Monday, July 28, 2003

Vacation!? We don't need no stinkin vacations!

If you're reading this, you're probably not on vacation. And you aren't alone. That's because, according to an article in the Washington Post, "Americans manage to live with the stingiest vacation allotment in the industrialized world -- 8.1 days after a year on the job, 10.2 days after three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics." And it's getting worse: "We're now logging more hours on the job than we have since the 1920s. Almost 40 percent of us work more than 50 hours a week."

Why is it getting worse?
Just a couple of weeks ago, before members of the House of Representatives took off on their month-plus vacations, they opted to pile more work onto American employees by approving the White House's rewrite of wage and hour regulations, which would turn anyone who holds a "position of responsibility" into a salaried employee who can be required to work unlimited overtime for no extra pay.

Vacations are being downsized by the same forces that brought us soaring work weeks: labor cutbacks, a sense of false urgency created by tech tools, fear and, most of all, guilt. Managers use the climate of job insecurity to stall, cancel and abbreviate paid leave, while piling on guilt. The message, overt or implied, is that it would be a burden on the company to take all your vacation days -- or any. Employees get the hint: One out of five employees say they feel guilty taking their vacation, reports Expedia's survey. In a new poll of 700 companies by ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based employee assistance provider, 56 percent of workers would be postponing vacations until business improved.
But it doesn't have to be this way:
Europe chose the route of legal, protected vacations, while we went the other -- no statutory protection and voluntary paid leave. Now we are the only industrialized nation with no minimum paid-leave law. Europeans get four or five weeks by law and can get another couple of weeks by agreement with employers. The Japanese have two legally mandated weeks, and even the Chinese get three. Our vacations are solely at the discretion of employers. The lack of legal standing is what makes vacations here feel so illegitimate -- and us so guilty when we try to take one.
And not only have studies found that short vactions are bad for productivity, but they're also bad for your health:
Overwork doesn't just cost employees. The tab paid by business for job stress is $150 billion a year, according to one study. Yet vacations can cure even the worst form of stress -- burnout -- by re-gathering crashed emotional resources, say researchers. But it takes two weeks for this process to occur, says one study, which is why long weekends aren't vacations. An annual vacation can also cut the risk of heart attack by 30 percent in men and 50 percent in women.
(You also may have noticed that I'm not on vacation -- and won't be. That's because when you change jobs, you go back to go and start over again. I left 5 weeks a year of vacation at AFSCME and started over again with two at OSHA. Haven't come close to catching up.)

So what is to be done?
This is why we need a law that will put an end to the bait and switch of vacation time, as well as leave that's being yanked completely. Legalized paid leave also would end the loss of accrued vacation time for downsized workers in their thirties, forties and fifties, who have to start their paid leave banks over again, as if they were at their very first job.