Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Americans need more vacation to rest, recoup
Stress for Success
September 5, 2006

Va-ca-tion: a time set aside from work, study, etc., for recreation or rest; a holiday.

When's the last time you took a real vacation? If you're like many Americans it's been awhile. We take far too few and the vacations we do take are far too short. The average American takes a dismal three to four days off, according to Joe Robinson author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life". One in seven of us takes no vacation at all!

According to Expedia.com’s annual vacation deprivation survey, Americans are leaving an average of four vacation days unclaimed per year.

This lack of leisure and vacation time is a growing problem in America. We’re desperate for time to relax and renew. More than 65% of Americans say they’re stressed and under pressure, in need of more fun, a long vacation, or just simply a break.

No wonder we feel this way. Our obsession with work is unmatched in the industrialized world. Until quite recently only the Japanese worked more weeks per year than Americans. No longer! We now work two and one-half weeks a year more than they and -- hold onto your hats -- 12 1/2 weeks more per year than the Germans! We’re the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate paid vacation leave. Even China mandates three weeks per year.

A workshop participant said recently that if Americans had as much vacation as the Germans most would probably get part-time jobs to catch up on paying their bills. (It doesn’t seem to occur to them to simply spend less money. I digress.)

Why have we gotten ourselves into this vacation pickle?

According to Robinson, this American vacation deficit began with the recession of the early 1980s and accelerated in the late 1980s with technological advances such as fax machines, desktop computers, cell phones, and subsequently e-mail, blackberries, laptops, etc. These technological "advances" create a growing sense of urgency and impatience, called techno-stress. In the old days you could tell a customer that you'd “get it in the mail today”. It was even okay if it was sent tomorrow. But today people want everything now!

Additionally, organizations have dramatically downsized, leaving most employees doing more work and putting in more hours to get it all done. Between being overworked and dominated by high-tech devices the boundary between work and home has quickly eroded so you may find yourself never completely "off work". This leads to greater stress, irritability, exhaustion and inefficiency.

To add insult to injury our ubiquitous technological gadgets are often taken along on vacations keeping you from totally disengaging, minimizing a vacation’s positive effects on you.

American management also has an unfounded fear that if employees get too much time off they’ll fall behind on their work. But that misses the point: employees who work too much with too few breaks are operating off of too little sleep and tired brains so they’re making more mistakes and having more accidents and conflicts at work. A well-rested (a well-vacationed) employee conversely is more productive, creative and makes fewer mistakes.

If Americans are so desperate for more R & R, why don't we do something about it? Today’s business climate certainly doesn’t encourage plentiful nor lengthy vacations. Plus our own spending habits get us into the bind of having to work more to make more money. To get a much- needed rest, those with a vacation deficit need to make different choices.

Next week, we’ll explore some choices and ideas on how to make better use of vacation time, even if you can’t afford to go anywhere.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.