America Is the No Vacation Nation

By Nora Dunn on 6 October 2009 (Updated 19 October 2010) 69 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

Here is a frightening (or enlightening, depending on how you look at it) passage from Wanderlust and Lipstick about the American approach to vacations:

A 2009 survey from Expedia found that 1/3 of employees don’t take all of their vacation time. While this speaks (to a certain degree) to how individuals make personal choices, there might be something else underlying our reluctance to hit the road.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research calls the U.S. the No Vacation Nation. In a 2007 study, they determined that the U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation for employees. That means you can take a job, work your 40 (or more) hours a week, and it’s considered a bonus to be given paid vacation time.

But when we are blessed with vacation time, what keeps us from taking the time off we earn and deserve? According to the Expedia survey, people who don’t take their vacation time do so for several reasons. They hope to receive compensation for unused time, they have a hard time planning ahead or their partner can’t travel during the same time period. What’s worse? One in five respondents admitted to canceling a vacation because of work.

No wonder we have so much trouble balancing work and life. No wonder a buzz term such as “work-life balance” even exists; why is “work” considered a separate entity from “life” to begin with? From my travels, I have not found that other western cultures maintain the same distinction.

I am currently traveling and living in Australia, where my boyfriend landed an entry-level job with seven weeks of paid vacation per year. Seven. Weeks. This is not an isolated perk in this area of the world either; an Aussie friend recently enjoyed 14 months of paid long-service leave, then he cut his hours down to two days per week for a year, and now he is taking five more months off (at half-pay), then fully retiring…at the age of 50.

How long do you have to work at a company in America before earning seven weeks of vacation time per year? And would you suppose that a paid leave of absence on top of it is too elaborate? In other places, it is not unheard of.

When I vacationed to South Africa many years ago and was chatting with the European-influenced locals, the common question asked of me was “how many months are you here for?”

I looked at them like they were crazy for asking such a question. Who on earth can get months off from work at a time?

They in turn, looked at me like I was crazy. Who on earth travels all the way to South Africa from North America for only a few weeks (according to them)?

These are people who have business or work obligations; they are indeed rooted in reality. One fellow worked for a chiropractor in England, and traveled to South Africa for four months out of every year. He struck an arrangement with his employer to allow him the time off, with the proviso that he would do a few small side projects during his time in South Africa. No problemo.

So where is the disconnect? Why is America fostering a population of people who are tethered to their desks for life, with no respite? Although you might think that America at least dominates the world in productivity given all these hours spent at the office, recent studies indicate that it’s not necessarily the case:

Americans may take less vacation, but are they really more efficient than their European colleagues? Figures from the World Economic Forum certainly show the US remains the world's most competitive country. Yet other data, including countries' GDP per hours worked, reveal Europe still gives America a run for its money. That means many parts of the Old World are at least as productive as the US, if not more, with the added bonus of up to eight weeks off a year.

So why are Americans more committed to their jobs than to themselves? You may know — or be — one of these people if you have heard them say they don’t have time to work out or eat well because of their work schedule.

Do we accept extra work being dumped on us because the company is laying people off and we consider ourselves lucky to have any work at all? In this economic climate, this could be possible. It doesn’t, however, speak for the same work ethos that existed when economic times were better.

Are we working all those extra hours to pay off our consumer debt? (And what of the extra hours worked by salaried employees who don’t receive overtime pay)? I wonder if we are caught up in a lifestyle based on consumption, which in turn perpetuates people’s need to work hard — to earn enough money to pay off their last (or their next) purchase.

Do we opt out of taking vacation time because we can’t afford to go anywhere anyway? Maybe a "staycation" or frugal vacation is possible, or just relaxing and reading a good book for a few days. It doesn’t have to be “work or bust”.

Why do some people brag about having accumulated months of vacation time by not having used it over the years?

Do we burn the candle at both ends because we truly love the work?

Or have we simply lost sight of the forest through the trees?

It seems from the opening quote that there are three core issues which indicate a lack of balance in American society:

  1. We are not using all the vacation time granted to us.
     
  2. We are not granted nearly the same amount of vacation time that most of the rest of the western world sees.
     
  3. We (or at least some of us) are prepared to cancel our vacation because of work.

This does not appear to be a sustainable model, and I wonder if we are already seeing signs of its breakdown in the form of depleted health and happiness. It is my hope that by redefining what the workplace — and work — is, we can find out how it fits into our lives in a more balanced way.

 

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Guest's picture
Robert

When the bills aren't being paid, it's hard to justify a vacation. Especially when layoffs are going on left and right. Take a long vacation at work and you may not come back.

Guest's picture
Drew

I think one point that deserves to be looked at is the small business model here in America. While there are still a lot of big businesses, many Americans work for small business where it may be more difficult to take a month or two months off at a time.

If there is only one person handling accounting, for instance, and that person leaves for 2 months, who is going to take on the added work load from her position? In a small business (say, under 10 people), this could be a very difficult problem to overcome. The accountant then feels bound to their job, either by their own doing or that of their employer in some instances.

Just my 2 cents.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just like in the US most European streets are lined with small shops and restaurants and commercial parks are full of other small businesses.

The difference however is that in the EU and some other places have legal systems that are protective of employee rights. One of those rights is adequate and in some cases mandatory holiday/vacation time. So businesses small and large in these countries are held to that legal standard and after decades know how to operate and indeed thrive under the model.

The only way to get longer vacation time in the US would be legislation. But change initially is not profitable and difficult to pass in a country where business have enjoyed the a government and people who are happy equate profit and money and not free time when calculating quality of life.

Guest's picture
Guest

How do you think every other industrialised country in the world does this and even some of the poorer ones?

the question is how do you? Because it can be done

Guest's picture
Guest

In many of the large corporations the reward mechanism for management is tied to the idea that the ordinary people be shackled to their desks as much as possible. When your boss's bonus is tied to him finding ways to keep you from taking your vacation, who is going to lose! Regardless of how productive you are, should you choose to take your vacation, then your boss will retaliate (at review/layoff time) for the perceived loss in his bonus. Remember, to virtually all corporate management, lower level employees are nameless, faceless drudges; easily replaceable. Employees are part of the group of suckers that the current fashionable PT Barnum management style* uses, mis-uses and abuses.

PT Barnum: (In)famous American circus owner. Quoted as saying: "There is a sucker born every minute". The quote has been adapted to modern corporate management and refers to customers, employees and share-holders. The only non-suckers are top management.

Forgive my cynicism, but I've seen too many years of the management style described above.

Andrea Karim's picture

I have never had a job in which taking time off for things like doctor's appointments, errands, and other naggling little issues didn't eat into my vacation.

For instance, the other day I had to get an ultrasound on my thyroid. This was only a half hour appointment, but it had to be followed by some lab work. My work and my doctor, while both 30 minutes from my house, are an hour away from each other. So, I had to take half of a day's vacation for roughly 1 hour of medical care (which will now cost me probably close to $600, which eats into vacation money).

The follow-up appointment with the doctor who did the ultrasound will be another hour or so, so that's another half day of vacation right there. It goes quickly, when you are only given 10 days a year.

Guest's picture
Dianna

most jobs do not give much vacation, a week or two if you are fortunate, and like someone said above, the everyday things you need to take off for will often eat into vacation time. especially if you have children, who get sick more often, you'll burn through your sick and personal days quickly and have to start using vacation. i'm glad you are enjoying traveling around, but most people do not have this option. it sucks, really. i think the american lifestyle is overrated in many ways.

Andrea Karim's picture

This is also why I am applying for jobs in New Zealand. :)

Guest's picture
annk

If I gave more than half my pay to Big Brother (as my UK relatives do), then I would demand to work only half the time, too.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ann, I think you'll find the overall tax burden in the UK is no more than yours. No-one pays over half, I pay around 35% in all taxes and I get a great standard of healthcare included in that :-)

Guest's picture
Jim

My employer requires us to use our vacation every year and doesn't allow us to 'bank' the time. So its a 'use it or lose it' system. I always take all my vacation. I'm lucky to have 4 weeks paid vacation / year.

Guest's picture
Gilda

Of all the possible horror stories that are probably out there, I do want to say there are some business that don't work in this "normal". A couple of years back I worked for a small business that prided itself on working (and playing) as a team. They would have everyone cut back to 4 days a week rather than fire in a downturn. They had company enforced vacation from Christmas to New Years (to make sure no one was sneaking in to work just to get paid extra). And they really encouraged people to use their vacation for vacation (not doctor's appointments and sick days). They also gave a fairly generous amount of sick days and vacation days. This made for a very happy work environment, ease among bosses and peons and an overall successful work environment. This also helped balance out the really busy times when people were asked to stay late or put in extra time to finish a project (although no one was punished if they couldn't). I think this is a great model if "regulated" well and done with a generous spirit. If only it were the prevailing attitude among companies, imagine the possibilities.

Guest's picture
usul356

I don't mean to put you on the defensive, but why would you leave a job like that then? That sounds like pretty good extras to me. I just wish I had sick days at all where I work.

Guest's picture
Kevin

They only get like 6 weeks for Maternity leave in the US as well. Seriously! That's just cruel.

Of course, I'm sure the day care lobby wouldn't tolerate longer maternity leaves, just like the Health Insurance lobby won't tolerate universal health care.

Seriously, who's in charge down there? Obviously not the voters.

Guest's picture

And this is why I'd like to end up self-employed. In a job that I love, doing something I can do anywhere.... So I don't have to worry about how much vacation time I'm deemed "entitled" to.

So far, I've worked at my job for nearly two years, and have gotten 26 hours of paid vacation time. I used 12 in September for a paid three-day weekend. Of course, I work part-time... So it's nearly a miracle in itself that I even get paid vacation time. But that weekend was my very first time ever getting paid to be off, and I take weekends off every month.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

Just got a new job 3 months ago after 3 months of being on unemployment...

Vacation and relaxation is the least of my worries!!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

I have noticed that a lot of people don't take their vacation days and end up losing it.  Now Obama is proposing that people could bank their vacation days in their 401ks, and I expect a lot more people to do that instead of leaving work.  My hubby and I always run out of vacation days since we do use all of them pretty much every year.  Even corporations in China give employees  more days off than America.  I really don't know what it is that makes a lot of  Americans afraid to take vacation especially when it is paid.  The only exception I know of is that one of my friends is vacationing in  India for a few months now,  but he is vacationing on unemployment dole.

Guest's picture
Guest

One reason Americans do not take time off is "they're afraid to lose their Jobs" so not vacationing is sometimes job security. Being an american myself all ive been thought my entire life is how important it is to get that wonderful top paying career and once I get it do not do anything to lose it.

Julie Rains's picture

My sister told me about this discrepancy when she worked and lived in London for a couple of years, and had 6 weeks of vacation versus the standard 1-2 in the USA. This was back in the 80s and she attributed it to the Puritan work ethic of our nation's founders -- so it may be ingrained in our culture.

Over the years, I have heard about changes in some workplaces but not all; but now that unemployment is higher and people are concerned (reasonably) about taking too much time off, the gradual changes to more vacation seem to be waning. I'm all for vacation -- think it helps people to be more productive and apparently there studies giving evidence of health benefits.

Guest's picture
Gilda

A lot of countries also have mid-day downtime too. For instance in China, during the summer especially, a lot of businesses are practically closed for business for at least an hour in the middle of the day. The tellers who are there (like at a bank where they aren't actually closed) will actually step back from the window, lie their heads down on a desk and take a nap, waiting for a customer. They're not in the back somewhere doing grunt work, trying to look/stay busy when there aren't any customers. Of course, it's a culturally accepted and expected phenomenon. That's what's really "wrong" about this lack of vacation and rest from work idea. It's not culturally accepted or expected, if anything it is generally frowned upon.

Guest's picture
dreamsandshadows

We are a nation of people who put work above all else, dispite what is said --we are overworked, overstressed, over our heads in debt, frantically keeping up with new stressers in our lives--just watching tv is enough to give you a heart attack, even the ads are stressful. we don't look at people in this country as whole people we look at what they have accomplished, how good they look, what they own...we seem to value this frantic lifestyle. I do not undertand why. I am moving to europe---as soon as I can take some time off to plan it---LOL.

Guest's picture
Guest

To my fellow american we may be over stressed and under paid but atleast our sense of humors are still in tact-lol

Guest's picture
Sasadd

How come this article does not point out Americans are also the most productive people in the world. Who cares if they don't take "their" vacation. Peopel do what they do and a vacation isn't going to change or help- it just delays the inevitable. The worst thing Americans can do is look to foreigners for advice on how to live. Besides, maybe people just like to work.

Guest's picture
Guest

In fact, research evidence from Harvard suggests US GDP is not as good as other parts of the world despite US work culture. There is also hard evidence to suggest that working long days -especially around eleven hours rapidly increases risks to health, likewise not having sufficient restoration time.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

These are great comments and concepts - from banking vacation time in a 401k, to bosses getting bonuses for keeping employees at their desks, to siestas and cultural acceptance of having a nap at your desk in a public place(!)....the list of awesome contributions goes on! Thanks.

What are your two cents?

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Sasaad - Actually, the article does indeed speak specifically to the fact that Americans in fact are NOT the most productive in the world, despite the popular conception that they are:

...That means many parts of the Old World are at least as productive as the US, if not more, with the added bonus of up to eight weeks off a year.

As for people simply liking to work, that's possible. Informal poll: how many readers here simply like to work? (I know I generally do, but then again I'm self employed, which is a bit different).

Guest's picture
Lauren

As has been said already, the US places a high value on work and being physically in the office for many hours (which is a reason I believe telecommuting hasn't taken off like it could). And if you're not willing to put in 40+ hours a week, there's someone waiting for your job who IS willing, and to do it for cheaper.
I really wish the US placed a higher value on balance and rest... happy people work better, and it's healthy to take time away from your job, no matter how much you love it.
Personally, I have been stuck in the "temporary," "freelance," and "part-time" categories (despite working for multiple months at 35+ hours per week at a company), so I never get paid time off... I'm paid hourly, so if I want to go to the doctor (on my own privately-paid health insurance, because "temporary" "freelance" and "part-time" employees also aren't eligible for company healthcare), I have to take the time out of my weekly paycheck. It's really a scam, if you think about it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work at a university where I'm entitled to 4 weeks of vacation a year, plus nearly 2 weeks off for the holiday season in December. These are wonderful benefits, but I have the misfortune of working for a boss who herself has poor work/life balance. Whenever her reports request vacation time, we are made to feel guilty for using our vacation. I asked for 2 weeks last summer and was called into her office to explain why I needed "so much time off" and would I lose momentum on my projects. I love my job, but this attitude makes me wish to win the lottery and not feel enslaved to a workaholic boss.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just how important is your role/job if you can take 14-months off? I mean really. You sure aren't being productive or are a small business owner fir sure. There has to be a balance. What makes this country great Is our work ethic.

Guest's picture
Rosa

- people like to think they're so important, so indispensable, that they just can't take a vacation. The work will pile up, no one else can do it, no one else can do it right...once, a relative told me he couldn't take any paternity leave when his kids were born because nobody else in his office could use Excel.

I'm sorry, but if you *are* that important, and nobody else is cross-trained at your job, you're doing something wrong. What if you have a heart attack or a family emergency, should the company fail or force you back to work from your hospital bed?

And if you *aren't* that important, what are you hiding by acting as if you were?

I've almost always managed to work part time and I've often been one of the highest-performing people in whichever department I'm in, because

1) if possible, I'm only there when there's actual work to do and

2) I don't like doing make-work so if I can't take off (like i'm the only one in the office that day and there might be some business at some point) I find actual work to do.

Nobody can be productive 8 or 10 hours a day and people who sit at a desk that long are spending some of that time either doing non-job work or killing off brain cells so they can stand the boredom. Or looking at facebook.

Guest's picture
Keith McKai

Cut your bloated lifestyle and don't take a job that doesn't treat you right! Don't shop where people are lowly paid, don't buy goods from china. Don't take a job where you do something unhealthy or emotionally hurtful to another person or family or society. This life is about people and living things, not nepotism and profit. Wake up! They don't care about you and your problems, they just want that flat screen trophy wife. If you think they are not trying to kill you off, and take your house.... your blind! Grow a spine America!

Guest's picture

i think that americans are not taking all their vacation time for two reasons; one, they have a mountain of debt to go through and there is no time to rest and two; they are passionate about their jobs, as a non american,i think that it is the latter. this is because i am an avid reader of the forbes magazines and i have noticed that most of the worlds billionaires are american and i seem to think that the passion that these people seem to have for their work is so for everybody else...but i could be wrong

Guest's picture
Pierre

I think Americans are not taking their vacations because they don't know any better. As a whole they are fairly unintelligent and materialistic. Unless they are told to take off by one of their television shows they won't. I think the system we have here in Canada far out-shines our basement neighbor the US. Their capitalist ways are fraught with problems. I hope their president can fix them as a people and spread the wealth more equally.

Guest's picture
M3isMe

Unintelligent? Don't you think that is harsh? As on of your basement neighbors, I take issue with that. Uneducated about alternatives to the rigors of the Puritan work ethic? Definitely. Raised from the cradle to think our greatest value was provided by the work we do outside the home? Absolutely. Trying hard to do the best we can and bearing the brunt of worldwide criticism no matter how much we try? Pretty much.

Look. No people is perfect and Americans are just like anyone else. Some of us work to hard and are in pursuit of all the material goods and some of us are trying to break that cycle and raise our children to make different choices and, yes, demand different circumstances for working out of the home.

To insult us and call us "fairly unintelligent" and paint us all as universally "materialist" is poorly done of you.

Guest's picture
GeorgiaS

Something that frustrates me personally, and that I think is a problem in many American workplaces is the idea that working more hours equals more work completed. Not true. There's that old saying that the time it takes to complete a job will expand to fill the amount of time allotted to do the job. It only takes me about 4 hours a day to do what I have 8 hours a day to do . . . If only I could work full-bore for one month, then take the next off!

Guest's picture
Guest

I've noticed that most of my co-workers identify with management and the big corporation even if it's not in their best interest. (This affects the healthcare debate, by the way.) I'm not sure why but time and time again, I hear regular middle-income Americans take the side of the big CEOs, as if they think that they will fall into that camp one of these days via hard work and loyalty.

The truth is: most will not climb that high on the ladder and more will benefit from pro-worker legislation such as paid maternity and paid vacation days. If the average Joe really banded together and demand change, then we Americans would enjoy a healthier work environment that promotes the mythic work-life balance.

Guest's picture
Gus

Wow, these comments read right out of an Obama speech.

Guest's picture
old car buff

The reason my co-workers and I don't take as much vacation as we are entitled to (or at least don't take it in blocks very often) is that our company is 'lean'. Two accounting staff doing the work of three. Three schedulers doing the work of four.....

Vacant jobs are just not being filled in these 'leaner and meaner' times.

That means that you work 60 hours the week before you leave for a week and 60 hours the week after and check your voice and email while 'on vacation'. Because there literally is NO ONE covering for you - because your back up is already doing one and a half people's jobs BEFORE you add in covering for you.

Very frustrating - but I'm just glad to have any job at all right now.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

What used to rot my sox in the corporate world was efficiently finishing my work halfway through the day (as @GeorgiaS #29 pointed out), then being made to pretend to look busy for the rest of the day. That was the final straw that swayed me to being self-employed....but as @Lauren #22 said, working "freelance" means no company benefits, no paid vacation time, etc. But also no leash tying me to the desk, so I guess it's a trade-off!

Guest's picture
Guest

This is what American capitalism is all about. Workers are expendable and are worked into the ground while the business owners (and shareholders) reap the rewards. Tell the workers that, with hard work, the American dream will be theirs but don't tell them the dream is just an illusion. Dangle a carrot in front of a donkey and the donkey will keep walking in a circle.

And if a friend loses their job, tell them: "That's great! American capitalism is the best! Ra ra ra!"

Guest's picture
John Hebert

As the grown child of two USAF Officers who then went on to work in the private sector I can see the stark difference between the military vs civilian approach to vacation.

In the Air Force, both of my parents received 30 days paid vacation per year. not exactly a huge amount by some of the non-US places mentioned earlier, but when you add in "down days" (essentially paid days off, typically a friday or monday that occur every so often at the base commander's discretion IIRC) and sick time, the paid time off on the military side far outweighs the time off in the civilian side for comparable jobs (IE Nurse, Pilot, Mechanic).

Also, some simply do not feel the need to take vacation time due to the nature of your job. My father now works for a large, multinational corporation working from home, and for the large part of the summer, takes clients out on his personal boat for fishing trips. The company pays for fuel in his truck, fuel in his boat, and paid the lions share of all the rods/life vests/etc required to take the customers out. So when a significant part of your job for 4 months is simply to take people fishing, where's the need for a vacation. Mind you it should be noted that he spends every weekend out on the boat or camping regardless, so he has stated to me on more than one occasion that he doesn't mind letting a few paid days slide every year because so much of his working time is spent quote "Dickin around with a bunch of great guys" /quote.

Guest's picture

I am sure that every clever employer realises that a happy employee is a good employee. I employ 2 full time people and treat them as if they were partners in the business.

The trick is to employ someone people that look at it in the same way. Part of the package is to ensure that there is not a long gap in between leave periods. Holidays are a part of life so should be encouraged.

Guest's picture
Alicia

I think this article points out an interesting correlation between the lack of time off in the American workplace and the excessive debt that most Americans find themselves in. I find that most workers (I work for government) MUST be at their desks or easily locatable for 9 hours a day. When this is the the case, workers tend to bring their homes to work, ie refrigerators, coffee machines, microwaves. They eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at the office. They balance their checkbooks, read the newspaper, make dental appointments, and catch up on their email. Why? Because they HAVE to. They don't have any other time in which to do these things when they are NOT at the office. That's not even considering the long commute times that many people deal with.

This leaves very little time for hobbies that can be truly relaxing. Saturdays are filled with chores and errands, Sundays are filled with obligatory visits to family and friends, and then it starts all over again on Monday morning. I believe this is why people in this country are in such a state of debt. When they DO have a bit of fun in their lives, it tends to be fun that is quick and expensive, such as shopping, dinners out, two hour movies or shows, things that pack a lot of fun into very little time.

Not to mention our vacations! Do we really relax on vacation? Or do we fill the short time that we have with expensive, quick thrills, such as theme parks, shows, and feverish sightseeing? Do we ever visit one place for a month and get to know it completely? Read about it? learn something new? Take time to really forget about work and concentrate on relaxing and adding something new to our lives? (The Europeans do this)

What if we actually had time to visit a place and really live it? Would we need the thrill seeking? What if we could have a relaxing hobby to come home to? Like reading, gardening, crafts, or hiking? Would we need to spend all of that money on shopping and entertainment? Wouldn't it be nice to walk for an hour instead of hopping on the treadmill for 20 minutes in between work and dinner?

Our lifestyle is not only stressful, but it is expensive.

My take is that we have way too much management. People are promoted into management positions at vastly higher salaries, and then feel it necessary to justify their existence by micro managing the workers below them. And the easiest way to do this? Know where everyone is at all times, regardless if it has anything to do with productivity or not. Of course when the time comes to make cost cuts, for some reason, these management positions are the LAST to go. Government is full of this. We could do a lot for the health and financial welfare of this country by reevaluating the roles of management, and redefining their place in the production chain. Letting go a little, and focusing on actual productivity instead of time accountability would go a long way in easing stress in the work place, letting people have a little control over their own lives, and, who knows? Maybe we'll all save a little money in the meantime!

Guest's picture
Guest

Dig.  McMansions take longer to clean.  Ask Thoreau about that.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thank you everybody for the inspiring conversation!

@Alicia #37 - what a wonderful contribution. Well thought out and well written! Cheers.

@Guest - I believe that people in the States pay slightly less in income tax than UK/Canadian/Aussie citizens who have socialized health care. (But then again, most of that savings goes to private health care premiums/hospital visits)!

Guest's picture
Caroline

I am so saddened by the lack of vacation time given to US workers. Speaking to others from the US, it appears that it is in the cultural blood for all sorts of reasons (many referenced above already), therefore very difficult for people to imagine or believe it could be another way.

The European work directive (legislation to work no more than 48 hours a week) is in reality always abused and many in the UK don't have a good work life balance because they feel compelled or used to working for longer, for the same reasons as those of our US friends; one of the major reasons being fear of losing our job.

I have recently had the very good fortune to start a business with a good friend of mine where we are beginning to set out our own rules of how we work based on what else we want to experience in life. This, we believe, will then feed back into the work we do and hopefully become a good influence and inspiration for the organisations we work with. It's early days but we're very optimistic that we can actually Breathe, rather than gasp through life.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have found that the ONLY way I can take a vacation is to QUIT my job. Enjoy my "time off" then go out and find a new job.

I am not kidding. Companies expect their employees to have NO LIFE AT ALL outside of work. They want me to be on call 24/7 and be working my butt off for them 7 days a week. I've noticed every company I work for always uses the same excuse for this such as "we are working on a BIG project and we need to push though this to get it finished on time" or some similar excuse for why now is not a good time to take a vacation.

If you let a company know your interested in taking Time Off then you are very likely to go on the **** list and end up getting fired. They will start LOOKING for ways to get rid of you if you act like you want ANY time off. I'm not kidding.

I just play their game for about 6-8 months out of each year then I just walk into my bosses office and QUIT!! It fells so good to quit a job and be FREE again. Each time I do this, they ALWAYS say the same thing; "Well WHAT are you going to do now???" As if I am just LOST if I'm not working 50 hours a week as their slave.

Work is for those who don't know any better way to live their life. You DO NOT have to work 50 hours a week to live in America, you just need to learn how to stop spending every paycheck on Credit Card bills, Cell phone crap and designer clothes.

America NEEDS to get back to the old days of paying CASH and only spending WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR POCKET. STOP borrowing money. Stop financing everything and STOP living beyond your means. Live SIMPLE. Stop making your life harder than it has to be by pursuing a foolish American Lifestyle. YOU DO NOT NEED A MERCEDES or a Mini Mansion that has 15 recessed 150watt lights in each room running your power bill to $500 a month!!

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Guest

Let me guess - you're young and don't worry about health insurance.

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B

Pierre, you're being funny and I wish that were true, but really is exactly like guest # 42 is saying. I worked in US for 5 years and every job I had got me sick. Time off ( even for few hours in the morning or a long weekend) was frown upon, making you feel like you are not serious enough about your work or something. I had to get fired to finally have some time to breath, eat healthy, go to walk around malls to strech my legs instead of staying at my desk 9 hours per day ( lunch outside the work area was again seen as desertation of people who needed you every moment!). I really got sick and had to tell my boss that if thing don't change, I will need to quit. That's why I got fired- for wanting to live outside 50 hour work week...

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Guest

Vacation? What is that? I have been a temp at a chair company since Aug. 2008 and I have not yet had a vacation or any sick days. I am still a temp and all I get out of management is lucky you have a job..but they take time off. They might hire me in 2010 but I know they will drag their feet...they'll bring up budget issues...the economy..etc but they make millions each month. And if they do hire me I'll be on a 3 month probation and I'll have to work 1 year (After my 3 month probation ends) to FINALLY take 1 week off. Wow!!! I'll have a week off after working 3 years.

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Guest

From reading the post and comments, I believe more people are made to feel guilty if they don't live to work. I work to live. When I walk out the door every night, I leave work at work. Sadly, with technology, such as the internet and cell phones, its harder to separate the two.

This year, I am going overseas for 2.5 weeks, which is not that much time. I have been accruing my time off for almost a year. About 6 months ago, the organization hired a new supervisor. I do like her. However, when I put in my request, which was back in early October, she said I would have to condense 4 weeks of work into two weeks, that is, before I go on vacation and when I return. When she made this announcement about future staff going on vacation, a couple of my coworkers were floored. She made a couple of snarky comments, ie: "If anyone takes time off from work for a month, you will be fired." She tried to play it off like she was joking, but she was not. I was perplexed by this, but I was told by friends and coworkers to take my vacation, since it was approved and I am legally entitled to my vacation. One of my coworkers, whom is a workaholic, aspiring supervisor, decided to forgo her vacation plans in November. She is falling into the management trap, wants to shine and look good. What gets me, is she complains about being overworked. Well, that is her own damn fault. If one chooses to be a workaholic, its their choice, but don't be a martyr!

I am rambling, but the whole point is managers like to use fear tactics. My bf, whom worked as a supervisor for years, pointed that out. His former supervisor is a capitalist, over work employees, get irritated if they want vacation. Yet, he would go on vacation whenever he pleased. Reap all the rewards. I wish I could compare this with my supervisor, but we work in a non-profit setting. So she does not make too much for what her duties and responsibilities entail. See, I am already complaining about work!:)

Anyway, just wanted to share my perspective. We need more vacation time, I agree. Need to work to live, not live to work.

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Jared

I actually work at a call center because my families business started by my mother and father is slowley being taken out by big business, i have woked here for over a year rarely missing and have accumulated four Vacation days which i had to use in october because they are taken away at the end of the year and they put a freeze on it during the end of november so that we cannot use it during the holiday season, Just thought i would let it be known that there are worse jobs out there. Im leaving as soon as possible but jobs are hard to come by here

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Jared

still not as bad as "vaction? Whats vacation?" guy, thats horrible. It's horrible that it's considered ok or even legal to treat an employee like a feelingless tool who doesn't need any free time to live life.

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Guest

To the "vaction? Whats vacation?" guy, I feel your pain.

I'm a "consultant" for a major health care company in my area and I don't have a single paid day off. I do the same job as the regular employees, answer to the same management, and yet I'm treated less than human due to my job title. I find it ironic that although I'm working for a health care company, I don't have any paid sick days.

The head honcho's brother in law owns the "consulting" company I'm "working under", so there is no chance that this scam will end any time soon. The only person who has been hired as a regular employee from contractor status got the position because someone died. So quite frankly, someone has to die so I can get a paid day off. It's THAT bad.

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Guest

To the GUEST consultant - your temp agency may be in violation of the law.  Contact an attorney who can take your case on a contingency basis.  Keep records of when you start and end work, and breaks or lack thereof, and so forth.  I think the odds of winning a suit are better than in years past.  These subcontracting companies are like little slave sweatshops - they turn you into a second class worker, not entirely unlike the hawaiian plantation workers, or an illegal immigrant.

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Fiona

I live in Australia. I, like the majority of salaried workers, have 4 weeks leave a year. I can save them for two years and take up to 8 weeks off (work priorities permitting), but lose it if I don't take the time off.

And this is the norm, if you're lucky, unless you are working for a small business like the vast majority of the workforce (where it is harder).

So - where does the 7/8 weeks of leave a year mentioned previously come from? It's is not the norm.

We actually have fewer public holidays a year than you do in the US.

I always thought that the US were workaholics (not necessarily by choice - more by what was required to keep your job). But I have come to realise that we are similar to you (heaven forbid, since I'm a former Brit). What we care about is doing a good job. Being there when we are needed. Even if it means 12+ hours a day. Even if we burn out.

But, sometimes, we just need to compensate. Spend time alone. Regenerate.

Let's take our leave and be replenished!

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Guest

I find it hard to fathom - perhaps partially cultural? I am a kiwi, and our vacation time (4 wks minimum by law) and sick leave (5 days minimum) are fiercely guarded. Everyone I know tends to take ALL of their vacation, and often people take more unpaid. I am a school teacher, so naturally we get more paid vacation and more sick leave, yet I am aware of a number of school staff taking extra, unpaid days to enable them to get cheaper flights or longer vacations etc - so long as you book a reliever in advance and its okayed with the school board! I have also heard of people taking a whole term, or two terms off (unpaid) to enable extensive travel. I do a combination of substitute and shorter term contracts to enable me to travel more often. I cannot comprehend how so little vacation time is even allowed - it bothers me that people are not allowed to have experiences outside their 9-5, due to harsh expectations. How is it legal that one can be indirectly fired through use of vacation days?

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Guest

I don't work for Corporate America anymore, but I did out of college, and literally the first time I took vacation (one week - TO GET MARRIED) I was laid off. The company rehired me shortly but I was too freaked out to take any vacation days or sick time after that, as I noticed it was seriously frowned upon for anyone who hadn't been there for years to take vacation.

A lot of companies here in the U.S. don't give a certain number of weeks per year, but use a system whereby you accrue a certain number of hours or fractions of hours of vacation time per every 40 or 80 hours worked. This means that you might have one week of vacation time earned after a year working, but after 6 months you might only have 2.5 days earned. Plus you have to get your vacation approved months in advance at every company I ever worked for and certain times of year are "blacked out" for vacations, plus the manager can just say "you can't take vacation at that time" or "you can't use that much vacation time at once" and that is that.

My husband is a postdoc at a R1 university and they are MUCH more flexible. He gets 3 weeks paid vacation every year and takes it. But even he can't take it whenever he wants to.

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Zenc

Welcome to the American Dream :)
From the Social Democracy of Germany... where we look up to USA in order to cut down on healthcare, taxes, and working benefits to compete with your productivity... well who the hell cares people will have burn outs with 30 and get mad? If they pay you right you can treat that right ;)
Are you living to work or are you working to live, that the question no kidding !

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Guest

America is exploitation nation.  Since the 1970s, we've seen a steady decline in "socialism", and a steady rise in profits.  We're back at 1890s levels of social inequality between haves and have-nots.  And the people fretting about work-life balance are the in-betweeners, because the have-nots aren't taking vacations at all, and there's really no question that there will not be paid vacations in the future.

The main differene between America and Europe and most of Asia is evident in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We send tens of thousands of troops, hire an equal number of overpaid mercenaries, and set up the bases.  The Euros and Asians... they send a few hundred people and set up a few posts.  American taxpayers have to foot the bill for these wars, and that's why there's no money left over for things like tax-funded childcare, adequate education, easy access to affordable healthcare, a month of paid vacations, and all the other things every other European takes for granted.

We pay the same taxes as many European economies, but we have to spend more of it on war.

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Guest

Ever heard of the case of the missing money? Capitalism's success in screwing the workers by lowering wages thus creating immense profits.Capitalism will always have the flaw of severely unequal distribution of wealth giving immense power to the already wealthy 1%. Our only hope is capitalism without capitalists, worker owned firms, publicly owned firms or even new corporate governance. I hope to one day see an end to slavery although people are so weak that they will never take a stand against it. Worker rights are nonexistent. I for one refuse to play by their rules.

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Guest

Who cares if Americans travel or not. It’s no one’s business.

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danelto

Nora:

I just found your blog. I really like what I'm reading.

I'm going to make that 20-minute list tonight.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Danielto - Thanks! I hope your list inspires you...

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Mick

It's just as well that Americans don't have the time or money to travel abroad. If they did, they'd find out just how shitty our overall quality of life is compared to the Europeans, etc.

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Guest

I work for the government here in the US and there are ways around the system. We do get about 2 weeks paid (holiday vacation) per year, we also recieve 2 weeks of (paid)sick leave if we use it per year, we get another two weeks (but unpaid) vacation per year, and in my agency we currently have the option(s) to work 4 10-hr days or 5 8-hr days. I chose the 4 10hr work days, which gives me an additional 48 days (6-weeks) off per year. I love my job, and could not see it any other way, its not stressful (at all) and I don't have to check my emails or calls when I'm out. However, I will say that jobs (hours, days-off, lifestyles) do vary here in America so just keep that in mind.

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AJ

Of course, the writer forgot about #4: Our employers discourage taking vacation. I work in an industry where you better not even think about taking a week straight of vacation, and if you do, you better have your blackberry and laptop with you and be answering calls and email everyday. If not, you are branded as "lazy", "not a team player", a "clock watcher" and a whole assortment of other unsavory things.

My industry pays salary, so they think they "own" you. They tell you that you have to put in the hours it takes to "get the job done". So if you're doing the work of 3 people and have to stay 60-80 hours a week, oh well! Also, it doesn't work in reverse. If you can "get the job done" during the work day, you're still seen as "lazy" if you leave on time. God forbid you wanted to leave on time to battle your 1 1/2 - 2 hour commute to actually have a meal with your family. Time to move to Europe.

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Gary

LOL and a lot of myths in this article.

If you work less, you are poorer. Period.

The US works more and has the highest productivity in the world. Please ignore all the phony data. Want proof? Buy a shirt, a beer, a house, a car, a DVD in Switzerland, Sweden and the US. The US always comes out on top.

Your standard of living is your productivity period.

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Guest

Again, it was pointed out that the US does not have the highest productivity in the world. So often, people want to claim "America is the best in the world" no matter what they are talking about. I'm American, I'm not leaving, but we don't always "come out on top", whatever you were trying to say about shirts and beers and cars. And please, enlighten us: what in this article is a myth? Where is the phony data?