Half of all workers who receive paid vacation time in the nation’s top 10 largest cities would be willing to sacrifice a workplace benefit in exchange for more paid time off. However, despite their desire for more free time, most employees don’t even use the vacation time they already receive.

This is the key finding from “Inspirato Insights: American Attitudes on Paid Time Off,” a new Harris Interactive poll of 2,534 adults in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The survey was commissioned by destination vacation club Inspirato.

Additional findings include:

  • Despite the down economy, more than 10% of the survey respondents would prefer more time off over a higher salary or a promotion and one sixth would forgo a compensation bonus in exchange for more paid time off.
  • Ten percent of all workers given any vacation time would give up their company’s 401(k) match in return for more vacation time.
  • The coveted private office from days gone by no longer seems to be the desirable benefit it once was: a quarter of respondents indicated they’d give up a chance at a private office for more vacation time.
  • However, only a fraction (5%) of workers who receive any vacation time are willing to take a pay cut for more time away from work.

Ironically, most employees who receive paid time off (57%) do not use all the vacation time they receive, according to the survey. Employees in Los Angeles and San Francisco leave the most vacation time behind (about a third of their allotted time overall) yet 47% of L.A. workers with paid vacation and 43% of San Francisco workers with paid vacation said they were willing to give up a different workplace benefit for more paid time off.
“As a dedicated entrepreneur currently in the midst of growing my own business, I can relate to how easy it can be to put off taking time for yourself and your family,” said Brent Handler, founder and CEO of Inspirato. “The opinions reflected in this survey reinforce the importance that vacations play in our lives. It’s encouraging to see that people recognize how vital it is to consider time away from work as essential – and even more critical than many of the valuable benefits that employees enjoy.”

Overall, 85% of survey respondents indicated their employer provides a paid vacation benefit, with an average of slightly more than 19 days per year. Chicago employees reported receiving the highest number of vacation days, with 30% indicating they received 21 days or more of paid vacation time per year. Boston and San Francisco had the highest percentage of workers who lack paid vacation time, with 19% of respondents in each city reporting they received zero paid vacation days per year.

A willingness to sacrifice something in favor of vacation isn’t just limited to the workplace. Most survey respondents (80%) reported that they would be willing to skip an important event – including a baptism, graduation, wedding, funeral or dinner party hosted by a boss – in order to go on vacation.

The survey uncovered some notable regional differences in attitudes toward paid time off. For example, Washington, D.C., employees who receive paid time off are reportedly the most vacation hungry, with 58% indicating they would give up a workplace benefit in exchange for more time off. On the contrary, workers in Boston with paid vacation are least likely (38%) to give up anything for more vacation time.

While it’s anyone’s guess whether working Americans beyond the borders of the 10 cities surveyed share these attitudes about paid time off, there are other interesting developments related to this issue that HR and benefit professionals may want to consider.

For example, some established and startup tech firms such as Netflix, Red Frog Events, Coupa and TheLadders are among a few employers that actually offer unlimited vacation days to their employees.

 “This is an unusual benefit and not in the mainstream yet, but more companies seem to be looking at this as an option,” Steven Miranda, managing director for the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University ILR School, recently was quoted as saying in an article published on an NBC News-owned Web site.

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