Employers looking to increase productivity should encourage employees to use their paid time off, an Oxford Economics study released Thursday suggests.

Americans left an average of 3.2 PTO days on the table in 2013, despite the fact employees and managers alike recognize the benefits of taking leave. Namely, higher productivity, stronger workplace morale and greater employee retention, as well as significant health benefits, the study found.

A disconnect between what managers believe and what employees perceive could be to blame, the study says.

Nearly 34% of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, while 17% of managers considered employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated. Four in 10 American workers said their employer supported time off, but their heavy workload kept them from using their earned days.

“Despite the myriad benefits of taking time off, American workers succumb to various pressures — some self-imposed and some from management — to not take the time off to which they are entitled," says Adam Sacks, president of the Tourism Economics division of Oxford Economics. "Leaving earned days on the table harms, not helps, employers by creating a less productive and less loyal employee.”

It’s a misconception, he adds, that employers somehow benefit when workers don't use the time they've earned.

“In fact, stockpiled time off creates considerable financial liability for companies and governments when employees 'cash out' upon departure," Sacks says.

Unused PTO also hurts the economy, the study found, to the tune of billions of dollars. The conversion of unused days of paid time off into travel would result in an additional 580 million days of travel and an additional $67 billion in travel spending. The total economic impact of this additional spending, including indirect effects, would be 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $52 billion in additional income earned.

The study was based on a survey of 971 employees, 700 of whom receive PTO as part of their benefits package.

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