In addition to the latest breaking news of the foiled airline plot in England, has anyone read today’s New York Times Article entitled, “Please Don’t Make Me Go on Vacation”? I’ve copied and posted it below for anyone interested in reading it. There may be a good reason why one would be adverse to flying en route to a vacation, in light of the recent events in the UK. Basically, the gist of the article says that Americans rarely use up all their vacation days (which are not a lot compared to other countries) because we feel we’ve got too much at stake at our jobs to leave for an extended period of time. The article suggests that “ambition, fear of being fired, feeling indispensable and self-imposed getaway guilt” are reasons that hold people back from using up their entire vacation time. And if one does manage to get away, (s)he brings the cell phone, laptop, and Crackberry…err, Blackberry along too.
You all know my love for travel and how I spend at least 3 weeks in a new country every year. So when reading this article, I just couldn’t FATHOM how someone could feel this way about vacations. My vacation time is precious to me and you better believe that I will take advantage of the 23 paid vacation days I am entitled by my employer every year. Let’s start by saying that I am a rare case since the average amount of vacation time an employee gets from their job is 10-15 days per year. That’s problem #1. And problem #2, the federal government has no mandate that all employees are required to take vacation by law unlike other foreign countries.
Here’s what I think is problem # 3. Everytime I go overseas and meet Europeans & Australians, they always tell me that I’m the rare American they meet who travels for an extended period of time while the rest of my fellow Americans do not. It does not help matters that unofficially only 20% of Americans hold passports (go ahead, just do a google search if you don’t believe me). Perhaps that figure will increase as security tightens and requirements for entry into Canada, Mexico and the Carribean countries will require it. But the fact is, Americans are generally not an adventurous crowd willing to step outside of their comfort zone to experience a country that is completely different from our own in culture, language, and food. I think this is where learning a second language at an early age can play an influential role in the introduction to foreign culture.
The article suggests that the biggest obstacle to taking a vacation is ourselves and our relationship to our jobs. I would further argue that our attitude to our jobs is strongly influenced by the culture of the workplace that no longer encourages individuality, employee loyalty, a sense of indispensability, and rarely acknowledges the importance of achieving a work-life balance.
I mean seriously, what is SO important in your job that needs such immediate attention that if it doesn’t happen in 12-24 hours, the world comes crashing down? And if it IS THAT important, then shouldn’t there be at least one person or two to know what to do in the event that you are not there…if you are sick, got hit by a truck or are, say on vacation??? The workplace these days is a cut-throat atmosphere that encourages face-time and lack of collaboration among colleagues. So many people think if they ask for help that it’s an indication of their lack of time management skills, their inefficiency or intelligence…whatever, you name it! And these feelings lead to a sense of possessiveness about one’s job responsiblities, another reason to not ask for help. Then the vicious cycle continues.
I am very lucky to have an employer that provides a generous vacation package and that I work for a boss who is happy to approve my request for a three week vacation. And when I go, I don’t think about work and I certainly don’t check my emails or voicemails when I’m away. No one hears from me until I get back. Period. That’s because my boss encourages all of us on her team to truly act like teammates where ideas get tossed around, multitudes of document drafts are exchanged, information is constantly shared. I mean, isn’t the the purpose of our technological gadgets so that we can work together to reach our goals collectively and efficiently? Instead, they’ve taken control of our lives and act as a short leash between ourselves and our jobs.
And in the end, is all that relentless energy we put into our jobs really worth our happiness and our health?
SOMEWHERE on a faraway beach, a cellphone rings, a BlackBerry buzzes, a laptop beeps.
It is an electronic requiem for the American vacation.
“I never go on vacation,” said Ellen Kapit, a real estate agent in Manhattan. “And when I do, I have my computer, my Palm, my e-mail and my phone with me at all times.”
Ms. Kapit’s habits are typical of today’s employees, who check for e-mail messages from work in between parasailing or floating in the hotel pool, consider a long weekend a major excursion and sacrifice vacation days by not taking them.
But even as the American vacation is dying, the anxiety surrounding it is surging, according to surveys of workers released in the last year. Employees are sweating over every aspect of their getaways, from whether taking time off dooms them to the want ads to whether the work they will face when they return will keep them from ever leaving their cubicles again. And if they finally do make their escape?
“You picture this great fantasy trip and it’s nothing like you ever imagined in your head,” said Randi Friedman, 27, a publicist in Manhattan who likened this lofty expectation to the high hopes Bridezillas have for their weddings.
“Nothing will ever be good because you have an expectation level that’s so high,” she said. “And that’s the problem.”
Indeed, expectations of just how wondrous the ever-shrinking American vacation should be have been ratcheted up to levels usually reserved for New Year’s Eve.
Perhaps vacation-enjoyment angst is inevitable, given all the agonizing about where to go, what to do, how long the vacation should be, and whether it is wise to even take a vacation in the first place. Beginning long before the plane ticket is booked, it occurs for myriad reasons.
“There’s a large increase in the number of people who worry that they will lose their job,” said Ellen Galinsky, the president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit center for research on the American work force. In 1977, 45 percent of people felt truly secure in their jobs while only 36 percent have felt that way in recent years, she said, citing the organization’s surveys.
Ms. Kapit, who worked in advertising for 20 years before becoming a sales agent for Bellmarc Realty, said that when large companies were more loyal to their employees, the situation was different. “Since any company doesn’t care who they lay off and how long they’ve been there, everyone’s walking on eggshells,” she said. “Which is why I left my big corporate job.” Now she sets her own schedule and often works from her home near Hampton Bays on the East End of Long Island.
But plenty of employees worry about taking vacation for reasons that have little to do with job security. Some consider themselves to be indispensable. Many are competitive. “There’s the feeling that overwork is the red badge of courage,” Ms. Galinsky said, adding that people often compete to see who works the latest and the longest.
Ambitious workers can even be reluctant to ask a colleague to help out while they are on vacation. “They take it all on themselves,” said Jennifer Sullivan, a spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.com, the job recruitment Web site. “Those are the people that are probably working multiple hours on their vacation or not taking vacation at all.”
But it is not cruel Dickensian bosses and heartless company policies that prevent employees from enjoying — or worse, taking — their vacations.
“Mostly people work because they want to,” Ms. Galinsky said. “It’s mostly something that we’re doing to ourselves.”
Ambition, fear of being fired, feeling indispensable and self-imposed getaway guilt all help to explain why workers do not use all of their vacation days and why many prefer to take respites that are shorter than two weeks, even if they have banked significantly more vacation time.
Erin Krause, a spokeswoman for the travel Web site Expedia.com, which publishes an annual Vacation Deprivation online survey, said, “Americans are not using all of their vacation days and it seems to be getting worse.”
“We are not taking advantage of the time our employers are giving to us,” she said.
That is particularly surprising given that in the United States full-time employees have 3.9 holiday and vacation weeks off a year. But this is paltry when compared with European countries, including the United Kingdom (6.6 weeks), France (7) and Italy (7.9), according to the 2004 figures compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A study released last year by the Families and Work Institute found that American workers have on average 16.6 paid vacation days but that more than one-third of employees (36 percent) did not plan to use their full vacation. (The data for the survey of 1,003 adults who were employed full or part time by someone else was collected by Harris Interactive over the telephone between Oct. 7 and Nov. 15, 2004. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.)
The study also found that only 14 percent of Americans go away for two weeks or more at any one time. “I don’t think I’d take a two-week chunk unless I didn’t have anything going on,” Ms. Kapit said, “and then I’d probably be worried I’d never have anything going on.”
Even those at the top of the corporate ladder, who have a generous amount of vacation time, do not necessarily use it.
“The reality is the more responsibilities you have, the less time you take off,” wrote Anderson Cooper in Details magazine last year. “You have too much to lose. I’m convinced a big reason I got my own show on CNN was the fact that I kept filling in for people who were on vacation. Now if I leave the anchor chair too long, I worry Eve Harrington will take my place.”
But even once workers get over their angst about what length vacation to take, many grapple with separation anxiety — how often to check in with the office.
About one in five people do some amount of work during vacation, according to the Families and Work Institute study.
Downsizing, labor market volatility and the country’s shift from an industrial economy to one based on service and knowledge have helped create what Ms. Galinsky described as a “rapid-fire” way of working. People expect instantaneous responses to their e-mail messages at all hours, vacation or no vacation. The boundary between work and home life is now fluid, she said, adding that “we plan life off the job the way we plan life on the job.”
And that may not be a good thing. The Families and Work Institute study found that overworked employees are more likely to make mistakes, to be angry at their employers and at colleagues who do not work as hard. These employees are also more likely to have higher stress levels, experience symptoms of clinical depression, report poorer health and neglect themselves.
Still, employees continue to work during their vacations to ensure they are not swamped upon their return.
“It doesn’t give you that chance to refresh and recharge,” said Ms. Sullivan, who oversaw CareerBuilder.com’s annual vacation study.
Getting away does not in itself guarantee relaxation. Fifty percent of Americans need two days to unwind and 50 percent need more than two days, according to the Families and Work Institute study.
And then there is the matter of inflated expectations. Two years ago, Ms. Friedman, the Manhattan publicist, scheduled her first official vacation in four years. Soon she was suffering from a bad case of vacation expectation syndrome.
Ms. Friedman, who loves her work and defines herself in large part by it, envisioned sunny skies and tropical temperatures in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But when she arrived, the sky was overcast, nighttime temperatures were in the 60’s and an entire day was rained out. Her vacation fantasy did not include donning sweaters and cowering beneath an umbrella. “I was so miserable,” she said.
Ms. Sullivan said today’s employees put a lot of pressure on themselves to have trip-of-a-lifetime vacations.
“They have to pack in all these activities,” she said, “and everybody has to be happy and smiling and it has to be perfect weather.”
As Ms. Friedman said, “It’s your one trip.”
Ms. Friedman acknowledges that, like many work-obsessed people, she is her own worst vacation enemy. As soon as her plane landed in Mexico, she checked her BlackBerry and cellphone for work messages. Upon arriving at her hotel, the first thing she did was locate the business center. Then she spent much of the first two days of her vacation sulking in her room, wishing it were warmer and sunnier.
But she received a very different kind of hotel wake-up call when she turned on the television and saw that a tsunami had devastated Asia. Suddenly, her overblown vacation fantasy became insignificant.
“That’s when I put it into perspective,” she said.
Ms. Friedman did not stop checking her BlackBerry and cellphone for the rest of her time in Cabo San Lucas. But she did enjoy herself, sweater and all.
“Life is too short to not appreciate every moment of it,” she said. “I realize that’s why I work so hard, to take these vacations.”