Although almost everyone will readily agree that taking effective breaks and time off is necessary, fewer and fewer Americans seem to be doing so. In fact, the United States ranks toward the bottom when compared to other developed countries when it comes to the average number of paid vacation days taken per year. The following chart comes from infoplease.com:
Italy 42 days
France 37 days
Germany 35 days
Brazil 34 days
United Kingdom 28 days
Canada 26 days
Korea 25 days
Japan 25 days
United States 13 days
This disparity is eye opening. But this is not the only statistic. According to Don Monkerud of AlterNet, “Compared to people in other developed countries, Americans don’t ask for more vacation time, don’t take all the vacation time their employers give them, and continue to work while they are on vacation.” Monkerud’s statement is supported by the data.
It seems that one third of Americans don’t take their allotted vacation time, 37% never take more than a week at a time, only 14% take more than two weeks at a time, one third of all women and one quarter of all men receive no paid vacations at all. Compare this to the fact that 40% of Americans are now working 50 hours a week, and even when a vacation of sorts is wrangled from the schedule, 88% of Americans carry electronic devices while away to communicate with work! According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, 25% of Americans and 31% of low wage earners get no vacation at all anymore. Careerbuilder.com sated that, “While 84% of workers planned to take at least some time off this year, 32% were taking 5 days or less, and 1 out of 10 were limiting themselves to a long weekend.” In a survey posted on Expedia.com it was estimated that workers would give back to their employers more than 574 million unused vacation days (in the year 2006). That represents nearly two days for every person in the country!
It All Adds Up to a Tearing Down
What effect does all this work and the corresponding lack of proper breaks have on lifestyle and health? According to the US Centers for Disease Control, “83% of all deaths for adults between 21 and 65 are related to lifestyle.” Joe Robinson, a work-life balance expert and author, stated that “Vacations are theoretical concepts that exist today only on paper. We’re supposed to be a nation of fair play; we’re a nation of no play.” AlterNet reports that one in three US workers report job stress, and those making over $50,000 per year report the highest levels of stress. And how about retirement? Perhaps we can just count on resting up then. Nope. For the first time in US history, there are four generations in the workplace at the same time, which means people are waiting longer and longer to retire, if ever.
“But I Know All About Vacations”
“I already take vacations,” you may be saying, and that’s fantastic, although, as we’ve just seen, you are among the rare individuals who do. But mere vacations are not exactly what we are concerned about when discussing the concept of Strategic Sabbaticals. Because, even though people are taking less and less vacation, there is another trend that is part of that: they are taking worse and worse vacations.
What does this mean? It means that there is a right and a not-so-right way to take time off. In other words, there is a difference between rest and restoration. A true vacation should not only be fun, or a chance to get away, but should also rebuild you and spit you back out stronger and better than new. Too many times vacations resemble the frenzied work life – it’s all hurry and scurry to cram in as much “fun” as possible before the time runs out. Many participants in such vacations find themselves needing a vacation just to rest up from their vacation!
In my upcoming new book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I attempt to demonstrate the enormous power of intentional breaks in one's life. These breaks, as I've written elsewhere, are not for the purpose of idleness, laziness, or self-indulgence, but rather for accomplishing what best selling author Stephen Covey calls, "Sharpening the Saw." Far too many of us grow dull in areas where we should be shining!