Our relationship with time is embedded in our culture. It is never so apparent than in the different ways in which people view vacation. For some, vacation is a luxury; for others, it’s a birthright. One glance at this chart reveals how diverse our perspective is about taking time off. It shows the number of mandatory vacation days per year. France wins – hands down – with 30 days. The United States lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with exactly zero.
After seeing this chart, I got curious. John Piana, a veteran of Corporate America with over 20 years of experience and a work-life balance proponent, approached me with some of his ideas as to why Americans don’t view vacation as a necessity. He calls the United States the No Vacation Nation. It is so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that anything other than working is considered “time off” (even hospitalization – I swear I can’t tell you how many of my American friends told me to enjoy my time off and to consider it a mini-vacation when I went in for surgery– are you serious??).
Power of Slow: Do you think Corporate America will ever introduce mandatory paid vacation?
John: If it does happen, it will be awhile. In order for a fundamental change like this to take place, it needs momentum. Right now there’s little to none. And even when momentum begins to build, it will still have to overcome the powerful business lobbyists who will likely keep legislators from getting behind it. Until the issue gets to the point of a social uprising, mandatory vacation will just be coffee shop talk. However, I think a potential wildcard is social media. I’m amazed at how many times social media has shown the power to turn public opinion almost overnight. A social media firestorm could quickly transform the mandatory vacation landscape.
PoS: What things can leaders do to stay offline and in life while on vacation?
J: Simple. Make the choice! Prioritize it. Set the expectation and precedent beforehand with your manager and with people reporting to you. Explain you will not be calling or logging in during vacation. Or if that is an impossibility (which I don’t buy), begin to take back control by severely limiting the contact and explain to others you will be checking in very infrequently, perhaps even defining the specific times of day you will check messages. When an employee leaves the company, everyone always finds a way to get things done without that person. It should be no different when an employee goes on vacation.
PoS: How should employees address the lack of vacation issue?
J: Set boundaries and priorities in advance with your manager and co-workers. Once they know that vacation is a top priority for you, it becomes your holy grail. Not only should you get fewer interruptions during vacation, but it also can become a motivational/reward tool to be used by your manager. As far as simply asking for additional vacation, I think that may work in a small business setting only. Large and mid-size companies will simply give a corporate-speak answer and say their hands are tied due to company policy.
PoS: Is mandatory vacation truly needed? Does the government need to get involved to correct this?
J: Neither government nor corporations will solve this issue (see my ‘Work-Life Balance Advice That Makes Sense‘ post). The US government won’t get behind it for reasons I mention above. Employers long ago abandoned their long-term commitment to employees. This is no more evident than seeing defined benefit pension plans being phased out. Also, employees aren’t sharing in the ‘good times’ like they once did, but definitely feel the pain of the ‘bad times.’ If the company had a great year, that 2% raise becomes a 2.5% raise. However, if the company had a bad year, there’s a good chance you’ll be shown the door. Definitely not an equal risk-reward trade-off. However, in general, I think free markets and, more importantly, the will of the worker should be sufficient to address this issue. Again, I think social media could be a wildcard.
Social media has toppled empires. It could topple the belief that vacation isn’t important too. I advocate posting as many palm tree pictures this summer as possible, people. Let us rise up to celebrate our lives — both in and out of the office!