You can’t deny it. Anytime the song “Vacation” by the Go Go’s comes on the radio, you sing along. Same thing with “Holiday Road” featured in the classic film National Lampoon’s Vacation. Vacation themes are well represented in American pop culture; unfortunately, they do not abound in the American lifestyle.
When it comes to vacation, Americans are left behind by the rest of the world–at the office, in the factory, behind the counter. Americans workers not only receive far less time off than their counterparts in other countries, but are also less likely to take advantage of the leisure time they do receive.
In every European country, workers enjoy at least four weeks of paid vacation. It is the law. Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom require a minimum of 5 weeks of annual paid leave. This is in addition to paid sick leave, parental leave and holidays.
In America, there is no minimum requirement set by the government in terms of paid vacation (or paid sick or parental leave, for that matter). In fact, the United States is almost the only country that does not guarantee paid vacation time. Even China, Mexico and Nigeria mandate a minimum of paid vacation days.
Full-time American workers, on average, receive two weeks of paid vacation after a year of employment. However, more than half of those in the lowest wage bracket receive no paid vacation or holidays.
Americans that do receive vacation time are not fully taking advantage of the time off they do receive. According to Fortune Magazine, nearly 500 million paid vacation days go unused by American workers each year. In many cases, these days cannot be rolled over to the next year and are automatically forfeited.
Why are American workers not taking time off? Some may worry that they will be replaced or demoted if they take too many days off. Others dread the idea of coming back to a pile of work. These days, workers are unlikely to have someone filling in for them while they’re off. This means employees tend to work twice as hard before they leave and twice as hard when they return, which makes taking a vacation pretty stressful. In many cases, companies have downsized to reduce overhead costs, leaving fewer workers to do the same amount of work or more.
As a result, U.S. productivity continues to increase, but at what cost?
Americans work more hours than nearly every other industrialized country and, as a result, experience more work-related stress. Left unchecked, this stress can contribute to serious health problems.
Even the majority of U.S. employers recognize workplace stress as a concern as it can reduce productivity as well as increase employee absence and turnover.
Employees in Switzerland, Germany and Finland work far fewer hours yet are more productive. Swiss workers are considered inefficient if they cannot complete their work in 37.5 hours a week. And in many countries, employers are forbidden to contact workers after hours.
U.S. employers should not only provide ample time off, they should establish a work culture that encourages employees to take advantage of vacation time. Not only is it good for employees and their families, it is good for the overall health of the company. Workers who feel safe taking time off will be more productive.
America needs to follow the example of other countries and start prioritizing workers above work. People need time with their families and friends, time to enjoy beautiful natural places and time to do the things they love. Having dedicated time off results in healthier, happier, and more productive and creative workers.
Vacation is a right of all workers and yet here in the United States (and really only in the United Stated) it is not treated as such. This needs to change. The American labor movement has brought us a great deal of advancements in the work place: paid holidays (such as Labor Day, which we just celebrated), 8-hour work-days, 5-day work weeks, improved occupational safety and a minimum wage. The labor movement, and American workers, must demand mandated vacation time.
So crank up the Go-Gos and get to work…in making paid vacation a reality for all American workers.
By Nicole Faraguna, co-founder of the Susquehanna Valley Progressives