'll get paid for these days.
  • Paid time off (PTO): This refers to the days you're off work while still being paid your regular wages. Your PTO often includes your vacation time, personal days and sick time.

Related: How to Ask for a Day Off: Tips, Template and Example

How does vacation time accrue?

Vacation time accrual refers to the number of vacation days you earn over a certain period and at a certain rate. How you accrue vacation time depends on your company's policy. Typically, you can accrue vacation based on a certain time period, how long you've worked at a company and your position level. To better understand accrual, it's important to consider these common accrual methods:

By a time period

Many companies let employees accrue vacation over time. For example, you can receive one day of vacation per month or earn a certain set of hours off every pay period. This amount would then accrue so you can take a prolonged vacation. Employers can also let your vacation days roll over to the next year or make you use them by a certain date.

Related: 3 Things to Know About Unlimited Vacation and Paid Time Off Policies

By years of service or position level

Also, the amount of vacation time you receive can vary based on how long you've been employed at a particular company or your specific position level. For example, an employer can let you earn a week's vacation for every year you work for them, with a certain limit in place. This can entice you to stay at the company longer to achieve a longer amount of vacation time. Similarly, you may earn a higher rate of accrual-based on your level within the company.

Related: Q&A: What Is Vacation Pay?

Benefits of vacation time

As an employee, it's important to take time off work to help you maintain optimal physical, emotional and mental health. Outside of a healthy work-life balance, vacation time can provide you with several benefits, including:

  • Increased productivity: When you spend time off work, it can help you return refreshed and energized. This can help you increase your work output and help you become a better employee all around.

  • Relaxed mindset: Taking timing off can help you ease your mind and give you time to release any work-related stress. By the time you come back to work from vacation, you can return with more peace of mind and a renewed mindset.

  • Innovating thinking: Oftentimes, leaving your desk and returning later can give you the clarity you need to continue on a project. Similarly, when you have vacation time, your renewed mindset can help boost your creativity and innovative thinking.

  • Improved engagement: When you return to work after having some time off, it can help you become more involved and engaged at work. This is because you gave your brain time to rest which can help improve your energy and attention span.

Related: Base Salary and Your Benefits Package

Average vacation time based on your years of service

As a working professional, it's important to consider what vacation time you can expect at your current or prospective employer. The main determinant in your accrual is the length of time you've worked for one company. Here is a look at the average number of paid vacation days you can receive by your length of service using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Paid vacation days per year by service length:

After one year

  • Full-time employees: 11
  • Part-time employees: 8
  • Union employees: 10
  • Non-union employees: 10

After five years

  • Full-time employees: 15
  • Part-time employees: 12
  • Union employees: 14
  • Non-union employees: 15

After 10 years

  • Full-time employees: 18
  • Part-time employees: 14
  • Union employees: 17
  • Non-union employees: 17

After 20 years

  • Full-time employees:20
  • Part-time employees: 16
  • Union employees: 22
  • Non-union employees: 19


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