It’s August. September looms. Where is your vacation, and why are you not on it?
The only acceptable answer to that rhetorical question is to say that you’re working in the heat of summer because taking time off when everybody else’s children are clogging up the lakes, campgrounds and resorts. You’ll take your much-needed annual vacation when the little beggars are back in school. Or in the dead of winter, when Mexico or Hawaii beckon.
Except, here’s the rub: If you’re a North American, you’re likely not taking all of your allotted time off. It’s not as if employers are giving away so much vacation to their employees that it’s impossible to take so much time away from work. Nope, you, the employee, are letting your vacation time lapse and expire at the end of the calendar year. (Rare is the company that allows its employees to “bank” their vacation time, except in exceptional circumstances.)
One is tempted to blame this on overinflated egos who believe two weeks without their presence will result in company failure.
Can you handle the truth?
Fact is, not only are you irreplaceable, but even if you vanished off the face of the earth in the next 10 seconds, your employer will find someone to do your job by the end of the day, and life would continue unabated at your workstation.
This reluctance to go on a holiday is a peculiarly North American condition, and at no other time is it so obvious as in August. In Europe, half the continent takes August off to visit the other half. Paris is open during August only in order to keep unwary tourists happy, those people who don’t know no one goes to Paris in August. (Blaming the current European economic problems on the generosity of the European Union, whose employers are required by law to give each full-time employee a minimum of four weeks vacation, is another conversation entirely.)
Vacation is a North American word – the rest of the world calls it holiday – although the concept of taking time off is universal. Nonetheless, for people who fought long and hard for a guaranteed annual vacation, we appear to be profoundly uninterested in taking all of it, even as we get fewer days paid leave than most of the rest of the world. In the United States, it is employers and not the government who decide vacation allotments. In Canada, predictably – and sadly – we follow Americans’ lead.
American employers begrudge vacations
Studying this phenomenon, Jon Delano of Carnegie Melon University wrote: “While most foreigners view vacation as an essential part of a sane and civilized existence and an entitlement which all employees should share rather equally, the view is quite different in this country. For the most part, American employers begrudge vacation time and dole it out parsimoniously, based on length of service.”
Only about 3 percent of the work force takes four weeks off at any one time. The majority of workers take their vacations – regardless of the time allotted – in one-week increments. A growing number (30 percent) take extended weekends and laughingly call it a vacation.
That may account for the proliferation of ads extolling the weekend getaway and the growing number of articles on what is being called “mini-vacations,” a phrase only rivaling the “staycation” for abuse of the real meaning of a vacation.
Despite all the proof and studies to the contrary, we still harbor the Calvinist thought that taking time off is the devil making work for idle hands and taking a holiday is dogging it, wasting the moment, being lazy.
Sorry, your company can get along without you
There’s also the arrogance factor to be accounted for: those self-important employees who believe we can’t get along without them for longer than a few days.
Your company will happily accept your contribution to its bottom line, your donation of the time off for which you have worked all year. But don’t expect anything in the way of recompense or fulsome thank-yous in return.
Indeed, nobody will remember and nobody will care – except your spouse and your children — should you have successfully remained married. Consider that no one on his or her deathbed wishes he or she had spent more time at the office.
So tell me again, why it is you aren’t taking all the vacation time owed you?
You have too much work to do? No, you don’t, unless you own the company, it’s just getting off the ground, and you are its sole employee. In that case, you probably need time off more than anyone.
Now I’m going to tell you a secret about people who are loath to take all their vacation: I wouldn’t trust them as managers, and I wouldn’t want to be married to one.
If they can’t prioritize their lives – work and families – so that time off is as important to their mental and physical health as time spent at the office, they cannot be considered efficient, effective or emotionally balanced – qualities as prized in spouses as they are for a vice president or comptroller.
So what argument can you offer in rebuttal? None. My case rests.