Hey Americans: Take a Vacation!

IsletaRecently, I told my boss that I wanted to take a week-long vacation in July. “A whole week, huh?” he asked.

“Yup.” I smiled.

“Do you have the vacation time for a whole week?”

“Yes.”

“Really?” he sighed. “It seems like you’re always on vacation.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “Because it only feels like that to you.”

Before entering his office, I felt ashamed to ask to use the vacation time that I had rightfully accrued. When I left his office, I was just happy the whole experience was over. Why, I wondered, when I earn vacation time, am I hesitant to ask to use it? How silly of me.

However, it seems I’m not the only silly one out there.

According to a recently released report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research (called “No-Vacation Nation“), a staggering 45% of US workers did not use all of their vacation in 2006, and 15% of workers lost at least one of their vacation days, claiming they didn’t have time to use it. Moreover, in 2007, an estimated 51 million Americans – more than one-third of the workforce – will not use all their vacation days, according to a survey by Expedia. Stunningly, this translates into 574 million lost vacation days. Poor, sad vacation days…

Why aren’t Americans taking vacations? According to a recent (and excellent) article by Marilyn Gardner in the CS Monitor, non-travelers cite lots of reasons, including:
They have too much to do.

  • They can’t afford a getaway.
  • They are too tired to plan a vacation.
  • They want to save vacation for emergencies.
  • They don’t want to return to a heavy workload.
  • They find coordinating schedules with a spouse or friend too burdensome.
  • They take their cues from those around them (i.e., their bosses and co-workers aren’t taking vacations, so maybe they shouldn’t either).

There are other reasons, of course, why Americans don’t take time off work. Among the most insidious: the US remains the only developed country in the whole, wide, vacationing world that does not guarantee workers a paid vacation. Conversely, Europeans are guaranteed by law the right to a minimum of 20 days of paid time off per year, and some European nations guarantee 25 or 30 days. In fact, when you consider both paid holidays and paid annual leave, Finlanders receive 39 days of paid time off per year. And my boss was moaning about my week-long absence!

The most amazing thing I learned in reading “No-Vacation Nation” is this: some countries pay employees a premium for being on vacation! In New Zealand and Sweden, for example, annual leave is paid at a higher rate than the worker’s usual salary; 112 percent the usual pay in New Zealand and 108 percent the usual rate in Sweden. Austria is even more generous: “employers pay workers taking their month-long vacation a ’13th month’ salary, paid at the same time as the usual monthly salary, but taxed at a lower rate.” In other words, Austrians receive double their regular salary — to NOT show up to work.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I have several points, actually.

First, we need to convince our elected officials to re-visit this policy in the US. We need them to change the laws, requiring companies to provide mandatory leave for their workers. Lawmakers should be aware that Americans need quality time with their families; relaxing vacations with their friends; and the opportunity to expose themselves to new ideas, cultures, and experiences. Ultimately, this time off will make for a more productive — and more innovative — work force.

Second, we all need to move to Finland or some other country that offers ample vacation packages.

Third, if the second option is not a viable option, just be darned sure to use the time off that you earn. If you’re worried about falling behind at work, chew on this: you’ll actually be more productive upon returning to work. According to Wallace Huffman, a professor of labor economics at Iowa State University, “Productivity could increase by up to 60 percent for employees in the month or two following a good vacation a week or two long.” Maybe I need to tell my boss that I’ll be more efficient upon my return from my July trip.

Finally, if you’re worried that you can’t afford to take a vacation, then just take the time off and putter around the house. Sleep late. Read a book. Check out World Hum, which gave me the inspiration for this post. Visit the park. Explore the places in your community that you’ve heard about but never seen. A vacations taken at home is known as “staycation.” Take a staycation and feel rejuvenated.

Whatever you do, just take some time off!