Our view: No-vacation nation putting a strain on workers, economy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

If your idea of a vacation is watching a live stream of the sun setting along the beach from an iPhone app, stand in line.

Or, actually, sit behind a desk.

Last year, American workers let a total of 658 million hours worth of vacation time go by unused. According to Project: Time Off, only 42 percent of those who had vacation days used them all. It was the first time since the project began keeping count of people’s vacation habits that the majority of workers didn’t use all their vacation time.

Although some of the jobs allowed the time to be carried over into this year, 222 million hours expired and will never be seen again. The price tag of those vanished days is about $61 billion.

What’s discouraging is the trend is getting worse.

We’ve been more and more of a no-vacation nation every year since the start of the new millennium.

Put some of the blame on economics and the pressure to do more with less. It’s a culture that demands productivity and ensures a constant melting of work and personal life through email, cellphones and instant messaging.

Project: Time Off calls it “work martyrdom.”

Not all of it comes down to worrying about being seen as a slacker, though. Some who talked to interviewers for the report “The State of American Vacation” lamented the perception that their supervisors seemed to discourage taking time away from work. Others said they felt the work would just accumulate and make them work much harder to catch up if they took a few days off.

In other words, if we don’t do it ourselves, no one else will.

“The culture of silence has created a vacuum, and American workers have filled that vacuum with the pressure they put on themselves,” Project: Time Off senior director Katie Denis said.

There’s also the issue that workers in the United States are way behind other nations when it comes to vacation time policies. There is nothing that requires a private company to give any time off — not even recognized holidays, thanks, Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Although most do offer vacation time to stay competitive in the industry, it averages significantly less than Australia’s 20 paid vacation days and eight paid holidays and waaaaay less than the 41 days for workers in Sweden and Brazil — 25 paid vacation days and 16 paid holiday for Sweden and 30 vacation days and 11 holidays for Brazil.

The time-off deficit has effects not just on the psyche of the American worker, but on the nation’s economy. An estimated $223 billion is being lost in travel-related spending because so many people are staying under the fluorescent lights of the office.

What can be done about it?

Project: Time Off says just do it.

“The single most important step workers can take is to plan their time off in advance,” Denis says.

She suggests planning vacation time early in the year — even if it’s just a random selection — and sticking to it. Let the boss know you’re going to be gone. Don’t let your mind change its decision.

Then at 5:01 p.m. the day before the magical date arrives, turn off your computer, put your files to the side of the desk and turn off your smartphone.

And see that sunset for real.

A CivitasMedia shared editorial.