By Susan Friedland, Communications and Marketing, SFSG
The weather is getting nicer. The days are longer and our thoughts begin to turn towards summer and, maybe, taking some vacation time. Or maybe not. Questions run through our minds: Can I take time off from my job or will the work pile up too much? Will it make my job less secure? Can I afford it?
If you lived in Great Britain, France, Australia or any of the 20 or more countries that guarantee vacations to their workers, taking time off would not be a question. It would be your right. In other countries, vacations are seen as ‘standard practice for maintaining health, family life and productivity”.[i] In contrast, here in the United States, they are sources of anxiety. We worry that we will be considered disloyal, that we will lose that promotion to someone who didn’t take the time, or, because we don’t have guaranteed paid days to use, we cannot afford the time.
The United States is known as the ‘no-vacation nation’. According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, “The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its’ workers paid vacation.” European countries mandate 20-30 paid vacation days per year, New Zealand and Australia require 20 per year at minimum, and Canada and Japan both guarantee a minimum of 10 paid days off. The Center further notes that “the gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s richest countries at least six paid holidays per year.”[ii]
Furthermore, here in the U.S., almost one quarter of the private sector working population has no paid vacation time or paid holidays. The average American worker gets 10 days paid vacation and six holidays, far behind our European cohorts. These days off are also distributed unequally, with lower wage earners on average getting 4 days per year versus highly paid earners receiving 14 days.[iii]
The following graph from the Center for Economic and Policy Research demonstrates these disparities:[iv]
Yet, studies show that taking vacation is good for personal relationships, for our health, for our employers and for business. A 2013 study presents the findings of an extensive survey of 971 employees focusing on how paid time off is perceived and used in the United States.[v] While their aim was to determine the impact on the travel industry, their conclusions apply across the economic spectrum.
Some key findings[vi]:
The benefits of time off are widely recognized and include more dedicated, productive, satisfied and healthy employees.
Time off leads to higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and improved health.
However, a heavy workload along with management and peer pressure prevent some employees from taking all earned paid time off:
Thirty four percent of the employees surveyed indicated that their employers were neutral on leave, neither encouraging nor discouraging their employees to take time away.
In addition, seventeen percent of managers surveyed considered employees who did take vacation time to be less dedicated to the company.
On average, employees with paid time off used eighty four percent of this benefit in 2013, leaving 3.2 days of unused time on the table.
The conversion of these unused days of paid time off into travel would result in an additional 580 million days of travel and an additional $67 billion in travel spending.
The total economic impact of this additional spending, including indirect effects, would be an additional 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $52 billion in additional income earned.
In addition, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal[vii]:
On average, businesses owe each employee $1,898 in accrued paid time off, and carry 5.7 days of accrued vacation per employee. For firms with more than 500 workers, the cost per employee is higher, at $2,609 per worker.
Most unused vacation days are carried over for future time off or payout when an employee leaves. About a third are simply lost, because of “use it or lose it” policies, or caps and expiration dates on banked vacation days, the report says. As a result, workers forfeit some $52.4 billion in earned benefits each year.
According to Adam Sacks, president of the Tourism Economics Division of Oxford Economics,“Leaving earned days on the table harms, not helps, employers by creating a less productive and less loyal employee. Further, it is a misconception that employers are ahead of the game when workers don’t use the time they’ve earned,” he added. “In fact, stockpiled time off creates considerable financial liability for companies and governments when employees ‘cash out’ upon departure.”[viii]
The Health Benefits of a Vacation
A number of studies have shown that vacations decrease stress and allow recuperation from work, physically and emotionally. They allow for new experiences that lead to a broadening of horizons, employees who return refreshed to their jobs and increased family cohesion[ix]. It does not seem to matter how long the vacation is or how expensive. Any time away can help to recharge the batteries.
One particular National Institutes of Health study looked at the effect of vacations on the mortality of 13,000 men with coronary heart disease (CHD). They concluded that “ The frequency of annual vacations by middle aged men at high risk for CHD is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality, and more specifically, mortality attributed to CHD. Vacationing may be good for your health.”[x]
Similar results have been seen for women: Using information from the Framingham Heart Study, which started in 1948, researchers looked at questionnaires women in the study had filled out over 20 years about how often they took vacations. Those women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year, said Elaine Eaker, a co-author of the study and president of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises, a private research company.[xi]
Another study of 1500 women in rural Wisconsin found that “women who take vacations frequently are less likely to become tense, depressed, or tired, and are more satisfied with their marriages. These personal psychological benefits that lead to increased quality of life may also lead to improved work performance.”[xii]
The Family Benefits of a Vacation
Vacations are also good for improving family relationships via their shared experiences. Although spending time as a family comes with its own share of stressors, the overall experiences are seen to outweigh the negatives. The benefits are thought to be due to the increased opportunities for bonding, communication, and solidarity that occur when the family is removed from its’ ordinary everyday routine of school, work and chores.[xiii]
According to the Project: Time Off study noted above, one in three couples report arguing about work interfering in their quality time together and that those arguments can last more than a day. The effects of prolonged work hours and the encroachments of the office on home life interfere with the quality of relationships.[xiv] An enhanced work-life balance is necessary for maintaining and improving personal relationships. Taking vacation time can be a part of making families and couples successful.
The Answer: Take that Vacation!
It doesn’t matter if you take a vacation, a staycation, go to an exotic locale and spend lots of money or explore close to home. It matters that you take time off from work. Use your vacation days - away from the office (virtual office included), away from your normal routine. Spend time with family, with friends, with yourself. It is needed and healthy, for you as an employee, as a family member, for your employer and for the economy.
Braunstein, M.D., September 22, 2012, The Huffington Post. [ii] “No-Vacation Nation Revisited”, Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, John Schmitt, May 2013, Center for Economic Policy Research, 1611 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C., www.cepr.net [iii] “No-Vacation Nation Revisited”, Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, John Schmitt, May 2013, Center for Economic Policy Research, 1611 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C., www.cepr.net [iv] “No-Vacation Nation Revisited”, Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, John Schmitt, May 2013, Center for Economic Policy Research, 1611 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C., www.cepr.net [v] “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.: Implications for Employees, Companies, and the Economy”, Project: Time Off by Oxford Economics on behalf of the U.S. Travel Organization, 2013 [vi] “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.: Implications for Employees, Companies, and the Economy”,Project: Time Off by Oxford Economics on behalf of the U.S. Travel Organization, 2013 [vi] Abstract, Psychosomatic Medicine, “Are Vacations good for your Health? The 9 year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial.”; September – October 2000; 62(5):608-12 [vii] The Price of Unused Vacation Time:$224 Billion; Rachel Emma Silverman, 3-4-2016; The Wall Street Journal; http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2015/03/04/the-cost-of-unused-vacation-time-... [viii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2014/02/28/ take-a-vacation-its-good-for-productivity-and-t[i] “Want to Stay Healthy? Go Ahead and Take a Vacation”,Glenn D. he-economy-according-to-a-new-study/#4a08e25d4919 [ix] www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201006/ the-importance-vacations-our-physical-and-mental-health [x] Lehto*, X. Y., Lin, Y., Chen, Y., & Choi, S. Examining the interplay of cohesion and vacation activities in family travel context. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 29(8), 835-850. [xi] Vacations improve mental health among rural women:the Wisconsin Rural Women's Health Study. Chikani V1, Reding D, Gunderson P, McCarty CA. WMJ. 2005 Aug;104(6):20-3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16218311 [xii] Lehto*, X. Y., Lin, Y., Chen, Y., & Choi, S. Examining the interplay of cohesion and vacation activities in family travel context. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 29(8), 835-850. [xiii] Your Money: Vacations Are Good for You, Medically Speaking;New York Times; Alina Tugend, 6-7-2008 [xiv] Workplace Effectiveness/Work-Life Balance/ Why taking vacation is good for love, life and the economy;MobileDay.com