No-Vacation NationBy Travelersmind
Compared to other countries, we get a meager amount of paid time off. For those of you who know me, or read my blog enough, you know how I feel about vacation and taking time away from work. I think it is a travesty that we only get two weeks off a year. Think about it...12 months of work, five days a week, eight to nine hours of work a day. I'm not in the mood to do the math, but that translates to a lot of days spent in the office. Sitting at a desk. Toiling away in front of a computer. Working long hours on presentations, meetings, projects. It can become thoroughly exhausting, having a negative effect on our personal lives, health and overall happiness. And yet we hang on to those vacation days, reluctant to spend even one.
There are many theories behind this workaholic epidemic. The first is that some companies just straight up do not like employees taking off a lot of time, which is why many people refuse to take long vacations and will limit their trips to one week stints. Also, many companies expect workers to call or check their email while away from their desk, making it nearly impossible to have a legitimate vacation from work. A major readon that Americans travel less or take less time off is because companies due not have a legal obligation to offer vacation. Places like Germany, for instance, requires employers to offer four weeks or more paid vacation, and Finland, Brazil and France guarantee six weeks. But U.S. employers are not mandated by law to offer vacation time, so about a quarter of all American worker do not have access to it. This makes America the only advanced nation that does not guarantee workers annual leave, according to reports.
So what's going on here? Obviously, there are many companies who do provide vacation to employees, but many simply do not use it, or at least not all of it. An article from CNN said that only 57% of workers use up all the days they are entitled to, compared to 89% of workers in France. The average employee gets about 18 days of vacation, but most only use 14. If you figure each American leaves those 4 days unused, that means there are 448 million vacation days just sitting there, waiting to be enjoyed. So why do we do this? Well, when it comes down to it, we are still working on getting out of a recession, and many people are reluctant to be away from the office for fear of being laid-off. I mean, if a company is looking to save money, the first ones to go are the ones who are not around as often.
Another theory is that we like to work. A happiness study showed that working more makes Americans happier than Europeans. I mean, it's called the American Dream because you work hard for it, which means more people associate hard work with success. So while Europeans look to leisure to complete their lives, Americans look to work. Perhaps I should move.
I'm not saying I hate working. In fact, work is a good way to stay busy, keep me motivated and make a living. But, I also believe strongly in the benefits of taking a day off. Just this past Monday, I came into the office, prepared to work. Unfortunately, our office network and internet were down, making it pretty much impossible to do anything. So, a lot of people worked from home. My manager and I decided that would not be the most productive route, and took the day off. It was a much needed chunk of time to take care of other tasks, go for a run, cook a nice meal and relax. I felt energized when I came to work Tuesday, less stressed and prepared to take on the day. If one day off could do all that, just imagine taking the full 18 days I am allowed every year.
Other countries cringe when they hear Americans usually only get two weeks off, encouraging their image of us working like robots. While companies in the U.S. argue that too much vacation time would hurt productivity and get rid of a competitive edge, critics say there is no evidence to support that. Maybe there is something to be said for Americans working as hard as we do, but I believe that there is a lack of life balance that needs to be acknowledged. It's not just about working hard and bringing in the money, it is also about taking time out for family and yourself.
As far as my minimum amount of vacation days goes, you can bet I'm taking every single one of them. I will not be one of those Americans who backlogs a few days, because more often than not those will not transfer over to the next year, and will be lost forever in the abyss of unused time off.
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