The “No Vacation Nation”

You might call this cheating, but I’m going to post parts of this article from today. This shows exactly what is wrong with the system we are working under right now.

The engineer who is the main example in the article is 59 years old, but he only takes a handful of vacation days a year. And when he does, he never really unplugs, he is always on call. Unfortunately, this is how it is for most Americans.

I never understood why taking some European practices (espeically the ones that lead to higher happiness and quality of life levels) was so horrible. I, for one, would not complain if companies were mandated to give four weeks vacation. Bring it on!

If what is written below describes your life, and you aren’t happy with it, try to find some way to change it. Try a MicroAdventure, go camping, take a bunch of long weekends over the summer, something, anything to decompress for a bit, you deserve it.

And now,

Why is America the ‘no-vacation nation’?
By A. Pawlowski, CNN
May 23, 2011 8:46 a.m. EDT

Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries — from Australia to Slovenia to Japan — that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers, according to a 2009 study by the human resources consulting company Mercer.

Finland, Brazil and France are the champs, guaranteeing six weeks of time off.

But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don’t have access to it, government figures show.

That makes the U.S. the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave, according to a report titled “No-Vacation Nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group.

This just does not sit well with me, I can’t believe that a full 25% of Americans don’t get any vacation at all!

Most U.S. companies, of course, do provide vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.

But the fear of layoffs and the ever-faster pace of work mean many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office — anxious that they might look like they’re not committed to their job. Or they worry they won’t be able to cope with the backlog of work waiting for them after a vacation.

Then, there’s the way we work.

Working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success, wrote Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, the study’s author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Americans maximize their… [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure,” he found.

So despite research documenting the health and productivity benefits of taking time off, a long vacation can be undesirable, scary, unrealistic or just plain impossible for many U.S. workers.

What do you think? Have you experienced this before, I certainly have, and for me it was a deal breaker. Are you taking steps to change this, or is this just a way of life for your workplace?


  1. Kat

    My office offers a fairly generous amount of vacation time (for the U.S.): 18 paid days per year after your first year, plus the office closes from Christmas to New Year’s Day. We’re allowed to roll over 10 unused vacation days every year or we lose them.

    As someone who uses every single day every year – unless I’m rolling a few days over to save for a big trip – I’m always shocked by the number of people in my office who haven’t used their vacation time come December, and at that point they either have to take random days off or lose the time. We certainly work hard in my office, but it’s also a space that’s supportive for people who want to take 1-2 week breaks at a time, so I can’t figure out the mentality of not taking a vacation.

    I find it troubling that the fact that I get over four weeks of paid time off every year has me considered “lucky” and that people – including my coworkers – are still shocked that I take long vacations and travel around the world.

  2. Emily @ Lo Vivido

    Wow! This article really raises a good debate. I’m a high school teacher, so I feel really lucky to have June-August “off.” (We still have to work…lesson planning, getting the classroom ready, meetings, etc., but we can do it on our own time). However, the rest of the working world seems like they just can’t get away from their jobs!

    I wonder if we’re making ourselves less productive by burning out early. Maybe longer vacations would make our workers more productive during the time they are there. I know I always feel refreshed and excited to work after some time off.

  3. Liz

    @Kat – thankfully my current position offers very generous vacation time as well and like you, I make sure to take every drop of it! If my boss knew how many hours of time I devote to vacation planning…. But like you, this past December we had a huge influx of people taking every other day off because they had to use their days or lose it. There was a re-org before I was hired and some people were nervous that if they took their days they might lose their position. It’s totally ridiculous and sad that companies foster this mentality.

    @Emily – I agree with you, I think people do burn out a lot more quickly. When money is the only motivation people push themselves and don’t realize there will always come a point where too much work starts reducing productivity. I am all for working hard, but for me, it’s essential to have my downtime to recharge my batteries.

  4. Adam

    This is one of the things I greatly dislike about my country. Luckily I am moving towards a more location independent lifestyle, but I am the only person I know out of my social network who even has any interest in this. I think it’s sad that Americans put so much emphasis on work. And nearly everyone I know who works nonstop is miserable. It’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to overcome. We are all taught that we have to go to school, get out, work, start a family, then hopefully we can retire someday down the line and then enjoy life (if we make it that far). The problem is that we just don’t think about what our choices mean. We don’t realize there’s another way to live, and once we do have that awakening, sometimes it’s too late. We have a mortgage payment, student loans, car payments, etc., etc. It makes it impossible to work less because we have this stuff to pay for.

    There has to be another way! My wife and I both quit our jobs back in 2008 to take a year long RTW trip. It was the best decision we have ever made, and it completely changed our outlook on life. Luckily we had not bought a house yet and didn’t have kids, so we weren’t totally tied down. At this point, I don’t know if I ever want to have a home. While it would certainly be nice, I don’t want to be a slave to it.

    This is an interesting article and post, and I’ll be curious to hear other’s thoughts on the matter.

  5. Dan Thompson

    Thought provoking stuff here. I’m one of the few people in my office that actually uses all my vacation days every year… and to be honest, at this point I’d rather negotiate more vacation days instead of higher pay. I’d go crazy if I didn’t take time off and at least unplug once a year for a two week stint.

    I can certainly relate to the feeling that I shouldn’t leave work for that long though. I work in a very competitive field and if I didn’t work for a company that encouraged its employees to take breaks I’d be much more paranoid about leaving. But… when this life is said and done, the last thing I want people to say about me is “well… he worked a lot”.


  6. Liz

    @Dan – you make some great points here, espeically the last bit, and I completely agree. I worked for one company where we could buy a 3rd week of vacation and have the cost taken out of our pay, I was the only one in my group who signed up for it, but to me, so amazingly worth it.

  7. Liz

    @Adam – thanks for your thoughts and I completely agree. I myself am working ultimately towards a location independent lifestyle. It might not be that I want to travel the world for long stretches of time, but I’d like the freedom to have the option. I am someone who does not think that the conventional way of doing something (college, job, retire at 65, travel) is always the right way. Some people love it and that’s cool, but for me I want something different and hoping to achieve it over the next few years. I bet you and your wife have some great stories!

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  9. Jade

    When I read this article I was really upset too. I am always one to use way too many vacation days- I can’t sit still. Luckily I work at a place that is flexible, so I can be too. I don’t know what I would do if someone told me I couldn’t take a day off.

  10. Emily

    Ugh, I read this article on CNN and felt disgusted, too. My company is very generous with vacation days, but extremely stingy with holidays (e.g. we have to use a vacation day if we want to take the day after Thanksgiving off). I always end up using all of mine, because I can, but I am always shocked when I find out that certain fellow employees choose never to use them at all. I went to Germany one time and met some college students there who asked why I was only in Europe for 2 weeks. I told them that’s all the vacation days I had that year, and they thought I was joking. They just couldn’t understand why we didn’t all have at least a month off each year. The US really does undervalue time off, but we need it for sanity!

    • Liz

      Totally true! My friends in Europe always seem to be jetting off and taking extended vacations. They come here for 3 weeks at a time! I know I can’t be efficient, effective, or even in a good mood without a vacation or at least some time off on the horizon. Life is too short to spend it all working and not enjoying.

  11. Steph

    Americans maximize their happiness by working? That’s so sad. My parents live in America and have been in their jobs for a significant number of years. When I moved to London I instantly had the minimum 28 days holiday which was far more than my parents were alloted. It’s pathetic really, the way Americans are so work-obsessed. You get a guilt-trip if you even think about a vacation… Now I’m in Colombia and haven’t worked in 3 months… mwahaha!

    • Liz

      I agree, it is not the way to live, but it seems to be drilled into us American’s that this is normal. Part of the reason why I took my current job even though it was less money was due to the major increase in vacation, and I use every single minute of it.

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  14. Catalina

    I’ve considered moving to Australia for the 6 weeks of vacation that they get… I think that 2 weeks in the US is not enough. It is true, many people do not take vacations and the vacation hours become overhead for the company!! Maybe we could get more holidays to have a few more long weekends? 🙂

  15. Alphonse Chieves

    “Great, thanks for sharing this article. Amazing.”