It’s Time for Guaranteed Vacation in America

People have long talked about the “excessive” 6 week paid, guaranteed vacations that are common in Europe. But now that we’re re-evaluating all areas of work and even what work might look like in the future, However, while our future ot less work is still in progress, America has a huge vacation problem inasmuch as we don’t take vacations in the same way we used to in 2000. This is on top of the fact that we are the only OECD (developed economies) nation that does not guarantee, by law, paid vacation days. According to CNN and the Travel Effect Initiative, in 2013, Americans took an average of 16 vacations days compared with 20.7 in 2000. Many workers don’t even have paid days off anymore and the recession has only made this worse. Many people are simply afraid to take vacations for fear that when the next round of layoffs comes around that they will be deemed expendable because, “they aren’t around much anyway.” In short, we American’s are working ourselves to death.

English: OECD members Accession candidate countries Enhanced engagement countries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is juxtaposed with a story from the UK where a startup company decided to quit tracking how many vacation days someone has left and let it be unlimited. This lead to people actually taking fewer days because no one wanted to look lazy. The Protestant Work Ethic strikes again. Somehow, we just can’t stop working long enough to take a vacation. Vacation is important for overall productivity and the sanity of the work force, so how do we get Americans to take time off? It seems that based on cultural behavior, it needs to be the law and it needs to become acceptable and incentivized. While the idea of hard work is as American as apple pie, at this rate, we can’t even enjoy the fruits of our success. “Idle hands are the devil’s handiwork” has simply gone too far. Americans need to learn to relax. More vacation time could even be helpful to the economy. The more people driving, flying, and staying at hotels would boost economies both within America and abroad. The chance to balance work and life would add actual value to many Americans (alongside a living wage but that is a separate idea).

I’m not necessarily arguing for mandatory paid days off although I’m not necessarily opposed either. The impact on very small businesses would be significant and such a change would only speed up the transition to contract labor where such requirements don’t exist (at least not yet anyway). A solution must be found to give people more time off to relax, take care of children or elderly parents, and ultimately be more productive. Given that our economy is becoming more independent, I see a few solutions: a startup could create a self-funding vacation fund where people bank money expressly for taking time off. When a day is taken off, money is deposited for the purpose. Another solution is for the government to start keeping vacation days and encouraging, through taxes, for people to take vacations.

The point is this: American’s work really hard and it’s time we had a break!

Originally published at on October 6, 2015.