July is almost over...have you taken a summer vacation yet this year? If not, do you plan to?
I bring it up because in recent months there's been some news in the media about how Americans typically only use half of the annual vacation time that they're entitled to. Everyone knows by now that we're the most overworked nation compared to the rest of the world (and one of the unhappiest.) We receive less vacation time, on average, compared to our European and Asian counterparts. And for some reason, we're afraid to take advantage of what piddly amount of paid days off we're lucky to get. I have known people who never took a vacation. When I asked one of them why one day, they said something about how difficult it would be on their boss because he wouldn't have anyone to depend on or do their work while they was away (did he ever hear of temp agencies?) In other words, this person seemed scared to ask or to simply tell him in advance that they were taking one. They never booked a trip, despite telling me they always wanted to visit Europe. It's a little sad. Every full-time worker is entitled to vacation time. But judging by recent articles I've seen, this behavior doesn't seem to be all that unusual.
I think part of the problem is our constantly-connected society. Our parents and grandparents, during their career heydays, didn't have the Internet or smartphones. They weren't expected to check in during their time away to make sure everything in the office was running smoothly and that they weren't needed. They assumed that it was, or that the manager was astute enough to make sure he/she had the coverage. Today, even if a manager insists that someone shouldn't log into email during a week or two off, there's always that unsteady, unspoken feeling that you should still make the effort--even if you're in Bora Bora on your honeymoon.
Growing up, my father always took two weeks off in June or July, and he always looked forward to that time--not because he disliked his job or wasn't loyal to his company--but because he truly enjoyed spending time with his family. I have many fond memories of daytrips we'd take to the White Mountains, Canobie Lake Park, and other local New England attractions. I can't say that those memories would be quite so sweet had he been on the phone or a computer with his employer every day to make sure some emergency didn't need to be dealt with.
At the last company I worked at, vacation was encouraged. Vacation time didn't roll over the first few years I worked at the company, so you had to use it or lose it. After a few years you could roll over part of it. A few years later, and the number of hours you could roll over increased. Could it be they no longer cared about people using vacation time and decided if they wanted to work through the year and delay it, that was the employee's prerogative?
The same survey I linked to in the first paragraph found that not only are Americans passing up their vacation time, but 61% actually work while on vacation. One-in-four was contacted by a colleague for a work-related matter during their time off, and one-in-five was contacted by their boss. Wow. No wonder taking vacations in 2010s America has become sort of unpopular.
Everyone needs time to recharge, otherwise they risk burning out and that does not benefit the employee or the employer. I hope that a day will come when American corporations catch up with other nations in dolling out more generous annual vacation time, encourage their workers to take it, and not expect them to keep tabs on office projects and developments while they are away. Anything else just seems like a recipe for a nervous breakdown.