Whatever Happened To...the American Vacation?

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. 


  1. Pam, I loved this--I'm going to read it again, and just maybe I'll print it off & put it on my boss' desk tomorrow morning!

    In my company, we're allowed to carry over our vacation time, my account currently has so much time in it, I could take a 2 month vacation if they'd let me. (And don't forget, if you do take a week off, when you come back to work, there's literally a thousand emails to wade through as well. It's kinda expected you'll do this on YOUR time, like the weekend before you're back in the office.

    Growing up, my dad & mom loaded all of us kids in our family station wagon & took us to Virginia Beach, Washington DC, Disneyworld--no GPS devices or smartphones (just lots of maps). We packed board games & comic books along for those long road-trips, some of the best memories of my life.

    And my dad sure didnt have to deal with texts & phone calls about work issues either. I am so ready to drop out of the 21st century rat race!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Doug! I'm glad you enjoyed that post and you bring up a great point about having to wade through numerous emails when you return from even just a few days off. I admit I've checked my email during vacation just to delete what I could before returning to my desk. Things just aren't the way they used to be in regards to taking time off, that's for sure.

    And no DVD players in our parents' cars, either, for those road trips. Like you, I'd pack Peanuts comic books for the two hour drive up the mountains--but about an hour into the trip, I'd turn my attention to the changing scenery. i still remember the cushy dark blue velour backseats of my father's Chrysler LeBaron...ah, the best memories indeed!

  3. Summer is our busy season so I don't usually get time off. And my husband and I have only take trips that lasted for a couple of days (never even took a honeymoon) so I have no idea what a Family Vacation would be like and I am completely jealous of people who get more than 1 week off at a time.
    In our company no one really goes away - we all answer emails and phone calls all the time. Plus for me, I don't have any back up so if I'm away it doesn't get done (or someone else messes it up royally). One day I'll get to take a real vacation, just like in the movies !
    (great subject by the way!)

  4. Thanks for your comments, Way Out Wear. I can understand since you're running your own business, but I still hope you get to take a proper vacation soon!

  5. Last month I took a weeks vacation and traveled over 1000 to 4 states. When I came back to work so many people were amazed at our long trip. I got to thinking how no one else in my department (of 10 people) take a while week off. They take days here and there. Sure, the vacation and sick days are combined, but what did happen to taking at least a full week off to travel, visit and/or relax. It's sad really. People aren't out there living. It is all work, work, work.

    Thanks for the great reminder of the old days and how we need to get back to a real vacation!


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