Sunday, August 01, 2004
Less work, more play :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Are you reading this at the beach? On vacation with your family? No? We didn't think so. It may not be comforting, but you are not alone. Most of us are right there with you, working those long hours, pining away for some time off to unwind and get reacquainted with the kids. But the work keeps piling up and a soft economy means there are fewer of us to do the job-and more desperate unemployed workers waiting to take our jobs if we take too much time off.
This uniquely American over-the-top work ethic has left our country dead last among industrialized nations in the vacation derby. Read these numbers from the Economic Policy Institute and weep: Workers in Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Japan and Ireland get at least 20 days of vacation each year. Those lucky stiffs in Spain, Austria, France and Denmark get 30. Sweden tops the heap at 32 days of vacation a year. Do you realize that's a whopping six weeks and two days of paid time off?
We Americans, meanwhile, are likely to spend slightly more than 10 days vacationing each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And chances are that way too many of us spend part of that time dialing into the office e-mail or voice mail to stay on top of work while at the beach.
(We're not even mentioning the extra time we put in before we take the time off. Or, the extra time we need to catch up when we return.)
If there is any good news on the vacation front, it comes from the American Management Association. The New York-based human resources organization polled members in May and found 28 percent were planning to take more time off this year than last. The bad news: only 26 percent expected to take more than 10 days.
Why does this matter to a parenting publication? Because vacations are family time and family time is always good for kids. It's good for parents, too.
We all remember our family vacations.
We crowded into the station wagon, played the license plate game, argued over whose turn it was to sit next to the window, all the while reveling in having mom and dad to ourselves for two weeks. For those of us living the old paradigm of mom at home and dad at work-these were the bedrock of our dad memories.
We returned from those family vacations rested, bonded and ready for the next 50 vacationless weeks. As Heather Cunningham tells us on page 36 in our cover story, traveling bring the moments that heal us and reinvigorate family relationship. Our children deserve these memories and these moments.
So, how do you do it? Unlike several European countries, America has no law guaranteeing workers minimum time off. Paid time off is granted by employers as they see fit. That means, of course, that some workers get none while a rare handful get four weeks or more of paid vacation each year. Here's the rub: Many of those who are due vacation time don't take it. The online travel service, www.Expedia.com says it polled workers and found we will forego, on average, three days of paid vacation this year, up from two days in 2003. And one-third of us will phone the office while we're supposed to be on holiday.
Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life, thinks there should be a law guaranteeing us a minimum of three weeks of paid vacation a year. We wouldn't argue with that and while we believe that nothing is impossible, we hold little hope of seeing such a law passed in our lifetime.
So the key here is personal responsibility and tough negotiation. Stand up for your right to take a break. Consider asking for more vacation time in lieu of a raise next year. And, by all means, even if your employer provides only a measly few days, take them. When you leave the office, leave the cell phone, laptop and pager behind. Then, scoop up the kids and head out of town. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to your family and your employer owes it to you. Don't settle for less.