Ah, vacations. That warm and magical idea of sunshine, laughter, big hearty breakfasts, picnics and wildflowers, and the freedom to play and enjoy our lives and loved ones. Most of us can relate to this warm feeling, whether from memories or simply from the idea or wish for such a thing. It’s the kind of experience that feeds our souls, that rejuvenates our spirits, that we bring up over and over throughout our lives, and the substance of our most treasured memories, as we age.
Our time to play, and time that is unregulated by schedules and work, is some of our most precious time we have in life.
With the middle class shrinking though, a culture of overwork, corporate greed, and competition to be a “hard worker” (or risk losing your position to someone who will) – vacations in America aren’t a given for many.
NPR posted this article in 2009, about more and more people foregoing their vacations. In 2017, 8 years later, Project Time Off gives us some hope on the matter – though they say unused vacation days are still up from the previous year.
Just from an economic perspective, they reported that “By forfeiting vacation days, American workers gave up $66.4 billion in 2016 benefits alone. That means that last year employees effectively donated an average of $604 in work time to their employer”! The article goes on to report that “Unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016, due to lost spending. That spending would have supported 1.8 million American jobs and generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers.” And that “if the 54 percent of workers who left time unused in 2016 took just one more day off, it would drive $33 billion in economic impact.” People’s health and well being aside (although we should really stop doing that), those are numbers worth shaking a stick at!
This year CNN reported about a National Plan for Vacation Day. Dare we celebrate a change in the air? It seems – not quite yet, (though I’m cautiously hopeful). “Unlike every other developed nation in the world, the U.S. has no mandated number of days off for employees. About one-fourth of American workers get no paid vacation at all. Those whose employers offer it receive an average of about 10 days a year. And 54% of American workers didn’t even use the days off they earned.” (CNN)
This isn’t just Americans worried for their job security, it’s also a public policy and culture that has persisted for some time. Compared to most other world leaders, the US has a dismal record of taking care of their citizens. CNN’s article goes on to point out that “workers in the United Kingdom get 28 days off, most of western Europe gets 25, laborers down under in Australia and New Zealand enjoy 20—and none of those totals include public holidays, which add on another 10 to 13 days per year in most countries.”
There has been a move in recent years for companies to offer “unlimited vacation,” but – and I can attest to this first hand, having worked for the Ad Agency of record for Apple for a couple of years (who had this policy) – this looks great on paper, but does not always match the culture. Many of these companies still have a culture that devalues employees for using this time, or simply managers who just won’t allow them to take much more than the standard American 2 weeks. (And then when they’ve barely taken any time for themselves, they don’t even get a carry over of a vacation balance).
In another article, CNN reminds us why vacations actually matter. I think I speak for many of us when I say, Thanks, CNN, for continuing to cover this topic!
We know that free time in our lives in the most valuable, most precious thing we have, but yet it is constantly the one we lack the most. Many millennials and others are finding ways to live more balanced lives, but it’s still not the norm. It seems with all of our technology, we should be able to eliminate poverty, reduce everyone’s work time, and create happier, healthier lives for everyone, but this is a battleground with corporate interest and lobbyists making laws that aren’t looking out for the rest of us.
That being said, I don’t think it is hopeless, and I think talking about it, sharing with our friends and family and co-workers, keeping it in the public discussion, finding our own creative ways to create a living and balanced lives for ourselves, and asking our employers to do better – can and will make a difference. But we have to keep at it.
Xingkong said, “It is better to walk an inch, than talk about ten miles.” Let’s keep walking our inches together, and in doing so, create more time in our lives for the warmest and most beautiful moments that mean the most to us.
What are your vacation or staycation plans this year? Are you able to take the time you need to spend with your family, or do you face financial or work challenges preventing you from doing so? Do you have thoughts on this topic? And what are your fondest memories of vacation, or dreams for adventures yet to come? We want to hear from you!
Here’s to more time to live and play for everyone!