Imagine yourself on vacation on the beautiful Greek island of Crete. You wake up, and the first thing you see out your window is the crystal-clear electric blue Aegean Sea staring back at you. You open the window and let that Mediterranean breeze in, giving you a kiss good morning. You close your eyes and inhale the smell of sea, the sounds of fisherman hauling in their daily catch.
And then your phone RINGS.
That high pitched ring that sends shrills down your back, yanking you back into “real life”.
“Hi (SUSAN), hope your vacay is going well! Listen, we’ve got an emergency. I need you to resend the proposal to our client by 3 PM this afternoon. Thanks!”
And suddenly, your seaside balcony becomes your seaside office.
Now, stop imagining. For Americans, it’s real:
Two out of three American employees work while on “vacation”, according to CNN.
Now, Americans don’t get many vacation days to start. In fact, we get the least of any developed country. The average American gets 10 days of paid vacation time, according to Thrillist. However, we’re not legally required to get ANY. Zip. Zero. Meanwhile, countries in the European Union are required at least 25 paid vacation days. Check out the graph that Thrillist published:
Logically, you’d think that since Americans get so few vacation days, we’d really treasure them. You’d think we’d take every day we have (all 10!) and really make the most of it, enjoying unplugged, uninterrupted time with our loved ones in beautiful places. Makes sense, right?
Well, that’s NOT what happens. Not only are Americans working ON their vacation, but they’re not even TAKING their vacation days!
Only 23% of Americans used all their paid vacation days last year (2016).
So, my questions to my fellow Americans out there is WHY? WHY WHY WHY?
As I was reflecting on my three years living in Spain, I was struck by how much I admire the Spanish ability to choose life over work. The Spanish culture is about enjoying first, working second. There’s some deep wisdom in that. I always knew that American culture is the complete and utter opposite, but seeing these statistics in hard numbers were earth shattering.
So, why don’t Americans take vacation days?
Well, we’re all a bunch of workaholics! That’s the simple answer. But I think the real question might be: Why don’t Americans value personal time anymore? Last year, there was a collective 662 MILLION vacation days unused in the US, according to a study by U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off. It could be due to company culture; the more you work, the more respected you are in your company. Others fear of getting too behind their work, or missing something important. Of course, technology and the constant connectivity to work on your smart phone doesn’t help. And then, there’s those people who feel guilty. Yea…how DARE you want some personal time to spend with your friends and family!
I went out to dinner at one of my favorite spots in NYC with my friends last week. It was 8:30 PM, and they were responding to work emails at the table.
At least Entrepreneur Magazine gets it. They write that people work more productively when they’ve had time off. In fact, it hurts your career! According to NBC news, people who don’t take time off are 78% to 84% less likely of getting a raise. Why? ‘Cause we’re not machines. WE’RE PEOPLE. People who require quality time with our loved ones, time to relax the brain, time to disconnect, and time to excel in what we love. Not just “what we do”.
Our parents’ generation used to take less vacation days, but when they did take their few vacation days, they were completely unplugged. No emails, no pop-up notifications, nothin’. They were present. Today, sure, all of us technology obsessed millennials take a couple more vacation days than our parents, but are constantly plugged in to what’s happening in the office. If you ask me, this completely prevents us from immersing ourselves in our surroundings and truly relaxing.
Europe understands. France made a law last year that workers have a legal right to completely disconnect from their work after 6 PM. Au revoir intrusive work emails, bonjour peace of mind. And Spain doesn’t even need a law! They just culturally know how to value their personal time with the people they love. What a concept!
I’m not devaluing the American “work hard, succeed” mentality. After all, that’s one of the founding ideals of the American Dream! Rather, I’m hoping that Americans understand that life isn’t work. Work hard, play hard…and when you’re playing, don’t work. Take all your days off from work, go to a mentally far away place, spend time with your loved ones and truly disconnect. You deserve it.
Help me out here people! If you’re American, do you value your vacation days? And if you’re not American, how does it work in your country?