As I See It: America Needs A Vacation
September 28, 2015 Victor Rozek
Entrepreneurs are typically blessed with some combination of courage, imagination, and somebody else’s cash. But while these advantages occasionally translate to wild success in the marketplace, that success comes at a price. As reported by Business Insider, Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UCSF, surveyed entrepreneurs and found that just under half admitted dealing with mental health issues, and 30 percent report suffering from depression (over four times the national norm), 29 percent struggle with ADHD, and 27 percent live with anxiety. Changing the world is stressful work. Sounds like they need a vacation.
They’re not the only ones. The reality is that we’re all entrepreneurs now and the unique product we each have to market is . . . us. The days of lifetime employment are a distant happy memory, like the world before Donald Trump. Security, to the degree it exists, is a mass hallucination. We’re all working without a net, and our main objective must be to protect the franchise that is each and every one of us. And one of the simple ways to ensure at least a modicum of mental health is to take time off and time away.
Americans, however, are bucking the trend. Like smokers trying to quit by gradually cutting back, from 1976 Americans have taken regressively fewer and fewer vacation days. The average is now down to about 16 days a year, as compared to 30 to 40 days enjoyed by workers in other industrialized democracies. Which explains why Yellowstone is not only full of buffaloes but Europeans.
But the number that’s truly startling is the percentage of people who have successfully quit vacationing altogether. Writing for Business Insider, Rachel Gillett documents that in 2013 “a whopping 42 percent of working Americans reported they didn’t take a single vacation day.” Ouch. That suggests either abnormal dedication, or a level of desperation that has a lot of folks working scared.
Tellingly, the United States is the only industrialized nation with no statutory vacation days. Corporations offer paid vacation time as a matter of good will and competitive need, but have no legal requirement to do so. It’s a good guess that at least some of the people who never take vacation time simply don’t accrue any. But not all.
CNN reports that, “U.S. workers forfeited $52.4 billion in time-off benefits in 2013 and took less vacation time than at any point in the past four decades.” It’s a generous workforce that returns benefits, and their misplaced munificence provides a hidden subsidy that corporations are only too happy to accept. American workers said ‘no thank you’ to a staggering total of 169 million days of paid time off thus “providing free labor for their employers, at an average of $504 per employee.”
Why? Because many link their identity with their jobs to a degree that leaving even for a short time creates greater anxiety than staying. Others feel they can’t leave because their colleagues remain chained to their desks and one person’s absence would be noted. Still others believe that working yourself into a coma is proof of dedication–a level of dedication more appropriately reserved for family.
A warning against misplaced dedication was sounded in a recently published comment by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. In a co-authored book Hoffman makes a startling admission–startling because it originated from the top of the management food chain. The observation probably won’t come as a galloping surprise to most employees because they already understand the reality of their situation, even if occasionally it is pleasant to believe otherwise.
“The biggest lie,” employers tell their employees, according to Hoffman, “is that the employment relationship is like family.”
Equating companies with families has become commonplace and may even be true if the word “family” was preceded by “dysfunctional.” Granted, many companies genuinely desire to be welcoming and are committed to treating their employees with respect. On the other hand, you can’t really fire your children, but even the best employment relationship is transitory. Of course your kids can leave (as can employees), but they also tend to return thus providing another strong case for going on vacation.
If, as numerous previous studies have documented, failure to take time off has mui malo impacts on health and productivity, not to mention eventually scaring away that tentative bird called happiness. But now, according to Gillett, a new study proves that all work and no play also hammers relationships–assuming still you have any. That such a conclusion requires a “study” is, itself, a cause for concern. Concluding that being unavailable to loved ones stresses relationships is like saying that not eating results in starvation. Alert the media.
I guess academics need work, too. For my part, I can confirm that if I failed to take my wife on vacation she would: (a) go on vacation without me; (b) meet some handsome bastard who, coincidentally, was on vacation; and (c) well, never mind about (c).
Apparently enough CEOs and top managers have lost their spouses to motivate welcome changes in corporate vacation policies. According to Business Insider: “The Huffington Post recently joined companies like Daimler in an effort to help employees enjoy their vacation time with its opt-in vacation email policy, which gives employees the choice to have all their work-related emails deleted automatically while they’re on vacation.” Really? Of course if you’ve set up an automatic responder telling people you’re on vacation and their email kicks back, they’ll probably resend it or annoy you on social media. But just the idea is enough to raise spirits.
Even better, “Denver-based tech company FullContact introduced a ‘paid paid vacation’ policy in 2012, which gives employees $7,500 on top of their full salaries to finance a trip.” Woo-Woo! How can we get a job at FullContact?
It’s been said that: “a vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” That’s waiting way too long. Even people who love their work need to get away for renewal and perspective.
If you’ve become weary at the mere thought of going to work; or if you are too spent to help your kids with their homework at night; or if you have to force yourself to do the simplest things because they require too much effort, a little R&R is in order.
For the workaholic, a vacation is like a blind date–anticipated with anxiety, experienced with discomfort, but remembered with nostalgia. So go forth and make memories. At one time vacations were a luxury, but now they have become a necessity.