James Ruggia | October 16, 2015 3:31 PM ET
Friday Flashback: Keep Your Cadillac, Give Me My Roman Holiday
Editor’s note: TravelPulse features an editorial column from one of our editors on a rotating daily basis. Destinations Editor James Ruggia has traditionally held the Friday spot, making it his own and sharing his views as someone who has seen nearly every point on the globe and has a story to tell about them all. With our friend Jim being under the weather, we wanted to keep his Friday spot warm for him by bringing you this epic takedown of “work martyrs” from May 22, 2015. We wish our friend the best for a speedy recovery and can’t wait to hear the next story from his travels.
There’s a reason they call it August, because back in the day, Caesar Augustus gave the empire off for the entire month. It was too hot to get anything done anyway. Two thousand years later and Europeans still understand this, so they head to the Med and to other parts of paradise to detox from the demands of modern labor. Americans are further behind Europe on this than our trains are behind Europe’s high speed trains.
Maybe you’ve seen that pathetic and idiotic Cadillac commercial, which equates our “exceptionalism” with our love of work. Believe it or not, many Americans are gullible enough to swallow this bait: hook, line and sinker and the United States Travel Association (USTA) has a name for them, “Work Martyrs.”
According to the USTA they are “the type that take few vacation days, come into the office sick and pride themselves on being seen at a desk.” You’re thinking there are not many people who are that that foolish. Wrong.
“Americans forfeited $52 billion worth of vacation time last year,” said Gary Oster, senior vice president of the USTA. “In 2014, Americans failed to use 430 million days of vacation time.”
Oster is in charge of USTOA’s Project: Time Off, a platform designed to get us to do what we should be doing naturally — taking time off. An October 2014 USTA study, done by Oxford Economics, found that Americans are taking less vacation time than ever before. From 2000 to 2013, the average worker has steadily taken fewer and fewer vacation days, from 20.9 days per year to 16.4.
The average American earns 21 days of Paid Time Off (PTO) each year but uses only 77 percent of that time, forfeiting 4.9 days. While many employees have the option to roll over unused PTO into the next year, bank it for future use, or be paid for the unused time, some 23 percent permanently lose it at the end of the year. Less than half (47 percent) of employees are able to roll over days into the following year and nearly a third (30 percent) of these employees are able to roll over five days or less.
Perhaps you’re thinking this is something we should be proud of, a historic value in the American ethos. Not true. From 1976 to 2000, American workers used 20.3 days of vacation each year. Since then, the number has dropped precipitously, with American workers reporting just 16 days used in 2013—almost a full work-week less compared to pre-2000. For decades, Americans took advantage of the time off they had earned. That’s no longer the case. The number of used annual vacation days has declined dramatically over the past two decades.
Maybe you believe your company is noticing your selflessness. Maybe they are, but they’re not impressed. According to the analysis by Oxford Economics, there is no link between putting in more time at the office and getting a pay raise or bonus. In fact, employees who left 11 to 15 days of PTO on the table last year are actually 6.5 percent less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the past three years than those who used all of their PTO.
One thing you do gain by nailing yourself to the desk is stress. USTA found a clear correlation between those who have more unused PTO days and those who reported feeling “very” or “extremely” stressed at work, especially those employees who left more than 11 days unused. So if you’re working for free, which is what you do when you throw away paid vacation days, you’ll end up paying in the important time you lost with your family and friends. Think of the things you didn’t do; the memories you didn’t make; and the emotional bonds that weren’t formed or strengthened.
By the way, Ms. and Mr. Martyr, your selfless sacrifice isn’t really helping the country. According to the USTA, if American workers were to return to pre-2000 PTO habits, the U.S. economy would enjoy a massive windfall. Annual vacation days taken by U.S. employees would jump 27 percent, equivalent to 768 million additional PTO days and delivering a $284 billion impact across the entire economy, including $118 billion in direct travel spending alone.
“You’ve got to plan to take your time off,” said Oster. “Use your time. You can do things like adding days onto business trips, but use it.”
Let this Memorial Day weekend be your guide. “Americans have already saved $50 billion on gas this year,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president AAA. “Gas costs a full dollar less than it did this time last year. An extra 32.7 million motorists will take to the highways this Memorial Day weekend than did last year.”
Memorial Day means summer and the feeling of summer for me is tied to memories of those grammar school desks. You remember them? They had steel bodies and wooden tops where I stuffed everything from baseball cards and wax lips to balsa wood gliders and my prized Duncan wide-body Butterfly yo-yo.
This was the time of year when everything conspired to wind me up for that long-delayed moment when I’d be released with the sound of that last school bell into the balmy freedom of summer. Why not feel that way again about summer?
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