America’s Struggle With Vacation and Paid Time Off

Only 57% of Americans use the full vacation time. I recommend a better work-life-alignment, understanding the true perceptions and maximizing your paid time off

American Family Vacation - Young Family in Swimming PoolIf you ask any CEO, ‘Would you like employees who are creative, refreshed and energetic?’, I can’t imagine a single one would answer, ‘no’. Yet, how do you expect to have this, when you only offer 2 weeks of vacation a year and a handful of holidays? This (paraphrased) commentary was offered in a CNN segment reflecting on America’s fledgling vacation policies. So how does America compare to other countries when it comes to vacation time?

America vs. Other Country Vacation Standards

America trails other countries when it comes to vacation. The facts speak for themselves (source,

  • Only 57% of U.S. employees use their entire allotted vacation time (Reuters/Ipsos)
  • U.S. Employers are not obligated under any federal law to provide paid vacations
  • More than 2 dozen industrialized countries require employers to offer 4 or more weeks of vacation. (2009, Mercer)
  • Finland, Brazil and France guarantee employees 6 weeks of vacation
  • Approximately 25% of U.S. workers do not have access to any paid vacation

Not only does America offer less than most other industrialized nations when it comes to paid vacation time, but we don’t even take what we are offered. It seems we think working harder and resting less is required to get ahead. Yet, the evidence is to the contrary.

In the World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, the United States placed fourth. In contrast, Sweden, which legally obligates employees receive five weeks of paid vacation, placed second. Strange, I thought we worked so hard to get ahead?

Enjoy What You Have

Unless you want to move to a country with more ideal vacation regulations, chances are you’re not going to see a substantial leap in paid time off. I’m not even sure that is the solution. However, I do believe creativity, sufficient leisure, and the energy to be successful require more than hard work. I recommend a better work-life-alignment, understanding the true perceptions around vacation and maximizing your paid time off.

Work-Life-Alignment: Too many people seek a work-life balance. As I wrote in 5 Tips for Work-Life-Alignment, Not Balance, this is a mistake. You’re not likely to ever find a true balance. Instead, seek work you enjoy – what is your passion? What is your calling? Answer these questions and you can be equally happy and comfortable at work, home or wherever you roam.

True Perceptions: It seems many Americans and workaholics in general fear a perception that if they take too much vacation, their employers will perceive them as lazy. However, one of the best (and most successful) bosses I ever had always used his entire vacation time every year, without fail. It was simply understood – nobody questioned it. Do you ever really question your peer’s time off? Guess what? I doubt they will question yours either.

Maximize Your Time Off: Use it, don’t lose it. You are far more useful to your employer and colleagues when you are energized, refreshed and creative. If you know it will help these factors, you’re only hurting them and yourself by failing to take maximize your rest and relaxation.

The next time you find yourself hesitating to take a vacation, consider these factors. Then, go ahead and book that time away from the office. I bet you will not be the only person who is glad you did.

Question: Do you take your full vacation every year? How do you make the best use of paid time off and how does it help you and your organization?


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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

10 thoughts on “America’s Struggle With Vacation and Paid Time Off”

  1. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Mandated Paid Vacation? | PostLibertarian

  2. Thanks Benjamin for this great post. Tour and Travelling is the best way to take a break from the busy working schedule and refresh yourself. It helps to restore one’s energy and hence, boosts the work efficiency. But, I don’t know why US employers are taking so much of time to understand this simple fact. Hope, this will help them understand the benefits of paid vacations.

  3. To
    take a break and relax from the hectic and exhausting schedule of job is
    necessary for each employee. To get rejuvenated and  feel energetic physically as well mentally to
    perform better on their job after vacation. People should understand the need
    of paid vacation.

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