Purcell: Americans in need of a vacation (column)
Boy, I could use a vacation about now — like millions of other hardworking Americans.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off, 54 percent of American employees ended 2016 with unused time off — a total of about 662 million unused vacation days.
Whereas our friends in Europe enjoy up to six weeks off every year, Americans, after three years of working at a job, are lucky to average 10 days of vacation.
That’s if you can call what we do vacationing. When we finally do take time off, we usually take it piecemeal; we take one day here, one day there, and we hardly ever enjoy an actual “break.”
Even if we do take a week at the beach, for instance, we bring our computers and smartphones with us. We check our email obsessively, dial into phone conferences and keep our noggin in real-time connection to the stresses and agitations of the workplace no matter where our vacationing bodies may be.
Our work habits have changed over the past few decades. We’re terrified of losing our jobs, you see, so we work harder. We feel guilt if we’re the first to leave the office or the only one who didn’t work over the weekend — or the only one not to work 60-plus hours a week.
As a result, a “24/7” culture has evolved in which employees feel the need to be accessible to their employers every moment of every day. Our habits may be a contributor to productivity levels that are the envy of the world, though our productivity comes at the expense of our weekends, holidays and vacations — putting us at risk of burnout.
Some in our country think the solution is the creation and passage of new federal laws that mandate more vacation time — like similar laws in other countries.
Take the French. Their government mandates that every employee get at least five weeks of paid vacation. The French average 37 days of vacation every year — and 22 paid holidays on top of that.
Virtually all European countries have government mandates that require employee-paid vacation of four to six weeks — whereas America has no government-mandated vacation requirements.
It’s true that while our European friends are basking in the sun and sipping refreshing drinks on their long government-mandated vacations, we’re sitting inside sterile office buildings worrying about our jobs, projects, job security and that next promotion.
It’s even worse for America’s small-business owners. Fewer than half take a week off during the summer. With the economy still somewhat uncertain, many are not ready to hire. They are picking up the slack by working two or three jobs themselves.
And when we go home late at night, our job worries stay right with us. As a result, we have less energy to go for an evening stroll in the park with our children, less time to enjoy a glass of lemonade while visiting our neighbors, and less desire to engage in our communities to support charities and other noble causes.
The fact is, America, too many of us are working too long and too hard and we’re not taking enough time to recharge our batteries.
As I said, as a long self-employed writer and author, I’ve been guilty of this myself.
Can we take more vacation time without the government demanding our employers give us more? Can we maintain our freedom to choose whether to vacation and simply choose to enjoy more vacation time on our own?
It’s high time we think this vacation challenge through, America — as we stand in the surf sipping fruity adult beverages with little umbrellas in them.
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.
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