Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wh don't more Americans use all their vacation time?

A week and a half ago, one of the editors of the AARP Bulletin offered me an assignment to write about why Americans don't use all their vacation time.  Fun fact:  I got to work on this story while I was on vacation in Eastham, MA.

Here's a link to that story, followed by the full text.

Click here to find out more!

Scared to Go on Vacation?

Workplace competition, money worries cause many Americans to forgo their days off

Mike, a story artist for the Disney Channel, hasn't taken a vacation in three years. Last time he did, he wished he'd stayed at the office.
See also: Laid-off workers settle for part-time jobs.

He and his family traveled to a remote area with bad cellphone reception. He tried to keep up with goings-on back at work, but couldn't as closely as he wanted. "When I got back, I found that one of my coworkers had been undermining me while I was away," Mike recounts. "It took me a long time to repair that damage."
Employees with beachball in the office lose vacation time often out of fear for their jobs
In this down economy, many employees fear losing their job if they take a vacation. — Garry Owens/Gallery Stock
"We get six weeks to produce an episode," explains Mike. "And anyone who leaves during those six weeks is out of the loop. That can bode ill for a career in a cutthroat industry."
Mike is hardly an exception in the American workplace. Just 54 percent of American employees took all their vacation time in 2010, a survey by Right Management and World at Work found. Similarly, an August 2010 poll by Reuters/Ipsos found that 57 percent of Americans were likely to take all the days coming to them.
What's going on here?
"It's a down economy," says John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, a Seattle organization challenging what it sees as an epidemic of overwork and overscheduling in the United States. "There's far less job security here than in Europe, and people worry that if they take time off they might not seem as dedicated to the job — and might be targeted for layoff."
Tom Richardson, senior director of strategic planning and business development for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford, knows the pressure.
"I felt guilty taking more than a couple of full weeks off in a given year, as if doing so equated to my not working hard enough," said Richardson. The workplace culture "implied that I had to prove that I was indispensable — which I couldn't be if I indulged the luxury of time off."
Presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich had a similar experience when he went on a cruise in the Greek isles against staff advice. He returned in June from the two-week vacation to find his staff questioning the fire in his belly — and more than a dozen of them quitting en masse.
Next: Why don't employees use up their vacations? >>
Putting off the beach
Employees cite many reasons why they don't use up their vacations:
  • Bare-bones staffing. In today's slimmed-down workplaces, there may be no one to cover for vacationers. "So many people have been laid off that when someone gets back from vacation, it's going to be hard to catch up," said Dan Ryan, principal at Ryan Search & Consulting in Nashville, Tenn. "The email will be unmanageable. People just say, 'I'll avoid the stress and stay here.' "
  • Affordability. "Gas is expensive, plane fare is expensive, accommodations and meals are expensive," said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "That's why we're hearing more about 'staycations' and 'daycations.' " He says that for some employees, especially those in their 30s, vacations can conflict with responsibilities involving children, spouses and parents.
  • Husbanding the off days. "Many workers choose to work instead and 'bank' their time for when they have enough savings to spend on a vacation," said Leonard Sanicola, senior benefits practice leader for World at Work, an organization focusing on compensation and benefits.
  • Cashing out. Some folks would rather cash out the unused time when they leave the job. According to a survey by the World at Work group, 91 percent of employers with traditional vacation plans pay for unused vacation in cash at the time of separation.
Connected by smartphone
In today's work culture, even people who do make it to the lake may not really be on vacation. Email and cellphones keep them tethered to the office.
A February 2011 study by, a coupon discount website, showed that a third of Americans take work calls or read work emails during vacation, with a quarter of those admitting that it's a cause of arguments when away from home.
"It's hard to decouple life from your BlackBerry," said Ryan. "I brought mine on my anniversary vacation in Hawaii with my wife."
American vacation habits contrast starkly with those in other parts of the world.
Next: Checking email while on vacation? You're not alone. >>
"The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a minimum annual leave statute," says de Graaf. The European Union requires a minimum of four weeks of vacation in all of the bloc's 27 member countries. Many exceed that and mandate five or six. When workers were asked in the Reuters/Ipsos survey whether they would use all their vacation days, France topped the list, with 89 percent of respondents taking every day.
One American who has worked for an international company in Basel, Switzerland, for 13 years describes an office culture that values down time.
"We get minimally four to five weeks of vacation every year," she says, "and we're encouraged to use it. … I already have three vacations scheduled for this year and will certainly fit one more in before the year's up."

Working hard, burning out

By some views, vacation resistance is part and parcel of a work ethic that historically has made the American economy strong. Japan, another hard-working and affluent country, tops the list in the world: Only 33 percent of employees take all their days, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
But other people see a social cost in the never-slow-down attitude. "When people don't take time away from the workplace to reenergize their batteries and recharge, it's neither good for the individual or the business," says Sanicola of World at Work.
It may ultimately lead to employee burnout, absenteeism and health or safety issues, he believes: "Vacation time is essential for work-life effectiveness and overall health and wellness."
And with the economy no longer in the fearsome depths of 2008 and 2009, some studies show that Americans are starting to reclaim their time off. A 2009 survey by Right Management found that about 65 percent of Americans weren't taking their allotted days. In 2010, the figure had fallen to 46 percent. Says Douglas J. Matthews, president of Right Management: "It may be that our latest finding reflects a somewhat healthier workplace mind-set."
Diane Cadrain is a Connecticut-based attorney and freelance journalist who writes frequently on employment issues.

No comments:

Post a Comment