Kenji Sugahara

31As we enter August, I think it would be appropriate to talk about vacation. We, as Americans, need to stand up for our right to take vacations, not just earn them. There is a conception that people are punished or seen as lazy if they take vacations. Managers have an irrational fear that they need all their people at work or everything will fall apart. Individuals feel like they are obligated to work longer hours to ensure they don't get fired or so they don't get behind in their work. In fact, many people feel guilty for taking vacations. When we do take vacations, they aren't true vacations. We take our cell phones, our laptops, and are often interrupted on our vacations by work. We need to encourage people to take vacations and we need legislation mandating paid vacations.

According to Psychology Today Americans work more than anyone else- 100 hours more per year than the Japanese- 3 months more than Europeans. The United Nations' International Labor Organization says "Workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world." We stand alone as a country that does not mandate paid vacation leave. China averages three weeks while Europe averages six. Even if we earn it, the average American vacation is a skimpy, measly, pathetic, lame, three to four days. One survey says one in seven Americans did not take any vacation in 2003.

According to Joe Robinson, author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life", the idea that Europeans are lazy is a myth. Four European countries are more efficient than the US. Americans are less efficient but simply work more hours. Overtime is also less efficient because studies show that it is often conducted by fatigued brains.

We need to take vacations for our health. Working more than 48 hours a week doubles the load of stress. Vacations allow your body to receover and rebound. While Americans are working more hours, Europeans are working less hours and are happier.

Some conservatives would argue that government intervention is not required, and would likely call it "un-American" and anti-capitalistic and say that it smacks of socialism. The addition of mandatory paid vacation would be akin to the addition of the minimum wage. When market forces run unchecked, they tend to lead to the abuse of line employees and the concentration of wealth in the very few. We need only look to the beginning of the last century to see this.

So... stand up for your right to take a vacation and take one! Maybe it will help us mellow out as a country.

  • Justin (unverified)

    I like the idea of mandating paid vacations. I'm just not sure it's necessary. Most companies offer paid vacations, and the ones that don't usually involve low paying jobs. (Not that people earning low pay don't deserve paid vacations, I just think its a different argument than the one you're making).

    Anyway, I heard an interesting piece on NPR the other day discussing the reason for America's jobless recovery. It said the reason America isn't increasing the number of jobs is because the workforce is working longer hours. And that instead of hiring more employees, employers are simply adding the increased work onto their current employees. Its an interesting theory, though I don't know if its true.

  • Brian (unverified)

    Blogger The Decembrist has a post today about a Institute for Women's Policy Research study that shows that more than half of Americans did not receive a single day of paid leave last year; it seems to parallel your point and even more strongly emphasize that some people never get a break (

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    Thanks for the link Brian. It was quite shocking to see those figures.

  • Sophie's Choice (unverified)

    As a salaried worker who was just told yesterday by a superior that I am expected to work "at least 50 hours a week. If you are efficient enough to get close to 40 hours, you will be given additional responsibilities," I cheer these statements about vacations.

    Taking a vacation at my job is a nightmare.

    Not only are you made to feel guilty about taking one (Look at the strain you are putting on others), you are expected to do as much of your work that can be done in advance, and more is waiting for you when you return. It's hard to enjoy those last few days when you are thinking about the overflowing e-mail, etc.

    It feels like you have to work three extra weeks to get one off.

    And my job also is proof of the argument that fewer jobs are being added because we are all working longer hours. When my company lost a full-time staffer 5 months ago, the work was loaded onto the salaried workers who did not qualify for overtime while the company decided whether the person actually NEEDED to be replaced.

    The saddest part of my situation is that current employment policies are designed to leave workers who care about what they do burned out husks who need long vacations AND therapists, and yet many feel they can't turn to either for fear of losing the very job that is killing them.

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