The United States has been dubbed the “no-vacation nation” for a reason. There is no legal mandate that businesses must offer employees any paid vacation days or holidays, according to a 2019 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. But this doesn't mean that American workers don't need more vacation days to be happie and healthier.
For employees, a huge job perk is this paid time off. In fact, it’s the second most desired employee offering ahead of health care benefits. Showing that it’s very important for overall happiness, job satisfaction, and employee retention.
America is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid days off for workers. Mexico, Ethiopia, Iraq, and even hardworking Japan offer their workers paid time off. Take a look at the European Union. Their employees receive between 24 to 39 vacations and holidays days that are paid.
The good news is that roughly 77% of American employers offer employees paid vacation time. This is a promising statistic. Problem now is that we’re not using all of these paid days. It’s shocking to learn that 52% of paid vacation days are left untouched by American employees. That’s equivalent to 212 million days forfeited and $62.2 billion in lost benefits annually!
Here’s why we don’t vacation enough
Work challenges are listed as the number one reason why we don’t use up our vacation days. These challenges commonly revolve around fear for employees. Feeling ashamed for actually taking time off for ourselves. Being concerned that we would appear less dedicated to our work if we actually used all of the provided days. Concerned that our workload is already too heavy to leave the office for a vacation. Being scared that no one else can do our job.
“You are killing yourself for a job that would replace you within a week if you drop dead.“ -Jet Li
On top of all of these eye-opening stats, 61% of us are still working while on vacation. Say it ain’t so! There’s even a term for this called “workcation”. It’s vacationing while fully knowing that we will be answering emails and working when we really should be relaxing.
The logic behind why we choose to work while on paid leave links back to similar reasons why we don’t use our vacation days. Fear dominates our thoughts. Employees list FOMO (fear of missing out) as a large reason for this. Fearful that we will have too much work to do upon returning back to work. Frustrated that we won’t appear as a team player if we don’t respond to emails in an appropriate timeframe. Scared that our employer will think we are not loyal if we do take time off to dip our toes in the water.
Why doesn’t our country value employees who take vacations?
Why is this the case, you might ask? The largest factor is a cultural one. As a country, we believe that our identity is tied to our work. “What do you do for a living?” is a common first question asked when meeting someone new. We are what we do for work, according to our culture. Thus, taking time off from this “identity” leaves us feeling uncertain and a little lost. On the other hand, the more hours that we put in our workday demonstrates our “true” dedication. Displaying that we are a team player who is willing to put aside our personal life and needs for our job.
In addition, we are a country heavy in consumerism. The thinking beingthat there’s always something new around the corner that we need and should buy. For this to occur, a constant supply of money is required to fund those Netflix memberships, daily Starbucks drinks, and the new iPhones. Reinforcing the idea that we need more money to spend on these needs. Thus, we must work nonstop to get this money to continue with these purchases. The endless cycle repeats itself.
American employees work more hours than counterparts in most of Europe, Canada, and many other economically stable countries. From this, you may think that our nation is very productive with these extra work hours. This would be an incorrect assumption. What we are is an overworked country. Let’s not forget overstressed too. Resulting in a workforce that is not as productive, as our minds and bodies have a limit on the capacity we can produce before needing to recharge again.
Why can’t we take a break?
The consequences of a “no-vacation nation” means that we face constant work stress plus increased work pressure without taking time off to recover. Simply put, we work too much and don’t take enough breaks. This is bad for every single part of our health. Keep in mind that stress is the number one cause of all major illnesses, from heart disease to cancer. Stress affects our work output, productivity, quality of sleep, and relationships-just to name a few. How about this idea? If you don’t take a break, your body will demand you do so in the form of poor health. Burnout and chronic disease being the common ways your body will physically make you stop.
“Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls– family, health, friends, integrity– are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” -Gary Keller
When we take a vacation, we are taking care of ourselves. Allowing our lives to be more productive and healthier at home and at work. We need time to unplug, unwind, and recharge. Change up our routine and try new things. Use up all of our paid vacation time. See new sights and taste new foods. Create opportunities to make better use of our time and resources. Learning to be kinder and gentler with others and ourselves.
If you are now sold on the idea that you should use up all of your vacation days, here are five tips on how to make the best use of your time here:
They say that we check our phones on average between 65 to 150 times a day. This equates to two years of your life spent on Facebook. Accounting for too much time being taken away time from our lives and others we care about. During your time off, take a digital break from your phone and devices. Use your phone primarily for directions and taking photos. If you absolutely must, check your emails once a day for a brief period. With the extra time, you can focus on looking friends and family in the eyes during conversations. Enjoy your meals and read a paperback book without your device controlling your actions.
Everything works better when you turn it off and back on again, including you!
Taking a break provides an opportunity to be fully present in the moment. Remembering that roughly half of our life is spent reliving the past or worrying about the future. Outside of work, you’ll be able to focus on what’s in front of you. The people, sights, and sounds are all amplified when you are present. Allowing you to savor the experiences, while a calmness comes over your mind and your overall stress is reduced.
Let go of how your travels “should” be. How food should taste. How the flight attendants should treat you. Releasing these expectations will decrease your stress and provide you with opportunities to tap into more happiness. Promise that you’ll be happier without these demands consuming your precious time.
We know that exercise lowers blood pressure, keeps weight down, strengthens muscles, and reduces inflammation. While the greatest mental health benefits come at 45 minutes a time, three to five days a week, this doesn’t mean that more is necessarily better here. Don’t be concerned about the frequency of how long or how often you actually workout. Simply move your body each day. Get your sweat on. Make sure to vary up your routine too.
Try walking to clear the mind, boost mood, improve sleep quality, and reduce stress. Walking out in nature is even better—there are actually compounds in trees and in nature that help you to be happier and healthier.
Eating well on vacation means that you can enjoy some extra ice cream and wine, but make sure your meals are dominated by fiber-rich, nutrient-dense foods. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains fall into this category. Keep in mind to drink half of your body weight in water each day. If you weight 100 pounds (yeah, back in 8th-grade you say), this would mean 50 ounces of water. Add in even more water if you are exercising or in hot temps.
To the employers out there I encourage you to provide paid vacation days in order to get the best out of your team. In fact, consider adding in extra days for the mutual benefit of all. To the employees the message is this, use every single paid day off given to you. Relax and enjoy! Let’s turn this “no-vacation nation” into one that values time off.