American Workers Aren’t Martyrs, We’re Rubes

Sadly I don’t think they were going for irony.

The headline of the article in question reads “Americans Taking Fewest Days Off In Four Decades.” Which might make you think, “Of course, just more of the same from our corporate overlords, grinding the American worker into a fine pulp.” And you’d be right, but for the wrong reasons.

The article was based on a study that concluded U.S. workers purposefully missed out on $52.4 billion in vacation benefits last year, which comes out to a little over $500 per employee.

Well, that’s one easy way to reduce labor costs, and Acme Corp didn’t even have to do anything overt, like cutting back employee hours to avoid the new national nightmare that is Obamacare. Turns out all it takes is steady dose of fear and an imaginary leash to our iPhones and boom — our neurotic need for frantic action kicks into gear.

The study was done by Oxford Economics, which sounds academic and therefore legitimate, right? But then comes the ruse. The study was done by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, which according to empty CNN husk Chuck Thompson, is a nonprofit based in D.C. that represents the travel industry.

This makes what was supposed to be emotion-pumping clickbait into something even lower on the American media totem pole — a press release dressed up as journalism. But then why would this article appear on a site that tries, but mostly fails, to be a legitimate news organization? The answer is because you didn’t think it was a press release, and even more importantly, it’s more chum for the system in which it operates.

And here’s the money shot. According to the U.S. Travel Association,“The economic potential of returning to the pre-2000 vacation patterns is massive: annual vacation days taken by U.S. employees would jump 27% (or 768 million days), delivering a $284 billion impact across the entire U.S. economy.” Do you see what these lunatics are telling you to do? They want you to go back to the mirage where Pets.com was thought of as viable business and your parents were taking out a second home equity loan to pay for an in-ground pool. You know, reality.

The above quote is the reason why this pseudo-article saw the light of day and isn’t simply telling you to take your vacation days full stop. The reason you read this article on CNN is because lobbyists found dead money and want you to max out your credit cards (if you haven’t already) by taking the LCD screen zombies you call your children to Disney World, so they can stare at said screens while occasionally looking up at an animatronic mouse.

Or even better, how about a staycation? Go out for some expensive sushi that probably isn’t real sushi and buy a couple bottles of marked up wine that for all you know is 2 Buck Chuck.

Back to the propaganda. According to Roger Dow, the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, “We’re seeing multiple companies — Expedia and Netflix and others — that are doing away with their vacation policies entirely. They’ve just said, ‘We no longer have a vacation policy; please discuss with your boss and take the time off you need.’” Call me a cynic, but I have a sneaking suspicion this is actually a symptom of a larger problem, much like our cheering on of ping pong tables and beers taps showing up at the office. It’s just another way to give employees the trappings of power and remove normal boundaries that used to exist between your job and your real life. “Oh sure Bill, just come to me whenever you need time off, no one will think less of you while you’re gone, promise.” Tell the truth, did you check your email any less while you weren’t paying attention to your wife in Aruba?

And for the kicker we’re brought a quote from productivity and stress management trainer and coach (bullshit artist for the layperson), Joe Robinson. “Finally, many people are so caught up in the performance identity (emphasis mine), worth based on what they get done, they feel guilty when they step back.” As a cherry on top of this shit sundae this quote appears as a caption in a picture of Michael Scott from The Office.

For the average American narcissist, the fear isn’t that you’re going to get shitcanned for taking Billy and Betty Sue to Disneyland for the week, the fear is that your identity as a performer, not your actual performance, will suffer. For a narcissist, all your energy is spent on signaling to others you’re are a top performer, instead of you know, actually doing the work. So instead of unplugging and taking the vacation that’s in your contract, it’s more frantic emails, pointless meetings, and two glasses of pinot and an Ambien and back to work the next day.

Of course, this isn’t a big story, but it’s a good example of the insidious reality of our media system. This is an article based on a “study” that is really just an expensive press release. It gives off the stench of journalism, while maintaining the status quo and giving you a defense against changing.


Michael Tunney is a writer, editor and media strategist based in Chicago. Trained under the controversial media strategist Ryan Holiday, he has worked on marketing campaigns for a variety of bestselling authors including Marc Ecko, Robert Greene and James Altucher. He is also a managing editor at Contently. Follow him on Twitter @mike_tunney.