By Martha C. White
November 3, 2014

Last year, American workers walked away from $52.4 billion in unused vacation time, forfeiting a total of 169 million paid days off, according to the U.S. Travel Association. While it’s well-known that American companies are less freewheeling with paid time off than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, it seems that a lot of workers here don’t even take the allotment they do get.

The amount of vacation we take as a nation is at a 40-year low, USTA says. As recently as 2000, the average worker took roughly 20 vacation days a year. By last year, that had fallen to 16 days. For most workers, wages and income have stagnated since the recession. But for all the complaining we do about our paltry paychecks, a lot of us are willing to literally work for free.

By giving up vacation, “U.S. employees are serving as volunteers for their companies,” Adam Sacks, founder and president of the tourism economics division of Oxford Economics, the group that prepared the report, said in a statement. In total, American workers essentially donate just over 1% of their salary back to their companies in the form of vacation days they give up. (Of course the USTA is hoping you’ll take more vacation.)

Another survey, this one conducted by Harris Interactive for the job and salary site Glassdoor, says we only take about half the time off we’re entitled to, and 15% of workers who get vacation don’t take any of it.

People forfeit their vacation for a variety of reasons, Glassdoor found. On a related survey question about people who take vacations only to work through them (which about six in 10 workers do), a third of respondents said they do so because nobody else can do their job, and about 20% said they do so in the hopes of getting a promotion.

The new USTA survey finds, though, that people who don’t take vacations are actually less likely to get ahead in the workplace. People who forfeit between 11 and 15 days are actually 6.5% less likely to get a raise or bonus than colleagues who take all their vacation.

That might be because they’re too stressed to do their jobs well. Survey respondents who leave behind more than two weeks of paid vacation are more likely to say they’re “very” or “extremely” stressed at work. “America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful,” says USTA president and CEO Roger Dow. “All work and no play is not going to get you ahead — it’s only going to get you more stress.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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