You need a vacation

August 1, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

A co-worker called a few minutes ago, and I asked her how things were at the office. You see, I work several states away in my home office, where it’s always quiet. Just me, my computer, phone, and a couple of cats that pop in and out occasionally. Apparently, it’s not too different at headquarters—minus the cats. People are on vacation this week, and it’s quiet.

I’m glad to see that my co-workers are taking their vacations. Not everyone receives employer-paid vacation days, and not everyone who does takes it.

The current survey on asks: Does your employer provide paid vacation? If so, do you plan to take all you have coming to you this year? Eight percent responded that they do not receive paid vacation. Among those who do, 71 percent planned to take all of it, and 29 percent did not. What is it with Americans and vacations?

Every year, around summertime, the articles start popping up about how far behind America is from other advanced countries when it comes to vacations. One published in The Washington Post just last month said, “In the global rivalry of economic models and lifestyles, the United States ranks dead last among advanced countries in one category: vacations.

“It’s not that millions of Americans don’t annually flock to beaches, climb mountains, invade national parks, or just hang around the house. We do. But we seem to have a harder time than other peoples in distancing ourselves from work. The office (also, the store, factory, or warehouse) is routinely an uninvited guest on our holidays.

“We worry that we might be gone for 'too long' — meaning that we won’t be missed and that any extended absences might somehow put our job or status at risk. Unfinished tasks haunt us; they corrupt vacations’ pleasures. Some of us can’t  even let go of work and, secretly or not, mix it with recreation. Others dread returning to the job. One way or another, the job shadows us. The spread of the Internet, e-mail, and cellphones has made separating work from leisure even more difficult. We are reachable at almost any time in almost any place.”

And to make matters worse, paid vacation is not mandated in the U.S., and U.S. workers who do receive the benefit are shortchanged in the amount of vacation they are allowed compared to European countries. As noted in the Post article, “counting mandated paid holidays, workers in Germany, France, and Britain receive roughly six weeks of time off, reports the CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research). There are many variations among nations as to when vacations must be taken, how much employers control vacation periods, and who qualifies and who doesn’t. In Norway, workers older than 60 get an extra week, says the CEPR report. By contrast, four European countries (Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland) provide extra paid leave for younger workers.”

Personally, I think the extended vacations offered to Europeans are excessive. Well, maybe excessive isn’t the right word. Maybe I just take issue with companies that don’t have sufficient backup for employees who are gone for six weeks at a time. This attitude was born in part from my husband’s personal experience working for a German-based company that has different policies for its German and U.S. workers (but for the sake of brevity and to keep from digressing, that’s all I’ve got to say about that) and in part, because of a personal belief that an employee’s vacation should not have a negative impact on a business. Herein lies the rub. I believe people should take their vacations, but I understand the feeling we
Americans have that we need to stay in touch with the office and keep tabs on what’s going on. I used to be very much that way … not as much anymore.

This year, for the very first time, my husband and I left our computers at home when we took our one-week vacation. (I have much more time available, but one week is the longest consecutive-day vacation we take.) And you know what? The world and our jobs didn’t come to an end for either of us. We did what people on vacation are supposed to do—detached from work and enjoyed being able to sleep in and just do only what we wanted for a few days, which was enjoy as much of nature as we could, given that it rained almost the entire time.

And if you need convincing that vacation is important, how about this: “The Science Behind Vacations: Why We Need a Break.”

“More and more experts are urging workers to take full advantage of their vacation days to go someplace new, lie on a beach, read a book and do absolutely nothing—and not feel bad about it! Turns out, there's some reasoning behind rediscovering the pleasure of napping in a hammock, swimming in the ocean, and walking through the woods. These breaks from our everyday life have shown to be profoundly healing to our physiological and physical selves.”

And even a little bit helps. “The effects of a good get-away can last for weeks, as some research has found that after just three days of vacation, subjects had less physical complaints, slept better, and were in an overall better mood than before the vacation. These effects were still present up to five weeks later!”

If you’ve taken a vacation this year, I hope it was a real vacation—not a long-distance work arrangement. If you haven’t had one and you have time coming, take it. Trust me, you need it!

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209