Apr 4 2014, 8:49pm CDT | by Forbes
Are you planning to take time off for Passover or Easter this month? Will you go on a two-week holiday this summer? If not, you’re like the 75% of Americans who fail to take all the paid vacation they are due each year. On behalf of careers website Glassdoor, Harris Interactive took a poll of 2,300 workers who get paid vacation. Only 25% said they use all their paid days each year and 61% said that while they’re on vacation, they continue to work. A quarter of respondents said that a colleague got in touch about work while they were on vacation and 20% heard from their boss.
Any of us who have tried working while on vacation know that we often perform poorly. Some 6% of those surveyed admitted that they were drinking alcohol while working on vacation.
Most workers don’t know how much money they’re losing by failing to give themselves a break. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. nonprofit, though the law doesn’t require employers to give non-governmental employees any paid vacation time, most American workers get at least 10 paid vacation days a year and six federal holidays. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current stats on average weekly earnings, Americans are passing up the equivalent of $1,300 a year. The Center for Economic Policy Research lays out how much better European Union workers have it than Americans: The EU sets a floor of at least 20 paid vacation days and many countries require more. France mandates 30 days and the U.K., 28.
It seems that the fact that American vacation time is not enshrined in law has an effect on Americans’ propensity to take the time they’re due. The reasons people eschew their vacation vary, according to the Glassdoor survey. But most come down to some form of fear. Thirty three percent of respondents are afraid no one else in the office can properly fill in for them. Another large group, 28%, fear that they’ll fall behind. Seventeen percent are afraid they’ll lose their jobs, 17% fear they won’t meet their goals, and 6% said they were afraid of the boss.
Americans are afraid for good reason. Most U.S. companies function under what’s called the “employment-at-will” doctrine, which means they can fire any one at any time for any reason, except for discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age or disability, or if they have a written contract. In other words, American workers have little job security.
But it’s not healthy to keep working without a break. Vacation recharges our internal batteries, gives us perspective on what we do and fuels creativity and energy. Vacation also promotes creative thinking, expands our cultural horizons and sharpens cognition, especially if we can travel to another country. “Traveling shifts us from the solipsistic way we operate every day,” Joan Kane, a Manhattan psychologist, told me a when I did a story on vacations a few years ago. “It promotes a sense of well-being and gets you thinking in different ways. It can be life-altering.”
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