Robin Amster | February 18, 2016 12:00 PM ET
The Work Martyrs of No-Vacation Nation
Pop quiz for all you travel mavens: What do Europeans have far more of than Americans?
Sadly, the answer is paid vacation time.
Every European Union country, by law, mandates at least four work weeks of paid vacation, according to a report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR). Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays a year. Meanwhile, the average private sector U.S. worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays.
Sadder still? Americans are not using the paid time off they do have, according to a new white paper from Project: Time Off. Released earlier this month, the paper is based on research collected over the course of two years by Project: Time Off, an initiative supported by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) and a coalition of other organizations.
The paper concludes that the U.S. has become a “no vacation nation” inhabited by “work martyrs.” America’s vaunted work ethic is at least partly to blame.
Although managers say they recognize the importance of time off, the report finds that two-thirds (67 percent) of employees report either hearing “nothing, negative, or mixed messages” from their managers about using vacation time.
When asked to name barriers to taking time off, one-fifth (20 percent) of workers cite their company’s culture, while 58 percent of American employees believe that America’s work culture stresses productivity over personal balance.
Looks like The Land of the Free stands in danger of morphing into the Land of the Burned-Out; little time spent with loved ones, even less time to attend to one’s health and well-being.
Some findings from the Project: Time Off paper:
• Nearly two-in-five workers (37 percent) believe it’s easier to keep on working than to take time off.
• Four in ten Americans (41 percent on average) are not using all their paid time off, despite the fact that 96 percent of employees and 95 percent of senior business leaders believe taking time off is important.
• Americans are now taking less vacation than at any point in the last forty years.
From 1976 to 2000, American workers used an average of 20.3 days of vacation each year, the report says. That changed in 2000 when that number began a precipitous decline.
Full-week vacations declined steadily throughout this same period. And while the impact of the decline was offset by Americans taking more partial-week vacations through the mid-1990s, since then even partial-week vacations are declining. Full-week vacations continue to be rare.
In 2014, Americans took just 16 vacation days—close to a full work-week less compared to that pre-2000 level of 20.3 days on average. And since 2009, employes are using a half day less of vacation per year.
In a dire prediction, the report says Americans will be using less than a work week of vacation in 20 years and zero days in 2046 if this trend continues.
But all is not lost.
Small changes can break the cycle of work martyrdom, according to the report. A good start—as in many other cases—is to recognize the problem.
Do you feel you’re the only one who can do your work? Are you stressed and need a vacation – but can’t take one? Yes answers mean you’re a work martyr.
Project: Time Off has some suggestions for these employees:
• Plan days off for the year—Americans who plan their time off are happier with their overall mood, financial situation and jobs, it says. Planning a vacation is part of the fun.
• Take vacation – and talk about the vacation with co-workers when it’s over – nearly three in ten (28 percent) people don’t.
As for managers:
• Start the conversation—employees need to hear that taking time off is important. A majority of workers (80 percent) would use more of their time off if their boss would encourage them to do so.
• Support workers—it’s essential to give employees the support they need. A strong majority (70 percent) of workers report that if their boss would help manage their workloads during time off, they would be more likely to use more of it.
• Consider policies—fully 69 percent of workers say they’d be more likely to use more vacation time if their employer would create policies to encourage taking the time off they’ve earned.
More by Robin Amster
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